Las Vegas Sun

May 22, 2019

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Ice Ice Billy

Did I remember to feed Kimi Räikkönen?

Nearly five years ago, the 6-month-old puggle I adopted from the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals needed a name. It was time for me to redeem my 6-year-old self for naming a hamster Joey, so I established some guidelines.

The name had to be original. Fungo the Labrador belonged to a baseball friend. Great name, but taken.

The name had to be quirky. Case in point: I once named my female prairie dog Otis. It would have been too easy for Otis to serve as a reference from "Animal House." No, in the blessed name of Joey the hamster, this Otis was named after Mayberry’s town drunk.

If named for a person it had to, you know, feel right. Barris nearly worked. But Springsteen, Mozart and Ali seemed too easy and obvious. John Prine was a strong finalist, but it came with a rule that she always be called by both names, never just John. A name with rules seemed cumbersome.

The name could not relate to my livelihood. So Puck, Ice, Marketing Plan or It-Seemed-Like-a-Good-Idea-at-the-Time were all eliminated, as well. Days turned into a week with still no name, and I grew tired of saying, “Hey, you, fetch.”

Then as sudden as a tire falling off of a McLaren in the final lap of the 2005 European Grand Prix it hit me: Kimi Räikkönen.

Perfect, I thought. I’ll say the puggle is Finnish. The name Kimi (pronounced key-me) works for a girl dog, much more so than John. Plus, I am a considerable fan of the enigmatic racer through which ice water rushes and who doesn’t seem to care about much at all, really.

There are too many anecdotes I could cite as to why I find myself rooting for Räikkönen whenever he drives, whatever he drives. It’s not because countless American airport travelers and mall shoppers walked past those innumerable Tag Heuer watch advertisements while having no idea who this guy was for all those years, or that mighty Ferrari once paid him $25 million to not race against them.

He is a former Formula One champion. He was once riotously honest on a live global television interview on his whereabouts during a tribute to soccer great Pelé just before the Brazilian Grand Prix. He once participated in a boat race dressed in a gorilla suit so no one would recognize him. He is a rare, mysterious character who has been able to call his shots, just be him and command an excessive financial arrangement doing it.

As for his skill, he is a character whose neck will grow by at least one inch each season as it adjusts to the massive G-forces of an F1 machine. It’s a car that can go from zero to 60 and brake back to zero in six seconds. It’s so aerodynamically advanced that it would cling to the ceiling of a tunnel at 100 mph. It’s a machine so tightly wound that the scream it makes at 18,000 rpm sounds like the one I made during my last “procedure” at the urologist.

It all sounds like an advertisement featuring the most interesting man in the world. But it’s all it’s not. This is all true.

After two years out of the white-hot spotlight of Formula One, the 32-year-old returns to the world stage this season driving for Lotus F1 Team. The intercontinental hype machine for such an ironically elusive figure is in full gear. Räikkönen is even slated to appear with an F1 car beneath him in Las Vegas the weekend of Feb. 17, 18 and 19 as part of an event billed as “F1 Comes to Vegas.”

That the Las Vegas Wranglers are playing all three days is as close as I could imagine to getting Räikkönen to lace them up and put a hockey stick in his mitts as he has in his homeland of Finland. In that appearance, Räikkönen and a few of the hockey players took part in a post hockey game kart race on the ice.

Oh, man, one could only dream of a hockey promotion that would do so much for so few in the middle of a western United States desert.

Technical truth would not be lacking in advertising to promote a Kimi Räikkönen appearance at the Midnight Game on Sunday, Feb. 19. I’d just send my dog onto the ice during an intermission. While it would be purposely misleading, it would help me explain to many friends that I did not convince Ferrari to produce a hat with my dog’s name on it.

I’ll get an F1 fix by sneaking out of the Orleans Arena a couple times over the weekend to catch part of the “F1 Comes to Vegas” festivities and maybe get a glimpse of the Iceman. Perhaps there will be some Lotus F1 Team apparel I can grab and some pictures I can take.

And with a little luck, maybe the real Kimi Räikkönen will autograph my dog.

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