Tagliani pounds pavement

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

Yesterday, Helio Castroneves was in Brazil enjoying a personal audience with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Tony Kanaan and Raphael Matos were also back in Brazil.

Dan Wheldon was at a family retreat in Portugal.

Dario Franchitti was at his house in Scotland.

And Canada's Alex Tagliani? Where was he?

Yesterday he was meeting a columnist at a coffee shop, heading to the Capital EX midway for a photo shoot, and spending four hours at a meet-and-greet at Carefree RV in exchange for a unit to use at the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

The stars don't have to be here until Thursday. Tagliani arrived here at 10 p.m., Saturday. Right in the middle of the storm which knocked out power, uprooted trees and caused significant destruction in the area.

"It was the first time in all my travelling years that I had a white knuckle hold on my armrests. It was pretty rough. Then I went to Driving Force to pick up my rent-a-car and the wind damn near ripped off the door," he said, smoothly working in a plug.

CONTINUES WORKING

While the other drivers are still enjoying relaxing breaks around the world, Tagliani is here early for an exhausting schedule of pre-race appearances which have provided the Canadian with a ride in the Indy 500, the Toronto and Edmonton races and a few other selected events on the schedule.

It costs about $4 million in sponsorship to put a race car on the track for an entire season and Tagliani has raised the money to drive a third of it mostly by selling himself.

"It's not only slapping on a logo that goes 200 mph, it's about accessing a lot of people and doing a lot of media."

And that's why Tagliani will be making appearances all over town like Klondike Kate used to do during Klondike Days.

It's something he learned when driving a Player's cigarette-sponsored car in 21 Champ Car races a year.

"We'd be in Australia being photographed learning how to surf and shaking hands with a kangaroo," he said of a willingness to not only go for a picture in a bumper car but to have fun with it, bombing around the midway in a golf cart and stopping to play midway carnival games.

Today he has a two-hour media event at the track and a full schedule of events through race week.

They include a Sun Media/Quebecor Autonet contest-winner event, a TorcUP Canada function at the local business, the event chairman reception at City Hall, an early morning visit to Global TV, a Driving Force staff pancake breakfast, a Northland's/Konica-Minolta appearance, a driver tips session for a Northlands corporate challenge race car event with local business leaders at the track, the Rexall sponsors party, a Torc-UP client go-cart event plus all the IndyCar requests and requirements on the weekend at the track.

"I want sponsors to see that this guy is willing to do a lot and that on the track, I'm able to race up front. You've got to give time. You have to help other people help the race. It's about giving a piece of yourself so that the fans and sponsors will have a piece of the race."

In yesterday's profiles in the Sun's special 64-page preview section, Tagliani's race earnings in IndyCar were listed as $420,000 for seven races.

Not bad. Except Tagliani's negotiated percentage is a little lower than the other drivers lounging on beaches around the world.

"Zero," he said. "Nothing. This year I'm racing for free. No dollars. I'm happy to be in an Indy car.

SUCKING IT UP

"You have to roll up your sleeves in tough times. This is a tough time. Good things happen to good people. I'm working toward a larger project. I'm looking at it as a start-up business. Four or five years from now, no matter how this ends up, I don't want to look back with regrets.

"It's the same with promoting this race," he said, of what he maintains is a bargain basement sponsorship deal with Northlands.

"I want to do whatever I can to keep it here. This has been a great event."

He says all those other drivers who headed home for their break don't have what he has.

"Helio doesn't have a race in Brazil. Franchitti doesn't have a race in Scotland. Weldon doesn't have a race in England. Most of the drivers in this series don't have a race in their own country. I'm the lucky one."


Photos