Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weather, wrecks, mechanical mayhem mar CSX, David Ragan Daytona debut

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Weather, wrecks, mechanical mayhem mar CSX, David Ragan Daytona debut All photos: William C. Vantuono
In NASCAR Sprint Cup competition at Daytona International Speedway, drivers and fans alike are always on the lookout for “The Big One,” that massive wreck-fest that takes drivers out of contention during The Great American Race and its preliminary events. At the 2014 edition of NASCAR’s season-opening event, bad weather scored a big one, and major mechanical failure as well as a wreck took its toll on David Ragan and the no. 34 CSX “Play It Safe Around Railroad Tracks” Front Row Motorsports Ford Fusion.

CSX PIT MontageRagan started the Daytona 500 from the rear of the field, 43rd position, after a last-lap wreck in his Gatorade Duel race three nights prior totaled his primary racecar and forced him into a backup car for Sunday’s 500. Always a strong performer at superspeedways like Daytona, Ragan managed to gain several positions in his CSX locomotive-scheme-inspired blue and gold Ford before torrential rain and a tornado watch in central Florida brought out the red flag, halting the action for more than six hours.

When the rains came, Ragan and his team had flashbacks to May 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway, when a similar scenario resulted in Front Row Motorsports’ first win. But the events of last season would not repeat. After the green flag waved around 9:00 p.m., restarting the race, the No. 34 was struck with a mechanical issue. During a Lap 88 (of 200) pit stop, the car’s four-speed gearbox failed, forcing the team to take the stricken Ford Fusion to the garage. The FRM crew was able to replace the racecar’s blown transmission and return Ragan to the track to gain some points. In a race filled with numerous wrecks, including two “Big Ones” near the end, attrition worked on the No. 34 team’s side, with Ragan gaining eight spots to finish 34th.

“Well, it was a long Daytona 500,” David Ragan said. “Our CSX Play It Safe team had a good car and a fast car, but we had a transmission go out and we had to come to the garage and change it. We were able to get back out and collect a few points, but it was definitely not the Daytona 500 we all hoped for. We’ll try to diagnose what the problem was and learn from it, and we’ll look forward to Phoenix.”

Regardless of the outcome, CSX’s important “Play It Safe Around Railroad Tracks” public safety message reached tens of thousands of fans at Daytona International Speedway during the week-long SpeedWeeks activities at the world-famous racetrack.

CSX’s partnership with David Ragan and FRM includes primary sponsorship at three more Sprint Cup races this season—Darlington Raceway April 12, Michigan International Speedway Aug. 17, and Richmond International Raceway Sept. 6. Ragan’s car will sport CSX’s distinctive blue and gold locomotive colors and “Play It Safe Around Railroad Tracks” graphics.

CSX will also be a major associate on the No. 34 at Pocono Raceway Aug. 3 and at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 11. The familiar “I Brake for Trains” bumper sticker will be on the back of Ragan’s Ford Fusion for all 36 races of the Sprint Cup schedule.

CSX utilized its sponsorship of Front Row last year to successfully communicate the dangers of trespassing on railroad tracks and the need to “stop, look, and listen” at grade crossings to its target demographic of males age 18 to 34. The 28-year-old Ragan regularly spoke to fans about rail safety through social media, through traditional media interviews, and in person at public appearances, where he often handed out “I Brake for Trains” bumper stickers.

“NASCAR provides a highly effective platform to communicate a very powerful safety message, and having a spokesperson who is very likeable and articulate and happens to be in the target demographic we’re trying to reach makes for a winning combination,” said Gary Sease, CSX Corporate Communications Director. “David brings unique credibility to the message that walking on tracks is reckless behavior that can be deadly. The renewal and growth of the CSX-Front Row partnership is further affirmation that the race team is a good fit for companies looking to grow their motorsports presence. CSX is one of multiple 2013 sponsors returning for 2014 with expanded programs.”

“We developed a great relationship with CSX last year, and we actually grew together as the season went on,” said team owner Bob Jenkins. “We celebrated our first team win at Talladega with the 34 car (click here to see a video of that race’s thrilling finish), CSX jumped on the opportunity to celebrate that win by joining us for the All-Star race. And this year the program is even bigger. We’re proud to be partnering with a successful Fortune 500 company and helping to spread their message.”

“Having CSX return and grow with us from one season to the next is evidence of the value Front Row Motorsports can provide to a company with a message to share,” added team Marketing Director Mike Laheta. “We not only appreciate their support, but appreciate their commitment to promoting safety and saving lives.”