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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Free Rides Smoke Car Show

You know have a good advertising campaign going when thousands of people will trample over each other at nine in the morning to knock on your door proudly bearing a sample of your product in hand.

At the 3rd annual Moscow International Motor show held at the VVC (formerly VDNKh) this past weekend, the Rothmans cigarette company pulled off the promotion of a lifetime; just bring a pack of our cigarettes, they announced, and drive a Formula One car to the beat of Faith No More while flanked on either side by delicious dancing girls hurling umbrellas and sunglasses at the lucky drivers.

Not surprisingly, a huge slice of Moscow's emerging manhood, a throng of young men numbering in the thousands (one of the Motor Show organizers estimated that over 10,000 people attended the five-day event) flocked to the VVC to participate. Even Mike van Snek, the Rothmans representative who was responsible for bringing the event to Moscow, was surprised.

"The shows started at 10:00," he said. "But I understand we had people here lined up for hours beforehand. People have been tripping over themselves to get in."

The promotion worked in the following way: On a platform in the shadow of the Expo Center where the Motor show was held, two scale models of Formula One racing cars were resting on hydraulic lifts. Anyone who was lucky enough to make it to the front of the line would be escorted into one of the cars, where he (nearly everyone was male) would then enter the Grand Prix racing course of his choice in the dashboard computer. Then, for the next ten minutes or so, he would race that course using the "virtual reality" technology in the dashboard display, with hydraulic pumps under the wheels simulating the car's suspension movements. And all the while steamy Russian dancing girls in Rothmans racing clothes would be dancing to the hard-rock music that boomed over the speakers placed behind the cars.

"The real thrill was in the driving," said a panting Oleg Nosonkin, 23, who participated Saturday, the second to last day. "But it was so real, you almost wished they would go a little farther. If you crash, I think the car should flip and mannequin arms and legs should come flying out of the front somehow."

"We thought about doing something with the crashing," said van Snek. "But we haven't worked it all out yet. Maybe in the future."

Only the best drivers avoided foul-ups. According to van Snek, the simulator was so true to life that real racing experience was reflected in the scores. The best score Friday came from Alexander Shimichkin, a Russian Formula racer.

Rothmans, which advertises to an upper-class consumer base in its sponsorship of golf and yachting in tournaments around the world, will probably continue to court the cars-and-chicks crowd here in Russia.

"We'll probably do it again," said van Snek, a dapperly dressed Dutchman who had earlier blushed when admitting that the dancing girls were his idea.

"We could just advertise on television, but this is something that people remember. It's more fun than TV."