Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I have never really been a fan of Juan Pablo Montoya going back to his days when he was racing for CART.
The truth is, I have often actively rooted against him since he move from Formula 1 and joined NASCAR to drive for Chip Ganassi, whom I like. (Chip once took a moment to ladle rum sauce on my bread pudding at a luncheon press conference down at Homestead-Miami Speedway several years ago. Not sure I could see Roger Penske, who I’m also a fan of, doing that.)
I just didn’t like his brashness and the way he had a tendency to drive in a get-the-hell-out-of-my-way fashion.
But I will be looking at him in a slightly different way from now on.
Oh, I still probably won’t avidly root for him, except maybe if he is in a duel for position with somebody like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch, but I likely won’t cheer for him to drop out early either.
That’s because I attended a brief conference with Montoya earlier today and learned of a very worthwhile project he and his wife Connie are involved in.
Back in 2003, they founded a nonprofit corporation, Formula Smiles, to help indigent children in their home country Colombia to a better way of life. The foundation provides the children, some in very remote places, with opportunities to take part in sports activities to complement their education and also to encourage them to continue their education and stay away from the drugs and violence of street life. Staying away from drugs in Colombia can’t be easy.
Yes, yes, I know that Connie is the one doing most of the grunt work here, which even Juan Pablo acknowledgedå, but I have to give extra credit for any athlete who looks beyond his own personal gain to do such charitable work.
“I think a lot of what Juan does on the track is pretty evident,” Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matt Becherer said of Montoya, an Indianapolis 500 champion who had seven wins on the F1 circuit from 2001-06 before moving to NASCAR, where he has won twice. “But I think what often gets overlooked and is arguably much more important are the things he and Connie do behind the scenes, especially as they relate to Formula Smiles.”
Speedway President Matt Beacherer with Juan Pablo and Connie Montoya.
Becherer also was at the press conference to announce that for the third year the Speedway is partnering with Montoya for a special Race Day with Juan ticket package on Ford Championship Weekend at the track.
Fans buying in on the $142 deal will be able to get with Montoya at a meet-and-greet opportunity in the driver’s room prior to the start of the Nov. 20 race. A pre-race pit pass also is included, and $42 of the cost will be a donation to the foundation.
In addition to the work with Formula Smiles, I also had to admire the way Montoya took on questions regarding the way his season has gone since he finished eighth in the points in the 2009 season, his best year in NASCAR. No ducking here.
He was 17th in points at the end of 2010, and currently he is sitting 22nd this year. Barring an unlikely winning streak, he is not going to make the field for the 10-race “Chase” that will decide the Sprint Cup champion. In fact, he dropped two spots after a 25th place finish at Michigan last weekend.
I asked him if he is where he thought he would be at this time when he came over to NASCAR.
“I think 2009 and the beginning of this year is where we wanted to be,” he said. “The problem is with this series, if you stop working and stop developing the car, you can get behind.
“That’s why there is a lot of effort right now with the team. The last three weeks every Monday I’ve been in with the team. We’re really making an effort. We want to finish the year strong  and want to be in a position to win races.
“And at the start of next year we want to start like we started this year or better.”
It has been really hard this year for whatever reason, he said.
“We know we’ve got to work,” he said.
And sometime in between the end of the 2011 season in Homestead and the start of 2012 in Daytona, he will look in on the Formula Smiles kids.
“It’s fun, but it’s hard because they are in very remote places, a lot of them, where the centers are,” he said. “They’re hard to get to. And I don’t get a lot of time off.”

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