Music to Tags' ears

Canadian racer Alex Tagliani blasts out of the pits during the afternoon practices session at the...

Canadian racer Alex Tagliani blasts out of the pits during the afternoon practices session at the Honda Indy Toronto yesterday . Tagliani finished 14th on the day. (JACK BOLAND, TORONTO SUN)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:48 PM ET

Before he attempts to qualifying for the Honda Indy Toronto on Saturday, IZOD IndyCar star Alex Tagliani would like to sell you some stereo equipment.

Some very special stereo equipment actually.

Tagliani — who this season became the only Canadian in history to win the Indianapolis 500 pole — drives the No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Honda Dallara, but it is the Bowers & Wilkins logo on the sidepods of his car that makes racing possible for the native of the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie.

Unlike most professional sports, the men and women who drive race cars for a living almost all have to secure sponsorship to pave the way for their careers.

In fact, the chasing down and securing such sponsors is far more than half of the work it takes to go racing.

And when Tagliani tracked down B&W boss Joe Atkins in Toronto more than a year ago and convinced him it would be good for his high end home theatre audio business to hook up with IndyCar it was, for Tagliani, the equivalent of being picked No. 1 overall in the National Hockey League draft.

It guaranteed him a full season — last year — in the then brand new FAZZT Racing team.

“I made a phone call to Joe Atkins looking for some support from a guy from Toronto for a guy from Montreal who wanted to race in IndyCar,” Tagliani said of that initial meeting. “I wanted to convince him to get involved in racing.

“That conversation turned into a very serious sponsorship deal.”

For Bowers & Wilkins, however, it had to make economic sense. The firm already had a top notch reputation among audiophiles but was about to launch its brand in the U.S. in the big box consumer electronics market with Best Buy.

Tagliani was doing his part by surprising almost everyone in the IZOD IndyCar series by taking a one-car small budget team based in Montreal and making it competitive right off the truck.

This season both Tagliani and Bowers & Wilkins had to up their game.

FAZZT Racing was sold in the off-season to Indianapolis-based Sam Schmidt Motorsports, keeping the team’s assets — including Tagliani and the majority of his engineering team — intact.

B&W, meanwhile, had made a deal to start selling their brand in Future Shop in Canada starting this summer.

Tagliani looked to extend his sponsorship relationship and B&W wanted him to help them raise the profile of their products in Canada.

“It really is like I have become part of their team,” Tagliani said. “I play the part of the salesman on one end urging the company to use me and IndyCar to help market their products and on the other end by actually going into stores like Future Shop to promote those products.”

He admits there are times when he feels out of place in the world of electronic sales, but it is something that he need to do if he wants to extend his own career.

“It is still a work in progress,” Tagliani said. “But it is one of the most positive sponsorships I have ever been involved with.”

He is no different than Dario Franchitti, who is spending a huge chunk of his time this week in Toronto helping to get some visibility for his Target sponsor, which is set to open more than 150 stores in Canada in 2013.

One would assume that Tagliani would be set for this season after his spectacular showing at the Indy 500 and his second pole of the season — this time in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series — and then a third pole in the IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway.

But like pro sports everywhere it is not always what have you done, but what are you going to do that keeps an athlete in the game.

“The Indianapolis 500 brought a lot of attention to B&W,” Tagliani said. “But let’s face the facts, without that attention B&W can’t justify spending what they do to sponsor me.”

So if it takes him going to a Future Shop outlet like he did this week in downtown Toronto to keep him racing that is what Tagliani will do.

“Yesterday I went to a Future Shop store on Yonge St., and I saw the amazing display B&W had and I felt that I was part of making that happen,” he said. “I am not kidding, it was a bit like winning a race. I was excited to see my sponsor’s products on the store shelf.”

Spoken like a true stereo salesman.

 


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