There's something going round at Fox Sports' Pico Boulevard studios these days: really fast cars, bankrolled by the network's hosts.
John Salley, the co-host of Fox Sports' "Best Damn Sports Show Period" and a former Lakers star, has bought an interest in three cars on a GP2 team a training ground for Formula One racing. His partner on the show, former USC and NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, backed a GP2 car for a race. And NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown, an analyst on FSN's "Pro Football Preview," has teamed with NASCAR's Roush Racing to launch a truck racing team that will bow next year.
So what's the deal with the wheels?
"If David Letterman can do it, then so can I," Salley said, referring to the late night host's backing of an Indy racing team.
There's a bit of corporate synergy with the hosts' new hobbies. Fox along with TNT, Walt Disney Co's ABC and ESPN has the $4.8 billion, eight-year NASCAR broadcast rights. News Corp.'s Speed Channel is the cable home of the Craftsman Truck Series, and F1 races are broadcast on Fox Sports and Speed.
The TV personalities all of whom are African American are getting into racing at a time when the sport's various governing bodies are trying to attract more young, white-collar and minority fans.
Brown said he was glad to help increase minority participation in the sport.
"Eventually I think we can widen appeal, but it's hard to get African American sponsors right now, because you can't guarantee them that African Americans are going to see the racing events," Brown said.
Sponsors are essential, because racing is a pricey hobby. To run a NASCAR Craftsman truck team could cost about $10 million, Brown estimated, and Formula One teams are astronomically expensive, with average figures running upward of $300 million to own and operate a team for a year.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I had to put all my own money up; it's too risky," said Brown, who said he's spending between $3 million and $5 million to launch his initial truck team. "The sponsors have something to gain with their money because so many people see you out there. As an investor you've got to get your money back and keep more coming in."
Salley co-owns the cars and some trucks with business partner John Siau, owner of CT Motorsport. He said he is in it simply for the love of racing, not as a champion of increased minority presence.
"I shouldn't have to be involved with something where they constantly think about my color," said Salley. "It's just about racing, and it should be about the sport."
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