Associated The Press
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Free beer.
In NASCAR, a sport where everything is for sale and no promotional idea goes untapped, the only surprise is that it took until now for this marketing ploy to surface.
If Rusty Wallace wins the Daytona 500 on Sunday, the long-awaited marriage of fast cars, free beer and racing fans will commence: Every ticketholder of legal drinking age at The Great American Race will win a coupon good for a free six-pack of Miller Lite, the brand Wallace endorses.
"It's pretty much hard to beat a deal like that," said race fan Wayne Bowman. "The good thing is, I already root for Rusty and I drink Miller."
Not that it takes a fan of Wallace or of Miller products to make this thing work.
In a very unofficial canvas of the infield at Daytona - where beer ranks just below oxygen on the list of life-sustaining elements - the Miller promotion garnered nearly universal support.
Budweiser drinkers. Coors drinkers. Pepsi drinkers. Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett, Jerry Nadeau - it seems they've all found common ground on this issue.
"I think it's a good idea," said Pete Morrison, a Wallace fan who says he drinks almost any kind of beer. "Yeah, I'm a little surprised it took this long to do this."
It is a touch of PR genius, yet it leaves one huge question unanswered: Why, exactly, did it take this long for NASCAR's marketing wizards to come up with such an obvious promotion?
"A lot of it has to do with tracks and limitations and relationships," Miller spokesman Marc Spiegel said. "Obviously, the folks who came up with the idea had to figure out exactly how it would work."
Easier said than done.
Because Budweiser is the official beer of NASCAR, and the NASCAR folks are wildly protective of those who pay millions to advertise with them, the Miller people had to promise the sanctioning body it wouldn't run the promotion on the grounds of the track.
So, if Wallace wins, they plan to distribute up to 100,000 coupons just outside the speedway. On their way out of the track, adults with a ticket stub can pick up the coupons from an "easily identified Miller Lite representative," according to a news release. The coupons are good for $4.99 toward a six-pack or larger Miller Lite package.
The beer reps won't check IDs, but they'll only hand out coupons to those who look like they're 21 or older, the legal drinking age in Florida. The coupons are only redeemable in Florida, and stores would be responsible for checking IDs, just as they always are.
Spiegel said it took nearly two months to iron out the details, and "we wish we'd have had more time."
A logistical nightmare? A beer lover's dream?
The Budweiser people are playing it coy.
"They're going to stay out of this one," said Jade Gurss, PR contact for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drives the Budweiser car. "They have no real comment."
Lest race fans start drinking the beer before it's won - a party foul in anyone's book - they should know that a Wallace victory would be the stock-car equivalent of the Cubs winning the World Series.
Although he has come close many times, Wallace has never won a main event at Daytona in more than two decades of racing.
Making prospects worse, NASCAR officials knocked Wallace from the eighth to the 38th starting position Friday, after discovering he used an illegal carburetor during qualifying. Even before that, Wallace was a 25-to-1 longshot to win.
"Budweiser never would have done this, because they know they'd have to give the beer away," said Earnhardt fan Scott Landrum. "Rusty Wallace? He's pretty much washed up."
But even if Wallace doesn't win, the beer company has already achieved its goal with the promotion. Fans are talking about it. Jay Leno is cracking jokes about it. Other drivers are fielding questions about it - most concerning whether their own sponsors will make the same ingenious gesture someday.
Imagine the possibilities: Sterling Marlin's sponsor is Coors. Brett Bodine's sponsor is Hooters. Mark Martin? He drives the Viagra car.
"Could be interesting," Martin said. "I think you'd see an awful lot of doctors' visits if we did a deal like that."
Associated The Press