Sports

LAPPING IT UP

Forget that "be all you can be" malarkey. This here new U.S. Army knows how to attract recruits and keep 'em: auto racing, hookers, beer, and smokes. Generous helpings of the four basic food groups of the 17-to-24 male demographic are all heaped together in Central Asia as we prepare to bomb and occupy a sizable portion of oil-rich desert halfway around the world.

In preparation, NASCAR, the National Hot Rod Association, and the American Power Boat Association Drivers sent racing celebrities including Geoff Bodine, Tony Schumacher, and Jerry Nadeau, draped with the all-American banners of Winston and Budweiser, to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan over the recent New Year's holiday.

Nadeau, in fact, will run under the army's colors on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit this year. If William Proxmire were still in the Senate, he'd be so busy handing out Golden Fleece Awards for government waste that he wouldn't have time to do anything else. Sports plays a big role in building a modern-day colonial force. The U.S. military plans to spend at least $28 million this year just in NASCAR sponsorship programs—yeah, helping profit-making entities race their cars. And that's just a tiny part of the military's huge recruiting budget. During 2001, the Department of Defense spent $2.17 billion on recruiting. Yes, $159.2 million of it was spent on college funds for the troops, but $254.9 million was spent just on advertising.

Without a draft, it's such a tough job finding enough people to join the army. Luckily there are thousands of people 17 to 24 years old who have little future but flipping burgers and practically no chance at a job that has security or a pension. For them, the military's really attractive, especially if you throw cars and chicks into the mix.

"We had to change a bit and develop a brand, because we didn't have brand recognition," General Dennis Cavin, chief of the army's recruiting command, told the Sports Business Journal. "What we had was product recognition. That wasn't enough."

Spoken like a true MacArthur. So army recruiters will be trackside during all NASCAR events this year, and the SBJ reports that they'll be plunking down NASCAR show cars, adorned in the army's black and gold colors, in high school parking lots around the country to scare up fresh meat. Hell, man, any army that can sponsor a car that looks that good deserves to colonize the world, right?

Meanwhile, our boys currently overseas in places like Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, are scarin' up some meat of their own. They're not just getting visits from race-car drivers. Bishkek has a thriving red-light district now, thanks to a nearby U.S. military base. (See Mondo Washington, page 34.) Our boys have got to kill time, too, you know.

Let's see: Winston's the official cigarette of NASCAR, Budweiser's the official beer, Jack Links are the official meat snack, and Waste Management Inc. is the official nontoxic waste-removal service. So why not have NASCAR's official army spread our culture to other nations? —Ward Harkavy


HAIL FELLOW WELL MET

Guess those nutty rumors were true after all. David Cone is making a comeback—as a Met. Last Thursday, his former team (1987-92) offered the 40-year-old a minor-league contract, with $550,000 as base pay if he beats the spring-training competition for a spot. Despite previous denials, the Amazin's jumped at the possibility of filling their fifth-starter vacancy, or gaining a long reliever, on the cheap. Close pals Al Leiter ("It's a no-brainer!") and John Franco ("The New York fans love him") enthused; a peeved George Steinbrenner, who hired Cone last season as an analyst for YES, predictably groused ("I don't know why he'd want to pitch"). But the big question is whether Cone—who last threw two years ago for Boston, going 9-7 with a 4.31 ERA—has anything left in a surgically patched right arm that's logged 2881 innings already.

If the prankster adored by teammates everywhere (he once had a Chinese-food carton containing a turd delivered to the opposing dugout) makes the roster, expect good times ahead. The onetime Yankee features heavily in David Wells's upcoming autobiography, as hardcore party animal ("The guy's a monster, every bit the rabble-rousing, beer-drinking goofball that I am"), masterful starter ("The toughest son of a bitch I've ever played with"), and loyal friend (cue much girly crying together after their World Series win). And given Cone's 2001 cameo on Saturday Night Live—in drag as a groupie who pesters Alfonso Soriano's fictional wife, played by Derek Jeter—perhaps he'll make a return appearance between games at Shea. While Bomber GM Brian Cashman raves, "Never count David Cone out," his counterpart in Queens, Steve Phillips, sounds more cautious, saying, "He's a star who has an itch and wants it to be scratched." Just how long the Mets will keep scratching remains to be seen. —J.Y. Yeh

 
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