Statistically, 100% of the shots you don’t take don’t go in. That’s what Wayne Gretzky says about hockey; that’s what I say about winning cars.

I took a shot at a car once, about 15 years ago. It was one of those “outrageous human stunts” contests sponsored by a radio station. While I’d like to say I bagged the prize through shear creative thinking, the truth is I got the winning idea from our family dog, a yellow lab named Brandy.

My wife and I bought Brandy when she was a year old. I guess the previous owners didn’t have the heart to shoot her, which is why they sold her to us.

Brandy was a prolific digger. Within a week she re-landscaped most of our backyard. She also clawed through a door in our family room, and left scratches in many others. Chewing was another pastime, which she engaged in neurotically. Clothing, furniture, and irreplaceable knickknacks seemed to have the most appeal. Poor Brandy also suffered from a GI condition that came to light after we installed new carpet throughout the house.

I was actually driving home to check on Brandy when I learned about the contest. As usual, my radio was tuned to 700 WLW, one of the big AM stations in Cincinnati. I was immediately intrigued because the car had a mobile phone, a gadget that was somewhat rare back then. All I had to do was come up with a crazy stunt, write it down, and mail it in.

My entry was in the form of a story about how I tried to secretly sell Brandy, the canine from hell. According to the letter, the plan backfired and my wife, who remained fond of the dog, would no longer speak with me. To save my marriage and win the car, I would have to spend 24 hours chained to a doghouse on Fountain Square, the landmark made famous by WKRP in Cincinnati.

The letter made it through the screening process, and I was interviewed on-the-air with seven or eight other hopefuls. As I recall, the competition was pretty stiff. One guy, for example, was willing to cut his lawn with his teeth to win the car. He said he even practiced on a small patch of grass just to be sure he could do it.

The winner (and I use that term loosely in this context) was determined by call-in voting. It wasn’t even close; I won by a landslide. Over the next few weeks, I would build a doghouse, arrange for a security guard, rent a truck, and reserve a room at a nearby hotel for a friend who would help me pull the thing off.

Show time began at the stroke of midnight on Friday, Labor Day weekend. Fortunately, the night crowd on the Square was sparse, and I was able to steal enough sleep to function the next day.

Now I want you to know that the stunt wasn’t just some guy sitting in a chair waiting for time to go by. No, I was very busy. Besides being interviewed by phone every hour or so, I had a Nerf hoop on the front of the doghouse and shot baskets (by mouth, of course) to the applause of, oh, maybe 20 or 30 people. I also had a small plastic bat and ball, and kids lined up throughout the day to pitch to me. I did some pitching of my own as well, as the event also raised money for the Ruth Lyons Children’s Fund.

Picking up the car, a 1987 Plymouth Horizon, was an event in and of itself. I met several local celebrities, including Bob Trumpy, Gary Burbank, and Joe Nuxhall. Nuxhall, the radio announcer for the Cincinnati Reds, got a kick out of the fact that the car was covered with Reds stickers from one end to the other.

Part of me wanted to keep the stickers on, especially after I stopped at a Burger King and the amused manager gave me a free dinner. Besides, the stickers were applied in not one but two layers. Removing them would take several weeks, a few gallons of mineral spirits, and a jar of peanut butter. (Nothing softens dried adhesives like peanut butter.)

The monetary value of the prize package (car and phone) was estimated at $5,500. Out of gratitude, I sent a $1,600 check to the IRS. Ironically, it was the only overdraft I ever wrote, though it wasn’t processed in time to bounce.

There are many other stories I could tell you about this unusual episode in my life. But space won’t permit. I am reminded, however, that it all began with a shot in the dark.

Reminders and memories, in fact, are the only things that now remain. The car and the inspirational dog are gone — I sold the Horizon a few years ago for about a thousand bucks and gave Brandy to a coworker who lives near a farm. Once again, in keeping with the pattern of life, the enduring prizes are not the material things we collect, but the chances and shots we take along the way.

– Larry Berardinis
lberardinis@penton.com