NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 88: Steve O’Donnell on his special connection to an international push

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As the day-to-day overseer of NASCAR’s competitive direction, chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell is a man of action who spends most of his time listening.

Whether drivers, team owners, sponsors, media or fans, the 21-year employee of NASCAR constantly solicits the opinions of those who are impacted by his organization’s decisions.

“When you’re listening, you probably are going to learn something or gain a perspective you hadn’t heard about before,” O’Donnell said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You have to make some tough calls. The toughest part is you’re not going to be everyone’s best friend. You have to make calls that drivers and teams don’t like.

“All you can do is hope they respect or understand why you made that call. The idea you’re going to be friends with everyone is something that’s tough and something you learn the hard way.”

O’Donnell gained an appreciation for the diversity of thought while growing up in Egypt, where his family moved to a town near Cairo from Massachusetts when he was in seventh grade.

Living amidst the volatility of the Middle East (one of O’Donnell’s close friends was Andrew Kerr, the younger brother of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose father was assassinated in Beirut in 1983) brought real-world lessons in the importance of communication and compromise for common ground.

“It’s probably the greatest thing my parents have given to me,” he said about the exposure to “different cultures and traveling around the world.

“It was an interesting perspectcive to sit in a class on the Egypt-Israeli War, which Egypt clearly struggled with, and have an Israeli kid to your right, an Egyptian to your left, and both believe they destroyed each other in this war. It was fascinating to listen to those two kids who had a completely different perspective. You learned quick.”

Besides the lessons of human nature, O’Donnell also developed a worldly understanding, which he remains keen on in helping NASCAR’s international push. Citing the NBA as a model, O’Donnell believes NASCAR can put down roots by creating leagues in other countries to foster drivers coming to America as Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez did from the Mexico Series.

NASCAR also has circuits in Canada and Europe, and O’Donnell said China and India could be on the horizon.

“You look at the car culture just emerging there, and some of the things that were built around NASCAR, the family aspect, the automobile, are coming together in both those countries and even parts of South America,” O’Donnell said. “If we can, in a smart way, go with OEMs to partner to create a series where NASCAR is part of the development, that can be a huge opportunity for us.

“It’s got to make sense for U.S. partners where they’re trying to break into those markets. One of things you’ve seen in other series, they’ve taken a race to a certain country that doesn’t really help any team owners or sponsors, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense for us.”

During the podcast, O’Donnell also discussed:

–How NASCAR is seeking more technology with its next Gen 7 model and the timeframe for rolling it out;

–His role in being a public face of NASCAR and dealing with negative feedback on social media.

–Why he believes NASCAR drivers need more swagger;

–What’s ahead for several key topics – the overtime line, monitoring lug nuts, making pit speeds available in real time, debris cautions.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on a host of other smartphone apps.

Cole Pearn to honor late friend with fundraiser for family next month in Toronto

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A testimonial to Cole Pearn’s best friend, who unexpectedly passed away in early August, as well as a fundraiser for his family will be held Friday, Jan. 5, at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Pearn’s lifelong friend, Jacob Damen, died unexpectedly after contracting a fast-moving bacterial infection on August 3.

Pearn, crew chief for the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship for Furniture Row Racing, will oversee the gala event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

The evening will also include an appearance by 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., silent and live auctions, the opportunity to meet both Pearn and Truex and other events.

All net proceeds from the evening will be given to the Damen Family Fund.

“We miss our buddy Jacob dearly,” Pearn said in a media release. “We all have family and friends that fill a space in our hearts that is irreplaceable.

“Jacob filled the hearts of his wife Carolyn, his sons Lucas and Nolan, his parents Jerry and Kim Damen, twin brother Tyler, sister Julia and countless friends.

“We are going to celebrate his life at the perfect spot, the Hockey Hall of Fame, to support his beautiful wife Carolyn and the two boys, Lucas and Nolan. I can’t wait to get home to celebrate with everyone.”

Click here for more details and to purchase tickets to the ‘Jacob Damen Friend and Fan Remembered’ event.

NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Jan. 20

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The annual NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day will return to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, next month.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 20, the day after the 2018 Hall of Fame class is inducted.

Fans will be able to take part in an autograph session with current national series drivers, Hall of Famers and members of the NASCAR Next class, as well photo opportunities and question-and-answer sessions with a number of NASCAR legends.

Admission to Hall of Fame will be free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis

Admission to driver autograph sessions is free but will require a ticket for participation. Fans can register for the driver autograph sessions at nascarhall.com beginning Saturday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. ET. A full driver autograph session schedule will be announced at a later date.

 and on Facebook

Ryan Blaney to guest star on NBC’s ‘Taken’ next year

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Ryan Blaney has a particular set of skills; skills that he’s developed through years of professional auto racing.

The Team Penske driver will get to display those skills next year on NBC’s “Taken” TV Series.

The show serves as a prequel to the 2008 Liam Neeson film of the same name.

Blaney, 23, will guest start on the second season of the series, which premieres Jan. 12. He will appear in an episode titled “Imperium” as a special agent who knows his way around a car.

Here’s the plot synopsis for the episode.

“When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) teams up with the FBI in a race to stop him before he reaches the safety of international waters.”

This won’t be Blaney’s first time in front of a camera playing someone else. He had two movie cameos this year in Logan Lucky and Cars 3.

Blaney was filming his role in “Taken” on Tuesday in Ontario. See his tweets from the set below.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram update: Leaves ICU, moves to acute care facility

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram’s condition continues to improve following a serious car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina on Dec. 3.

According to an online post by his daughter, Ingram was taken out of Intensive Care on Tuesday and moved into an Acute Care facility, which is not as serious as ICU is.

Ingram did suffer a small setback in his recovery, developing a slight infection that is being treated with antibiotics.

Added the note from Ingrid Jones, Jack’s daughter, “The acute care facility will work to start decreasing his pain meds, over time, and put him on less narcotics and more simple analgesics (like really strong Tylenol, but without narcotics).

“Also they will continue his therapies, physical and occupational, as he’s able. It is still hard to know what his long-term health future will be, but we think his color looks really good, and we have no doubts that he has the will and determination to see this through.

“So if it is humanly possible for him to overcome, he will.”

We’ll continue to have periodic updates on Ingram’s condition as they become available.