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Cars n' Stars: "Mad Max" Papis is on The Pretender; "Zig Zag" Zanardi Man of the Year, USAC Looks at Busy 1998

13 January 1998

The Arciero Wells FedEx/CART Racing team will be featured in the January 31 network TV program, The Pretender. You'll see the MCI sponsored team, its crew, driver Max Papis, and cameo appearances by Mario and Michael Andretti. It airs at 9;p.m. on NBC-TV.

1997 FedEx/CART champion Alex "Zig Zag" Zanardi has been named "Man Of The Year" by Automobile magazine. He is the first race driver to be so honored in the award's nine year history. The editors of the publication said it was not so much that Zanardi's championship in CART that won him the award, but how he did it. The 31 year old former F-1 racer provided bona fide racing entertainment whenever he competed. In the past two years Zanardi has won more races (8) and pole positions (10) and led more laps (948) than any of his rivals.

The United States Auto Club no longer has a championship division, but its other race series are going strong. For 1998, the good old Midget division will have 35 race dates. The venerable non-winged Sprinters will also run on pavement and dirt 35 times. Last friday in Indianapolis USAC held its annual awards banquet and awarded $325,000 to driving champions Dave Darland, Silver Crown; Brian Taylor, Sprint Car; Jason Leffler, Midgets; and Zak Morioka, FF2000. While a far cry from the $2 million Jeff Gordon took home from the NASCAR banquet, you gotta start somewhere. Rookie of the year honors went to J.J. Yelley, Silver Crown; Nick Lundgren, Midgets. Most improved driver went to Jay Drake of Canyon Country, CA.

Mercedes Benz, North America has announced a record breaking U.S. sales year for 1997 with 122,265 vehicles sold. The figure reflects a 34.6% increase over 1996 sales. A breakdown of model popularity shows that E-Class vehicles sold 42,883 units, followed by C-Class at 32,543 units, S-class at 16,119 units, and SLs at 8,025. SL prices start at $78,000--you do the math to find out what mega-bucks really means.

Mercedes U.S. boss Michael Bassermann said the German auto maker is projecting 1998 sales to top 144,000 units. Helping the company along is the news that an independent group of automotive journalists in the U.S. and Canada named the ML320 Sport Ute as North American Car of The Year. The M-Class is assembled by Mercedes at its plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

CART just went public and last week; its stock offering was designed to bring at least $70 million into the CART coffers, and to make millionaires of the team owners . . . at least those few who are not already millionaires. The new money will be used to buy the Indy Lights series, expand the CART/FedEx race schedule, expand media exposure for the association, increase its licensing operations, and expand its international audience. CART President Andrew Craig will receive a 1998 salary of $500,000.

Lovable F-1 Czar Bernie Eccelstone has put his foot in his big mouth again, as he commented on racing in America: "We don't go there because it is America," opined the 15th richest man in Great Britain. "The American road courses are a disaster. They won't pass safety standards, so we can't go there even if we wanted to. America is not a place with a culture for Formula One."

Has Bernie ever seen Road America or Elkhart Lake? Ecclestone is the clown that wanted to put on a race through the streets of Las Vegas. The STREETS yet. As for not having a culture, I guess we are not up on the daring drives and solid racing background (read daddys with dollars) of Ruben Barrachelo and Yanick Lanas.

We know Jeff Gordon took home all the loot at the NASCAR banquet at the Waldorf a few weeks ago. When you total up everything, Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors collected in 1997, the grand total comes to $6,375,658.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel