Bite the Bullitt

Should your shop sponsor a race car?
Signshops and race car sponsorships? Darek Johnson thinks it can work

A Gallup poll shows 32% of Americans are auto racing fans; the count is up 4% since 2012.

Should your shop sponsor a race car? Alex Striler, the author of Motorsports Marketing and Sponsorships, says yes, although I’d add a few provisos to his assertion. Like, the type of race car you’d sponsor – you could choose from dirt track stockers to a Formula One – and where you are, meaning, is your shop near a race track? Equally important, my “where” applies to your personality, meaning, are you a type of motorhead, one who would appreciate the race car environment? If not, you might study Striler’s advice but consider sponsorship of something more in your interest sphere. 

A quick web search discloses 61 categories of vehicle racing, from Sprint cars to tractor pulls, which give you scores of choices to draw from. Autocross, for example, or a demolition derby, drag race, hill climb, lawn mower race (think Cub Cadets with Kawasaki engines – big at county fairs), oval track, rally cross, touring, short track and much more. Each has a different character and audience profile. If you haven’t done so, consider attending various race events and talking to the track or event manager to learn of sponsorship rules and, as well, of any signshop activity at the events.

Also, should you decide to sponsor a race team, Striler advises you to carefully research the drivers, teams and other sponsors before you sign a contract. He says the best sponsorships become relationships, ones that involve you, your business, the race team, the professional driver, race fans and other sponsors, because the combined activities of these entities will create a collective image, one that includes your shop as a valued member of that community. Obviously, you want the “collective image” to be positive. 

He tells the story of the Curt LeDuc off-road race team that had long been sponsored by Skyjacker suspensions, but, in 2006, the race team added Rockstar Energy Drink. Each sponsor got half the race vehicle, front and back. Unfortunately, trouble soon developed because Skyjacker’s conservative owners didn’t agree with Rockstar’s image as “a wild and sexy brand.” Skyjacker eventually dropped the LeDuc team and moved its big-ticket sponsorship elsewhere. Striler says to choose teams with sponsors who share your views and customer base, which, he notes, causes combined events to be even more effective. He quotes NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, who said, “Number one – before you do anything – do a background check.”

RUN THE GAMUT

Business Insider says a NASCAR prime sponsorship runs up to $35 million annually (think Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) but various levels of sponsorship exist – prime to supportive. You probably won’t want the $35 mil slot, but that amount certainly tells of racing’s marketing value. 

You’ll want to pick a race competition that attracts sign buyers, but Striler adds a fresh twist to this rationale. He says to advertise to the race fan and not the other facets of that person. He examples a self-employed motorsports fan who enjoys taking his or her children to the races, thus three of their personal aspects are known: independent business person, parent and race fan. Striler said marketing to the businessperson or parent causes you to snub others in the crowd, but marketing to the race fan reaches everyone, all the race fans, regardless of their profession or family status. “Market to people while they are in the moment,” he said.

Finally – and this is my advice – you could sponsor your own car. Like, you could buy Ford’s new Mustang Bullitt (RIP, Steve McQueen) with the 5.0L V8 and arm it with set of your own magnetic signs for weekend runs at any nearby drag strip. Or, acquire Mazda’s new Miata, the sports car that Road & Track writer Brian Silvestro has named as his weapon of choice for Autocross events. Autocross, he said, is the easiest way to get into racing, but I’ll add that road rallying, which often requires a second person to navigate, is equally enjoyable (Google “SCCA” for details). In any case, consider the value of sponsoring a racer or owning your own race machine, one you can drive to work and to the track on weekends, with the advantage of write-offs and your own marketing programs. If, of course, your CPA approves.

Signs of the Times August 2018

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