NASCAR Lesson #2: There are a lot of people selling snake oil to unsuspecting people. Last night on ESPN E:60 they featured a young driver from Ohio named Christian Pahud trying to make it in NASCAR. Prominently featured in the story is a driver development program called Team Full Throttle, which is owned and run by Tom Baker and Mike Calinoff, spotter for Dario Franchitti. The Daly Planet wrote about the infomercial-esque quality of the piece last night and today has the response from Mike Calinoff.
First of all, let me start off by saying I think Mike Calinoff is very good at what he does and I have never heard anything but positive things from people who have worked with the man as a spotter. That being said I think what John Daly said about the program and his questions regarding Team Full Throttle were more than justified.
So the issue at hand. Mike Calinoff and Tom Baker are charging naive families, who want to see their children succeed in the sport, upwards of $20,000 to participate in a program that apparently serves to pad both of those men’s pockets, but provides little in the way of career advancement within the sport. Admittedly they have no drivers currently within any of NASCAR’s top series, ARCA or from what I can tell Hooters Pro Cup. Calinoff says that this is because none of these kids are old enough to race in NASCAR’s upper series, which is true, however many are old enough to be driving in ARCA and Hooters Pro Cup.
So what does this service provide? According to their website they provide coaching, training, PR, and a website among other things. They do not provide race cars, transportation, tires etc. This means that another $40+ thousand dollars (in addition to the $20,000 already spent for the Full Throttle services) is going to have to be spent on equipment.
In Mike Calinoff’s rebuttal to the scathing review on Daly Planet, others within the sport come to his defense including David Stremme and Eddie D’Hondt. Both of which, oddly enough do business with Calinoff. He serves as Stremme’s business manager, and team owner Eddie D’Hondt (formerly of Robert Yates Racing, formerly of Riley D’Hondt Motorsports) is a participant in Calinoff’s driver development clinic. These people, however respected and credible, offer a less than objective opinion of Calinoff’s services, much like the ESPN piece.
In the entire 7 minute piece I counted no more than 30 seconds of them speaking to the negatives of the program. The only person who in fact spoke to the negatives was Dr. Jerry Punch who said something to the effect of “you have a better chance at the tables in Vegas than becoming the next Jeff Gordon.” They did not include an interview with Mike Calinoff (which he says they did and ESPN did not include), nor did they ask any questions about the legitimacy of the program. Overall the segment came off like an infomercial for the program, something I would not expect from ESPN, and something ESPN should be ashamed of.
The ESPN piece also made it appear as if the participants in Team Full Throttle must relocate to the Charlotte area. Calinoff pointed out in the rebuttal that this is not the case. I don’t really see why this was an issue. The fact of the matter is, Calinoff is still taking $20,000 from unsuspecting families. It doesn’t matter if they live in Mooresville, New York or Timbuktu.
In addition to Team Full Throttle, Calinoff offers two clinics to unsuspecting people to show them how to get a job in the sport (he makes no promises that people actually will find a job). One is for people who are looking for various jobs on a team and he charges $99 per person, in addition there is a driver development clinic which costs $495 per driver and $200 per parent. Both days he parades a group of impressive names to talk about what they do, did and how to get a job. These are not the only services Calinoff provides and one visit to his website can show you how truly diversified he is.
Calinoff is not the only person in NASCAR selling services that are questionable. I will talk about these a little more some other time, but there exists a couple of resume services; one Race City Resumes, run by Bob Hubner and another Pro Motorsports. I would say you probably have a better chance getting hit by a bus in your living room than getting a job through these services.
The lesson to all of this? Please be careful with the people you choose to give your money to; there are so many people out there looking to take advantage of those trying to live the dream. I’m no male model, but the same is true in this sport, if you’re truly talented and truly going places, legitimate people offering their services, like an agent or representative, will not ask for large sums of money up front. So if it looks like a sketchy deal and smells like one, chances are…