At the direction of chairman Kevin Martin, the Federal Communications Commission is paying $350,000 to NASCAR driver David Gilliland to sponsor the digital TV transition on the hood of his Ford Fusion in a three-race deal that concludes Sunday [Nov. 16] at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In his first two Sprint Cup races, Gilliland hasn’t fared well: he crashed and had to exit the competition. His Nov. 9 crash in Phoenix was spectacular, a nine-car pile up in which his No. 38 car, owned by Yates Racing, was engulfed in flames as it sat burning atop another racing vehicle. Video of the inflammatory action can be found at www.nascar.com/video.
Martin — named Porker of the Month in October by Citizens Against Government Waste for allegedly engaging in unnecessary federal spending in the NASCAR promotion — tried to put Gilliland's inability to finish a race in the best possible light.
“Actually, coincidentally, except for the cars that win the races, the ones that are in wrecks, I think they get a lot of attention during the race itself,” Martin told reporters Nov. 10.
Given that Gilliland is a middle-of-the-pack performer rarely in the top five, a reporter asked Martin whether the FCC wanted its NASCAR driver to crash on purpose to give the Feb. 17, 2009 digital TV transition date better media exposure.
“I didn't ask them to end up doing that,” Martin said.
Despite his best efforts to make the NASCAR spending seem a prudent use of taxpayer money, Martin still has his critics.
“Let us hope that the NASCAR pile up is not an omen about the success of the DTV transition and that the leadership changes now underway in Washington will act swiftly to address this other important 2009 transition without additional waste of taxpayer resources,” Barbara Esbin, Progress & Freedom Foundation senior fellow, wrote on her blog last Wednesday.
Let’s see how Gilliland drives Sunday in Miami.