Commentary

Dolphins execs interested in luring Race of Champions to Miami

Hometown fans at Dolphin Stadium haven't had a lot to cheer for in 2007. Would that change if Dolphins execs successfully lured the Race of Champions to Miami? It couldn't hurt, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: December 19, 2007, 1:49 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

The Race of Champions is truly a splendid event, one brimming with national pride, international camaraderie and precision competition among some of the greatest and most respected racing drivers in the world, from all disciplines of motorsport.

That makes it a coveted commodity. And it makes event founder Fredrik Johnnson an influential man.

[+] EnlargeMichael Schumacher
AP Photo/Tom HeveziMichael Schumacher, above, helped eliminate Jimmie Johnson and Team USA from the Race of Champions Nation Cup in London.

"We've been chasing Fredrik for a few years now," Terry Bassett, Miami Dolphins vice president of business development, told ESPN.com Sunday while attending the event in London. "I hate to stand here in Wembley and say, 'Hey, we want your event.' But we want their event."

Dolphin Stadium executives are interested in luring ROC to the United States.

"When I went to [work for] Dolphin Stadium and the Miami Dolphins, part of my marching orders is to bring new events to the stadium," said Bassett, a former executive at International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks on which the Nextel Cup Series competes. "We did a big renovation, about $350 million, to our building and … how are you going to fill it up?

"Anticipating the Marlins not being there when they get their new building, when you're dark, you need to fill it with dates. This is a perfect event: big names, international scope. We believe because of our South Florida location, proximity to Central America and South America, we've got a location not many places in the U.S. can compete with."

If this were to come to fruition, it would mark the first time ROC was held outside of Europe. Among the past locations are Paris, the Canary Islands, Madrid, Barcelona, Nurburgring and Monthlery. This was London's first time hosting the event.

Johnnson said the current contract with Wembley Stadium is a one-year deal with "options in our favor for 2008 and/or 2009." He said the event is likely to return to Wembley next year.

After that, it's anybody's ball game.

Johnnson said there are some seven or eight renowned venues worldwide in contention to secure the event in the future, Miami being one of them.

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"We'd be keen to bring the event to the U.S. one day, and I think Miami is the kind of place that fits the profile of the event," Johnnson said. "It's the same culture, very European. There's a very international crowd in Miami, and the weather is going to be a little bit warmer and the stadium is fantastic.

"[ROC] is an international event. The U.S. is a big car market. It's a market [where] we'd like to be, so we're looking seriously at it."

Johnnson said ROC officials chose Wembley in 2007 over other venues such as Berlin's Olympic Stadium, which hosted the FIFA World Cup soccer final in 2006, and Dolphin Stadium, home to last season's Super Bowl. Along with those two venues, Beijing's Olympic Stadium, home to the 2008 Olympic Games, and Stade de France in Paris, where the event was run from 2004 to 2006, are interested in hosting ROC in the future.

With Miami, there are obstacles. Bassett said he and Johnnson have differing promotional strategies. Bassett's hope is to secure a third-party marketing agency to promote the event, such as Live Nation or AEG.

"What it does is, it allows each group to leverage their specialty, with Fredrik bringing what he brings as the sanctioning body, so to speak, and us as a facilities operator, and then somebody that does big U.S. promotions that owns media," Bassett said. "That's why the Live Nation works so well. They're very vertical."

Johnnson's reservations are understandable. Ninety percent of his year is spent preparing for ROC. His Monaco-based sports management company, International Media Productions, sanctions the event. It's his baby. Johnnson, though, is no stranger to jumping through hoops to make things happen. He's done it for 20 years, and never more so than for Wembley.

Health and safety specifications are more stringent in England than they are in Spain or France. Event organizers had to prove they wouldn't destroy the drainage system under the world's most famous soccer pitch. Then came an extremely tedious negotiation.

A contract was negotiated with the managing director, and the day the contract was to be signed, Johnnson said he received a call saying the stadium director had discovered many issues that couldn't be solved in time for the event -- one being the inability to refuel cars inside the stadium.

Johnnson didn't blink. He said they'd take the cars down to the local BP station and fill them up. Ultimately, it was worked out that BP would bring the fuel to a position outside the stadium, refuel the cars after practice and races, and take them back in.

Then there was fan safety. Johnnson said there was concern that fans in the first 10 rows might be at risk. Johnnson said fine, how about we sell only the upper deck until that is resolved? Done deal. Or not. The managing director who had signed the contract departed Wembley, making the contract null and void. New contracts had to be drawn up. Finally, the deal was done.

Johnnson's passion for his race is readily obvious in every way. This season marks ROC's 20th anniversary, and it continues to grow annually on the strength of honest business and driver appreciation.

The evolution is remarkable. What began as Johnnson's idea to spruce up Rally Car competition and fan viewing has evolved into a full-blown international competition -- one individual, one team -- that includes drivers from Rally, Formula One, Touring, Champ Car, WTCC and NASCAR.

"We started the Nation's Cup [team competition] in 1999, and all the drivers that came just loved it," Johnnson said. "That took the event to a new dimension. It's an atmosphere that's unique in motorsports. The drivers get really emotional competing for their countries. All year round, these guys are competing for themselves. To compete for their countries is very special to them. The dedication and emotion is obvious.

"When Jimmie [Johnson] and Jeff [Gordon] won the Nation's Cup in 2002 with Colin Edwards, I believe Jeff Gordon said to Jimmie, 'Guys, I've won so many races and so many championships, but this is the first time I've won for my country. It is really special to me.' That is so cool.

"It is obviously a very complex thing to get all these guys together on the same weekend year after year, but we've positioned it as something so desirable for drivers all over the world that they dream to take part."

Bassett and the Dolphins want a piece of that dream. Bassett has American racing ties. He once worked for NASCAR and IRL team owner Roger Penske, helping manage Penske's former ring of oval racetracks in Brooklyn, Mich.; Rockingham, N.C.; Fontana, Calif.; and Nazareth, Pa. When Penske sold those tracks to International Speedway Corp., Bassett went with them to ISC.

He said he'd love to re-enter the racing realm by securing ROC for Dolphin Stadium. The event has drawn more than 50,000 fans every time out, Johnnson said, and has drawn as many as 62,500.

"I think it'd be great," Bassett said. "We, as an organization, all the way up to Wayne Huizenga, who has racing roots with Homestead-Miami Speedway, we'd love it. It's a perfect fit. We like it from the international flair. It's a prestigious event, that's why we want it."

Marty,

I am a huge Kasey Kahne fan. I know you know him. Do you really believe Kasey shoved that security guard as they're saying he did?

-- Leslie Good, Bremerton, Wash.

Honestly, Leslie, no. I do not. But I wasn't there, either, so my thoughts are based solely on my experience with Kasey Kahne. He is a great guy, one of the most relaxed, pleasant people I know. The accusations in the lawsuit would be out of character for him.

Russell Dohan, the attorney for the plaintiff, security guard Archibald Hutchison, on Tuesday e-mailed several NASCAR media members a copy of the case documents, including the complaint filed Tuesday morning.

The complaint states that Hutchinson has suffered physically and mentally, and seeks more than $15,000 in compensation.

Hutchison's lawsuit alleges that Kahne shoved him to the ground after he attempted to deter Kahne from entering the driver/owner motor home lot without proper credentials. Having just completed a Busch Series practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kahne, according to a team spokesperson at the time of the incident, was late for a scheduled sponsor appearance, and was hustling to change clothes and hit the road.

According to the complaint, when Kahne was asked to produce the requisite credentials, he "became agitated" and said he wasn't required to carry such documentation since he is a driver. He then, the complaint says, "climbed off the golf cart in a threatening manner and attempted to forcefully walk through the gate entrance."

The complaint says the plaintiff, Hutchison, then stood in front of the entrance and again asked Kahne for credentials, at which time Kahne, without provocation, shoved Hutchison to the ground, "causing him to sustain severe physical injuries."

According to the police report filed at the time of the incident by Homestead Police Department detective Tony Acquino, Hutchison was taken to the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield care center and treated for minor bruises and abrasions.

There's a laundry list of sufferings Hutchison and his attorneys allege in the complaint, from "bodily injury" to "pain and suffering" to "disability" to "physical impairment" to "disfigurement" to "mental anguish" to "inconvenience" to the "loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life" to "aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect" to the "activation of a latent disease or physical defect" to "expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment to be so obtained in the future" to "earnings lost in the past" to "loss of ability to earn money in the future."

Jeez.

Again, I wasn't there, so I don't know. But I just don't buy it. That sure does seem like an awful lot of damage for a 140-pound guy to inflict.

This column is already way too long. I'll save your Top 35 hatred and Chase hatred and, of course, Marty Smith hatred, for next week. Thanks for reading, as always. And merry Christmas, everyone.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.