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A Hunk Hits The Road
Bob Ottum
May 14, 1984
If you don't think life as a front man for a pizza chain can be beautiful, take a careful look at Indy-Car driver Danny Sullivan
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May 14, 1984

A Hunk Hits The Road

If you don't think life as a front man for a pizza chain can be beautiful, take a careful look at Indy-Car driver Danny Sullivan

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For a third season, Shierson's racing effort is being sponsored by an outfit called Domino's Pizza, which has some 1,300 outlets in 48 states, Canada and Australia. All specialize in over-the-phone orders and guarantee delivery to your door within 30 minutes, hence the No. 30 on Sullivan's race car, another little marketing nudge. But Domino's is getting more than exposure; it's also getting the top-of-the-line model New Breed driver, sophisticated and well-spoken, an international somebody who brings a breath of glamour to the world of half-pepperoni, half-anchovy. Oldtime Indy drivers aren't very good at that sort of thing. Bless 'em, they tend to mumble a bit and struggle with their grammar and—horrors—forget to mention the sponsor's name when a microphone is jammed into their helmets. But Domino's has Danny Sullivan. You want a 30-second spot in the pits? More? Sullivan can deliver it with perfect timing, ever gracious, never forgetting to mention the sponsor's name—several times. A company banquet or hospitality tent appearance? Of course. Sullivan will do 10 minutes on dough, anchovies, mozzarella and all, and send shivers through a crowd.

Rich sponsors make it all work, of course, buying the best cars and crews in the game. Many of the newer drivers have added "personal sponsors." They are akin to patrons of the arts, really—people who have nothing to sell but who want to be a visible part of racing's excitement. Garvin Brown is that to a degree, and another of Sullivan's big backers is his pal Jim Stout of Newport Beach, Calif., a real-estate investment tycoon whose support includes a private Learjet, limos and key contacts in the business world.

No matter that Sullivan got off to a late start and is now five years older than the average Grand Prix driver. He has arrived, and if this is what racing has come to, well, there's no going back. A couple of years ago Sullivan had a minor gap between his front teeth, and now even that has been taken care of. Ask yourself this question: Can you imagine a Lloyd Ruby or a Jimmy Bryan undergoing cosmetic dentistry?

Sullivan's steady girl friend of two years is stunning Julie Nini, whose ex, Bobby Lamm, is a composer-singer-keyboardist with Chicago. Danny and Julie divide their time between her place in fashionable Brentwood and his in ultra-fashionable Aspen, surrounded, of course, by elegant people in both cities. In this group, movie stars run second.

But let it be known that Sullivan has earned the respect of his fellow drivers, who couldn't care less about his profile. Their only concern is the quality of his driving and the threat it provides, both to their personal safety and to their chances of reaching Victory Lane. As to the first, Sullivan is known as a charger but not a reckless one. As to the second, he's regarded as a threat indeed.

But sometimes one wonders if the old-line drivers aren't overlooking one factor that today's sponsors assuredly haven't. Sullivan and the other Continentals are always on television and radio. The press seeks them out; in Sullivan's case, dogging his every footstep, and therein lies a message. It might not really matter if Sullivan wins at all. He'll surely win enough; he'll continue to finish well, and he and the others are the best representatives their products have ever had. Hang the results, it's the exposure that counts.

And here, at last, is Sullivan strolling to his race car, helmet under his arm, the graceful sweep of hair spilling over his smoothly tanned forehead, elegant in body and face, amid a crush of tender ladies. Viewing all this, one can't help but feel ugly.

Standing off to one side is Bill Brodrick, a public relations man for Union 76, red of hair, florid of face in the glaring sunlight, as lumpy as you and me, who takes in the scene with the wistfulness of every man jack in sight. He turns and sighs, "Look at him. You know, with all that, it's a damn shame that he has to go out and drive that car."

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