Microsoft Keeps Fast Company With Dragster

SAN FRANCISCO Microsoft awarded a 15-year-old female champion drag racer a trip to its headquarters to meet CEO Bill Gates and be featured in a print ad, the company said.

Jeannine Johnson was the grand prize winner of the national “Start Something” contest, in which she showed Microsoft execs how she used their software to improve her drag racing. She met Gates on Thursday at a ceremony in Redmond, Wash.

Johnson will be the included in a print advertisement from Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson in San Francisco, the company’s longtime agency. The work is scheduled to break later this quarter.

There were five winners of the program, honoring people who have used Windows-related technologies in unique and creative ways to pursue their everyday passions, said a Microsoft representative.

Born three-and-half-months premature, Johnson, of Puyallup, Wash., was given a 1 percent chance of survival, the rep said. She battled several health issues and surgeries over the years that left her unable to participate in traditional sports.

When she was 9, she turned to drag racing and became one of only four National Hot Rod Association junior dragsters to achieve a “perfect package” during a race, a feat that requires superior speed and timing.

Johnson entered the Microsoft contest, saying she uses Windows-based technology to help monitor her car’s performance. She connects her Windows XP-based PC to her car’s data acquisition system and measures RPM, jackshaft speed and motor temperature variances from start to finish during each race. Off the track, Johnson said she uses Microsoft Office Word and Microsoft Office PowerPoint to help her maintain a 3.8 grade point average.

“Her story is amazing,” said Jeff Huggins, executive vice president and executive creative director at McCann. “With her serious physical handicaps, her love for drag racing came from her love for speed. It’s been her passion for a long, long time. It’s a very inspiring story . . . and from a technology standpoint, the knowledge there is software in the world made for drag racing adds to the notion that there is nothing you can’t do with Windows.”

The company created the awards program to support the global “Start Something” contest campaign launched in April. It is one of the largest and longest marketing campaigns in the Windows brand history, the client said.
Ad spending for this phase of the campaign was not disclosed. Microsoft spent $325 million on advertising from January to August 2005 and $488 million in 2004, per TNS Media Intelligence.