THE MOLE

In the halls of fame

At the end of December two things have happened in the life of The Mole which made things rather quiet. It became clear that the political games in Formula 1 were over after Williams signed up for the extended Concorde Agreement. Suddenly people who used to call The Mole all the time to try to sway his opinion, stopped calling. And, at the same time, The Mole's contract with ITV-F1.com came to an end and The Mole decided that a change would be fun and quickly did a deal with Grandprix.com, which seems a fairly decent website apart from its awful sub-editing.

All of sudden the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the SIS became a much quieter place. The Moneypennies of the modern era dawdled around coffee machines or gazed out across the river to Pimlico, dreaming of snaring a handsome young Guards officer.

The Mole was at peace with the world.

And so it came, week by week, to the start of the new Formula 1 season and The Mole knew that soon he would be out there again, with his agents, defending the nation's motorsport industry in dim and distant corners of the old British Empire. Bahrain and Malaysia. Neither was really The Mole's favourite place. Bahrain was too hot, too expensive and had too many Russian hookers tripping around town looking for ways to earn money. And then it would be off to Malaysia and breakfasts of chicken sausage and beef bacon.

"The Formula 1 season is not all cakes and ale," he had complained to Mrs Mole the previous afternoon while they were having tea at Mole Manor. He had been reading a guide to the world's great restaurants and was appalled to discover that some people think that a place called The French Laundry in California trumps all the famous European eateries. Others seemed to think that the honour belongs to The Fat Duck in England which has been known to serve snails in its porridge and is most famous for its bacon and egg ice cream.

"And how can you take a place seriously when the chef is called Heston Blumenthal?" he grumbled.

"Probably named after that service station on the M4 motorway," said Mrs Mole.

"And they gave him an OBE recently!" said The Mole.

"Yes dear," said Mrs Mole, "Well, you know that the kids these days don't want to be airline pilots and racing drivers. They want to be TV chefs and contestants on reality TV shows."

"All I ever hear is television, television, television," said The Mole.

"Well you know what Karl Marx said," said Mrs Mole. "Television is the opium of the people."

The Mole pondered a moment and wondered whether to mention that Karl Marx died in 1883, some time before TV was invented, but in the end he decided, like any sensible husband, to gloss over the details.

"No dear," he said. "I think it was one of the other Marx Brothers."

"Oh yes," said Mrs Mole, turning a page in The Radio Times. "I believe you are right."

"Anyway," The Mole added. "The drug chaps tell me that one can get opium fairly easily these days."

"Really," said Mrs Mole, rather shocked that dear old England was not quite as it was back in the 1950s.

There was a clicking of heels outside his office and a knock at the door. The Mole's reverie ended.

It was Penelope (Roedean), a reverie in her own right, clutching a file to her chest. The Mole could see that the file was marked "UK Eyes Alpha - Potential Column Material" and that the delicate chest was heaving ever-so slightly. Obviously the file was something interesting. Penelope never ran when she could saunter.

"What have you got there?" The Mole asked.

"It is the figures from the winning bid from the NASCAR Hall of Fame," said Penelope, with a look that suggested that she had butterflies living in her eyelids. "It is a very sweet deal for NASCAR. They have to pay $1 a year for the next 99 years to lease the land from the city of Charlotte."

"And?" said The Mole.

"Well, that's the thing. Charlotte will pay $154.5 million for the honour of providing NASCAR with a building, which the city will fund and operate, there will also be an annual royalty payment and an office block for NASCAR staff."

"What does the city get?" said The Mole.

Penelope smiled.

"Well," she said. "It gets to be the World Capital of NASCAR and the city did some projections and figured that about 400,000 people a year will drop in and leave the contents of their wallets behind. That adds up to a lot of money. From what I hear the real figure is likely to be more like 700,000 fans a year and that has got to be good for the tourist trade in downtown Charlotte. At the moment they have 4000 hotel rooms and 177 restaurants but you can bet that with busloads more people coming to town there will be new hotels, new restaurants and new stores. And that creates more jobs. The extraordinary thing is that the report talks about NASCAR fans spending an average of $232 a year on racing-related merchandise. The younger fans spend even more. They reckon they average about $316. Anyway, I was reading through this and started doing some sums. If you add the entrance fee of, say, $20, which is what they are asking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland - which is sort of equivalent - and multiply that by 700,000 you find yourself looking at about $10m if you count discounts for kids and grannies. Pile on some cash for extra exhibitions, food, beverages, and merchandise and you are looking at maybe $100m a year, plus the annual payment from Charlotte."

There was a pause.

"Woah!" said The Mole, trying to sound like a cool teenager. "Why in the world would anyone run a Grand Prix when you can get figures like that from a museum? Get me Silverstone on the phone. And the St Modwen people. And Ecclestone. Hell, get me the Prime Minister. I think we need a Formula 1 Hall of Fame here in Britain."

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