Florida the rules are different here Chapter CXXXIII
The state of Florida is spending one million dollars to promote Florida produce. Doesn't sound unusual does it? Not till you hear that its being done by using a race car? Watch that car speed around a track at 170 MPH and think of Florida oranges, tomatoes and watermelon. That's what Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson thinks will happen. Who's TFM to question Florida's politicians and bureaucrats. (Cue the sarcastic laughter) Don't you just love Florida?
Linked to- Bullwinkle, Committees of Correspondence, Perri Nelson, The World According to Carl,
TALLAHASSEE -- What's green, can hit speeds of 170 mph and is fueled with $1 million in state dollars?
It's the "Fresh from Florida" race car, which, at racetracks from Homestead to Quebec, is being used to promote watermelons, tomatoes, oranges and a multitude of other fruits and vegetables grown in the Sunshine State.
"It's definitely different, but it's so attention-getting, it creates a lot of buzz at the track," said Tom Long, one of the drivers of car No. 99, a BMW M3.
"When you think of racing and peak performance, there's a tie to fresh Florida fruits and vegetables: good things for high performance. That's the message we're delivering," said Martin May, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.
It's a message not everybody has received. Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, a Tallahassee-based watchdog of government spending, had no idea the state was sponsoring race cars until he was told by a reporter.
That expenditure might "raise a few eyebrows," Calabro said, especially with Florida facing a $1 billion revenue shortfall because of the sluggish economy.
"[But] this could prove to be a great investment," Calabro added. "Anything that enhances the success of produce would be beneficial. It's a gift that may keep helping farmers and the taxpayers of Florida."
Although considered a rung below NASCAR in the hierarchy of professional racing, the Daytona Beach-based Grand American Road Racing Association has featured big-league drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. And while attendance on race day usually numbers in the thousands, promoters claim to have reached 27 million people in 2006, mostly through television exposure. Both Florida cars are racing this year in all events, seven of which are nationally televised.
"It's reaching a crowd we need to reach," said Nelson Mongiovi, director of marketing and development for the agriculture department. "And it's the fastest-growing spectator sport in America."
Last year, the state spent $4 million in tax dollars (combined with equivalent amount paid by growers) on the Fresh from Florida marketing campaign, which includes promotions such as "Northern Exposure," a flooding of Canadian and northern U.S. supermarkets with Florida produce in winter and spring.
Since the campaign started nearly two years ago, sales of Florida produce and profits from all agriculture-related businesses (including tractor sales and trucking companies that ship the produce) have jumped $10 billion to nearly $97 billion, said Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.
"Part of our program is to promote the symbol .|.|. and we keep track to see if we're getting our money's worth," Bronson said. Tracking by the University of Florida, he said, "found we were getting almost a 10-to-1 return."
By law, he said, the department is required to promote Florida's agriculture industry however it can. Calabro suggested the state might seek more private donors to help fund the racing enterprise.
"Not that there is anything improper," he said. "But when we're looking at a billion-dollar-plus state budget [shortfall], I'd probably try to raise more money from the private sector."
While federal agencies, including the Army and Navy, sponsor NASCAR teams and Grand-Am underwriters include Playboy, Ruby Tuesday, Sun Trust Bank and Super Cuts, so far the Florida Department of Agriculture has been the sole state agency to get in the game.Mongiovi said the department is trying to maximize the marketing money it gets from the Legislature to promote agriculture, the state's second-largest industry behind tourism.
Florida's cars are handled by the Orlando-based Automatic Racing team, which had eight top-10 finishes in 2006. Long, 25, has been racing for six years. After breaking a two-year track record during qualifying, he finished sixth at the July 7 Watkins Glen race in upstate New York.
Of the eight races so far this season, which runs from January to October, one or both Florida cars have finished in the top seven spots seven times. The best finish so far has been a second place for No. 09. They next compete Aug. 17-19 in Quebec.
"The fans are really involved in it. They come by, look at the cars and get the posters and materials we hand out," Long said.
"It's pretty neat because everyone keeps an extra eye on you as you go around the track."