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Truck NASCAR driver makes stop in Valley for sponsorship promotion


HARLINGEN ó Rick Smith considers himself a novice NASCAR Truck Series fan.
v But after meeting Steve Park, one of the sportís most popular drivers, at Harlingen International Airport Friday afternoon, Smith said heíll follow the series more closely in the future.

"Iím kind of freaked out by it," the Harlingen resident said of meeting Park, who was in the Rio Grande Valley to promote the South Padre Islandís sponsorship of Orleans Racing. "Heís the man to meet when it comes to the truck series. Weíre really getting into the truck series now."

Park said that being a first-time visitor to the area, he was surprised by the Rio Grande Valley area and its residents.

"This place is great; itís paradise," he said. "Itís something youíd see more in the Bahamas and I had no idea South Texas was like this."

The sponsorship deal between South Padre Island and Orleans racing makes sense, Park said. As part of the deal, Parkís Dodge truck will prominently display the South Padre Island three-umbrella logo on its hood and rear panel for two races at Texas Motor Speedway.

A smaller logo will be emblazoned on the rear fenders of Orleans Racingís two trucks during other races throughout the season.

"It means a lot to have South Padre Island involved. It costs a lot of money to go racing," Park said. "We canít race without sponsors, and from a fanís standpoint, racing is taking the country by storm and it just makes sense for South Padre Island to get involved."

Representatives from Valley International Airport and South Padre Island are counting on more reactions like Smithís, saying that the sponsorship deal could have a vast impact on the local economy.

"We have close ties to South Padre Island and we send a lot of business their way," airport board member Gordon Hall said. "Steve Park and NASCAR will give us millions of impressions worldwide, and the majority of those people will fly through (VIA), should they choose to come."

Dan Quandt, Executive Director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau said the sponsorship was another way to advertise South Padre Island as a vacation destination.

"We think itís an exciting and unique opportunity to tell the story of South Padre Island," he said. "There are a lot of traditional ways to advertise and we do those, but there are no more loyal fans than NASCAR fans."

Park will have the opportunity to meet more of his loyal Valley fans during a public appearance scheduled today from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Islandís Schlitterbahn water park.
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