Jane Miller’s In the Fast Lane racing column.
Caterpillar, Inc., has been making motorsports sponsorship news on a couple of fronts this week with the renewal of its NASCAR Nextel Cup contract with Bill Davis Racing and the announcement of a new 2008 sponsorship, along with dealer groups, of an NHRA Top Fuel dragster. The contract with BDR is a multi-year deal, said Caterpillar director of racing operations Greg Towles. He would not be more specific as to the length of the agreement. Towles said the company decided to continue the relationship, even though the team has struggled in recent years, because of two main factors -- the team's improved performance in recent weeks and the promise of future success with Toyota. "We've been real encouraged with the way the team has been running lately -- we've had a couple of top 10s in the last few races," said Towles, "and we think Toyota is going to bring a lot to NASCAR Nextel Cup." Towles also said the team's driver, Dave Blaney, will be signed to an extension. "He and (crew chief) Tommy Baldwin are really starting to click and they've been really qualifying well and running well so we have high expectations for the remainder of this season and into next year," Towles said. Those kinds of expectations have already been met with the drag-racing portion of the operation. Rod Fuller, driving for David Powers Motorsports, is leading the Top Fuel points as the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship begins at the all-important U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis this weekend. Cat and a series of dealerships have been part-time sponsors on the car this year. The team had been hopeful all season that the sponsorship could be made into a fulltime arrangement. The aim of the sponsorship is a recruiting campaign by the company to find new dealer service technicians. "We are always looking at innovative recruiting ideas because people are our most valuable asset and crucial to the growth of both Caterpillar and our dealers," said Ted Goins, Caterpillar senior marketing manager. The success of the campaign through the summer certainly helped the team's cause. "I think we proved this was a program that would really develop a rich venue of technicians for Caterpillar dealers to bring on board," said Powers. "It was heavily supported by the dealers and it just makes a lot of sense." The car sports a beautiful black-and-yellow paint scheme which showcases the company and its dealers in an attractive package. The team's success this season -- Fuller has won twice and qualified No. 1four times – oddly didn't figure into the decision. "I'm not sure that that really counted in looking at all of the discussions that we've had with Caterpillar," Powers said. "Certainly in our mind that's important, but as far as Caterpillar goes, it's really concerned about the business sense of it. A lot of the people that made the decision to go with this have never been to an NHRA race." Successful Test Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve completed his two-day Craftsman Truck test Tuesday at Chicagoland Speedway and plans are to have him make his first start at the Las Vegas race Sept. 22, then finish out the season in the truck. He may even make a Nextel Cup start before the end of the year. "It was a great test," Villeneuve said. "I missed racing on ovals, so it has been a lot of fun the last few days. It took a little getting used to at first, but I am very comfortable now." Bill Davis Racing truck team manager Mark Chambers was impressed with the way Villeneuve adapted to the truck, despite not having run on an oval since 1995, and the way he was able to give feedback to the team. "He will be a great asset to BDR," Chambers said. Though Caterpillar isn't involved in Villeneuve's sponsorship, Towles called the move "real positive." "It's kind of out-of-the-box thinking," he added. "If (Villeneuve) can perform as well as (Juan Pablo) Montoya, I think Bill has really found somebody." Pit Stops Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves once was voted People magazine's Sexiest Race Car Driver. He'll be even more mainstream next month as he becomes a member of the cast of this fall's edition of "Dancing with the Stars." Castroneves' partner will be Julianne Hough, who won the competition this spring with speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno. ... Will Archdale of Peoria Heights picked up his third consecutive win Saturday night at Sycamore Speedway, winning his heat race and the 20-lap mini-sprint feature. Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. Write her at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3207 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.