Sponsorship concerns scuttle Indy tribute to Colts

Updated: May 15, 2007, 5:06 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts have no problem with Peyton Manning starting the Indianapolis 500. They just don't want a Colts car running in the May 27 race.

Paul Diatlovich, the primary owner of PDM Racing, said he had asked permission to paint Jimmy Kite's No. 18 car in the Colts team colors -- dark blue and white -- with a message on the car's sidepod that read simply "Go Colts."

Indianapolis officials nixed it because of sponsorship concerns.

"I'm extremely upset with the narrow-minded, pinheaded leadership of the Colts team and the NFL," said Diatlovich, who lives in the city. "It's inexcusable. All we're trying to do is say thank you."

Last week, it was rumored Diatlovich would bring his Colts car to the historic 2½-mile oval. Because of NFL policies, his car is now blue-and-orange.

Tom Zupancic, the Colts vice president for sales and marketing, said the team was adhering to a policy issued by the league last year. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league prohibits cross-promotion between sports.

Racing and prominent athletes and teams have a long history at Indy.

Butler guard A.J. Graves, the NIT Season Tip-Off MVP, was an honorary starter last week. In previous years, celebrity starters have included Pacers great Reggie Miller and former national high school player of the year Greg Oden. Last year's honorary race starter was former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

The Colts also have a presence at the Speedway, which is about 4 miles from the team's complex on the city's west side.

Tight end Ben Utecht sang the national anthem Sunday, and Manning, the Super Bowl MVP, will start this year's race. Manning also is the grand marshal of the May 26 Indianapolis 500 Festival parade.

In fact, Zupancic said, the organization owns a suite at the track.

But with four to five racing teams asking the Colts for sponsorship, as Zupancic said is customary each year, the team simply had to say no because of possible infringements with its own exclusive sponsors.

"You could end up on the car with someone who's a competitor of one of our sponsors," Zupancic said. "Those sensitivities are very real and we take that exclusivity very seriously. This one [Diatlovich's offer] was very unique."

The explanation angered Diatlovich, whose underfunded team hopes to finally make it onto the track for the first time Wednesday.

Diatlovich said all he wanted to do was thank the Colts for their Super Bowl victory in February. Indy defeated Chicago 29-17 in Miami.

He never intended to use a helmet or Indy's trademark horseshoe logo on the car. Zupancic said the Colts have no issue with the paint job or the car number and he didn't believe putting "Go Colts" on it would cause a stir since the phrase can often be found in windows and on signs throughout the area during football season.

The Colts were more concerned that Diatlovich could use the Colts car to gin up support from local sponsors.

Still, Diatlovich is baffled by the decision.

"We wanted to keep the excitement of the Super Bowl going, but, obviously, they didn't want to do that," he said. "I really don't understand it."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press