Industry Update
Opinion Article23 September 2019

Hospitality Financial Leadership - Singing the National Anthem with Paul Newman

By David Lund, The Hotel Financial Coach

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Going to a professional automobile race is always an opportunity to meet famous people. What you need to do is be able to identify these people because they are right under your nose. In this piece I am writing about one such encounter with the late and great Mr. Paul Newman.

Mr. Newman was a fixture for most of his life at racetracks as a car owner in Indy Car, and race car driver and champion himself in the IMSA series. He co-owned the Indy Car racing team, Newman Hass, named after himself and the also late Carl Hass. Carl was the exclusive importer of Lola chassis for all the Indy Car teams for many years. Paul was the founder of the Indy Car racing team and over the years they won 102 races, six championships and had an all-star lineup of drivers as well. The likes of Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Michael Andretti all drove at different times for the team.

My story about singing the National Anthem with Paul was a fluke encounter but one I will never forget. It was the summer of 2002 and the Indy Car circus rolled into Vancouver where I was the hotel manager at a downtown 550-room hotel. I took Friday afternoon off from work to go watch practice and we had one of the team staying with us. That meant I got some tickets, including a pit pass. Most people do not realize it but the Friday session at many race weekends is the best for getting access to see people and the action.

What to pay attention to at the racetrack

One, be on the lookout for the people who ride the motorized scooters around the track. They are almost always the drivers, owners or their entourage. The team mechanics never ride the scooters, they walk everywhere.

Two, find the point of entry from the grandstands onto the racing track. It is always well-guarded and you need the appropriate credentials to get through but it is the place where everyone who is anyone needs to pass. So therefore, it is the best people-watching vantage point.

That Friday afternoon I was in the back pit of Michael Andretti who was driving that year for Paul and I was also in the Target Chip Ganassi pit of driver Dario Franchetti. While I was there Dario's wife Ashley Judd also was in attendance. I just walked in like I belonged there. I got some great pictures and was super close to the action.

They do not usually play the National Anthem on Fridays. They save that for Sunday. Sunday is also race day and the place is packed with thousands of people.

I returned to the track on Sunday, but security was much tighter and there was no way to get where I was on Friday even with my pass. I did however get to a point at the end of the pit lane where people who had racing surface credentials would pass to get from the public area onto the race track. Most people come and go as things get close to the start of the race.

At this point the public announcer tells us all to take off our hats and we listen to both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. We no sooner finish the U.S. Anthem and a scooter pulls up and stops right beside me. Who is on the scooter - none other than Paul Newman wearing his trademark sunglasses and K-Mart hat. They start to play the Canadian Anthem and Paul stands with his scooter and removes his hat and he sings O Canada right along with me.

He smiles and we sing. I thought, He knows all the words. How cool is that? We finish and I hold up my camera to him and he nods, I click two pics of him and he has just made my day and weekend. How cool to see him, sing Canada and get his picture.

The next day I took my camera to work and downloaded the pictures on my work laptop. I deleted the photos from my camera. A busy day at work and I had guests to meet on arrival in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. - coming back to my office I discover my laptop was stolen right off my office desk. Photos are gone but the memory remains.

RIP - PN

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David Lund

David Lund is The Hotel Financial Coach, an international hospitality financial leadership expert. He has held positions as a Regional Financial Controller, Corporate Director and Hotel Manager with an international brand for over 30 years. He authored an award-winning workshop on hospitality financial leadership and has delivered it to hundreds of hotel managers.

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