On track with the community

Jan. 1, 2020
Motorsports involvement lets the aftermarket connect with their customers and their neighbors.

When one U.S. soldier returned home to his wife and three daughters after serving 14 months in the war in Iraq, he didn’t have to drive the beat up pickup truck that he had left behind. Instead, the truck that had once been weighed down by 131,000 miles, transmission leaks and broken door handles had been completely renovated into a state-of-the-art vehicle, complete with a GPS tracking system, a fresh paint job and new parts and tires.

So just how did this transformation occur? It was courtesy of some motorsports “angels.”

“NASCAR Angels” is a new television show in development for fall 2006 from NASCAR’s Automotive Licensing team that has one goal in mind: to help families and communities in need of transportation. It’s a chance for NASCAR to use the popularity of its racing personalities to make a difference in communities across the country, explains Odis Lloyd, managing director, automotive licensing, NASCAR. 

Working with the Red Cross, women’s shelters and other community organizations, NASCAR will come up with a list of people in need.

“It’s going to be a real good list of people that, if their car was working properly, it could change their lives,” he says. “Or it might be an old fire engine or school bus that needs repaired. We want to show that this industry is an important part of the community and wants to serve it.”

This type of generosity from the aftermarket and motorsports industry is only one example of the services our business marketplace can provide, but the possibilities to help are endless. Distributors and retailers can host meet-and-greets at their locations for children, donate sponsorship proceeds to charity or give away free products to needy families.

“I think that community involvement builds employee morale and customer loyalty. People today are hungry for a sense of community,” says Jan Rieger, president of McLane Rieger Communications in San Diego.

“Being a good neighbor is kind of expected for today’s business. In some big cities, it’s been thought that the reason crime is so high is because people don’t feel as if they’re part of a community like they do in a small town,” she explains. “Even in a large area, people seek to feel like they are part of a community.”

Initiatives abound 

The motorsports industry is still very popular, and there are many chances for all levels of the aftermarket to get involved. According to The USA Motorsport and Performance Engineering Market Research Report, a study commissioned by the Motorsport Industry Association in 2002, the national value of motorsports in the United States will grow from $16.5 billion in 2002 to $22 billion in 2007, an increase of more than 30 percent.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for aftermarket companies to get involved and stand out in their communities,” says Ernie Saxton, publisher of Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News. Saxton has more than 35 years of experience in motorsports marketing and promotions.

“The national exposure gained from the media, especially TV, brings attention to communities, and that attention puts emphasis on the companies,” he continues. “And certainly if you market that correctly, it turns into business for you. Motorsports is the most commercial sport out there.” 

As the aftermarket continues to face more competition from overseas manufacturers and Internet companies, it’s important to stay involved and market your company to motorsports fans. Grassroots racing, in particular, provides an avenue to make a name for aftermarket products and services.

Mom and pop parts stores are able to gain success at this grassroots level as well, notes Saxton.

“The local short track racing keeps marketing fees reasonable,” he notes. “You can sponsor a night at one of those tracks for about $1,000.” He says most events can bring in a couple thousand people.

Saxton suggests giving out track awards or free products at the track. “You could spend a very small amount of money and get some major bang for your bucks.” 

He references a J. Walter Thompson fact that states 72 percent of auto racing fans will support those companies that support the sport.

He also notes that he’s seeing more and more race teams get involved in charities and community service, which is good for everyone involved. For example, retailers are opening their stores for racing events, bringing drivers and cars to their local areas. 

Rieger suggests contacting your local civic associations, chambers of commerce and schools to find out ways to get involved.

To make sure your business gets recognition for its efforts without too much self promotion, post activities on your company website. “Readers will find it interesting,” and you can show pictures of employees helping in the neighborhood, she says.

Also, send e-mails to local newsletters and newspapers inviting them to events, or provide photos for their publications.

Goodwill gestures

The popularity of racing unfortunately can lead to illegal and dangerous activity in the sport. This is why motorsports education is a major initiative of many aftermarket companies. 

CSK Auto Inc., for example, uses motorsports to help local law-enforcement officials in communities across the country. “Our biggest program is ‘Race on the Track Never on the Street!,’ which is going into its third year. When Wally Parks founded the NHRA 50 years ago, one of the real motivating factors was to provide a safe and controlled environment for drag racing,” explains Jim Schoenberger, VP of marketing with CSK.

For this service-oriented program, CSK teams with law enforcement and NHRA to educate high school-aged youth on the dangers of illegal street racing.

“(Drivers) can bring their daily driver out to an NHRA-sanctioned track, have their car inspected by an official and can race legally,” he says. “Illegal street racing not only hurts drivers, but it can injure bystanders, too,” so CSK encourages education with younger drivers.

CSK has a long-standing involvement in the motorsports industry. “Our research and experience with our customers has shown us that many of our customers are motorsports enthusiasts,” comments Schoenberger.

As the parent company of more than 1,260 Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen and now Murray’s Auto Parts stores, CSK is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its partnership with Worsham Racing this year. For the 2006 season, CSK is sponsoring a two-car Funny Car team featuring drivers Del Worsham and Phil Burkart Jr.

In addition, the aftermarket company is in its eighth year as the official auto parts stores of NHRA and its seventh year as the title sponsor of the Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix.

Grassroots racing involvement, sponsoring junior dragsters and initiating a program called Road Rules also help CSK translate motorsports into community service. In the Road Rules program, they bring high school students to the Phoenix International Raceway to participate in a defensive driving course.

“The key to making motorsports sponsorships work is in the elbow grease involved in making the programs,” says Schoenberger. “To simply put your name (out) has value, but the true value comes in the activation of the program. We activate our programs at the track in terms of presentation of performance products in a display at the tracks. It’s a great way to connect with our core customer, but it’s also very productive in generating footprints in our stores. In all of retail, the concept of think globally, act locally is very important.”

Ride Revolution, which sells and installs mobile electronics, performance products and vehicle styling, also promotes education through a motorsports event called Ride Revolution Nights.

Located in Johnson City, Tenn., Ride Revolution sponsors these drag races, previously called “Street Fights,” at Bristol Dragway. “We want to educate younger people so they understand that racing on the streets is not a game,” says General Manager Michael Wilder. “We understand they want to make their car fast, and we’ll help with that, but we want it done in the right way.”

Bristol Dragway began the program, where anyone with a valid driver’s license and street legal car could come and race in a controlled environment. Ride Revolution Nights are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning in May and ending in September.

“Ride Revolution Nights has been a fantastic event for Bristol Dragway,” says Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway President and General Manager Jeff Byrd. “We started it six years ago because we felt it was a good alternative for people who loved to race, loved to go fast and wanted to do it in a controlled setting. Ride Revolution came on board as a sponsor for the event four years ago and their involvement has certainly been key in the explosion of its popularity.

“We’re very happy that we’ve been able to give these people, particularly the younger ones who might have at one time considered racing on the streets, a place to have fun and race at the same time in an environment that’s built for racing,” Byrd says.

Wilder says these race nights are an excellent opportunity to give back. “I encourage my employees here to give back to the community one way or another, whether it’s civic opportunities or through their church. I want my employees to be active and known in our community.” Ride Revolution sends employees out to talk to the fans and give away T-shirts and flyers with coupons to potential customers to try to draw in business.

As a marketing tool, the drag races draw people into the motorsports fan base and to Ride Revolution because they can test and install performance parts at their location.

Packing up the proceeds

As a wholesale-only distributor, The Per-Fit Corporation has used its motorsports activities to aid in the fight against cancer. “This fight is very personal to me since I lost my youngest brother to melanoma back in 1999,” says Scott Overlund with Per-Fit Corporation, a member of the Engine Pro/Engine Parts Group.

“What we’ve done is help put race packages together for a silent auction through the Hope On The Hill Foundation at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, which is trying to find a cure for cancer,” Overlund explains.

The packages include race tickets, hotel stays, apparel and more, and the bids that fans make are donated to charity. The distributor, which has two locations in Michigan and one in Ohio, has worked with the Michigan International Speedway and several vendors to make these projects successful.

“We started promoting at a local raceway called Berlin Raceway (in Michigan),” says Overlund. “A lot of our vendors were looking for ways to get their product to the grassroots level of our market and never had the manpower to get it done. So that became our path to market.”

He adds they “dove in big,” developing a cash contingency program that included Engine Pro’s line of performance products. “Including our own products in this program has helped the Engine Pro group gain attention in the sport of racing.

“Our goal is to help the machine shops and parts stores to compete with the mail order give-away guys and Internet bandits to gain more of this racing and performance business through the grassroots racing venue, and it seems to be working,” he notes. “We don’t have a true way to measure ROI, but every year the participation in our contingency programs and our business continue to increase, so it must be working.” 

And as far as community service and exposure are concerned, Overlund believes motorsports are a great avenue for both. They’ve gained exposure for Engine Pro in regional and national magazines, including Hot Rod Magazine, Speedway Magazine and Drag Review Magazine.

“It’s been fun. There are a lot of nice people that are involved with these local tracks,” says Overlund. “It’s been good for business and it’s also been good for the customer, plus my kids just love to go watch. We have had a handful of customers report to us that business has not been this good in 20 years thanks to our cash contingency program.”

Giving the industry wings to fly

The “NASCAR Angels” series in development for this fall is an agreement between NASCAR and MagicDust Television to partner with Litton Entertainment. The series will shoot 22 original episodes on location in major NASCAR race markets.

“NASCAR Angels” will be hosted by NASCAR Performance Consumer Crew Chief Mark Salem. He’ll be accompanied by a different NASCAR driver each week.

One reason NASCAR wanted to create this show was to highlight the aftermarket industry. NASCAR’s Managing Director of Automotive Licensing Odis Lloyd says both the $60 billion that is lost in unperformed maintenance each year in the industry and the general public’s lack of concern for maintenance are driving forces.

“We wanted to use our marketing muscle to give back to the industry and encourage consumers to keep up with maintenance,” he says. “We really want to shine a bright light on the entire industry — those who distribute the parts, those who sell them and those who install them.”

For aftermarket companies that are involved, the chance to help out families in your locale is an added bonus to the recognition of participating in the program. Those companies that are interested can contact Dave Kobuszewski at NASCAR at (704) 348-9600.

A full bank of projects

Community service can take many forms and can be tied in to your motorsports program or completely separate from it. Here are a few examples from Jan Rieger of McLane Rieger Communications:

  • Sponsor neighborhood sports teams/race teams. Those teams often provide “thank you” plaques you can hang in your local store.
  • Take elderly people from retirement villages on weekend rides in classic cars.
  • Donate race or monster truck tickets to groups of underprivileged kids.
  • Collect money at store counters for a local charity. “I would suggest doing that on a temporary basis, like for six weeks, and collect for something specific,” Rieger advises.
  • Offer small scholarships or provide supplies for local vocational school and high school students. 
  • Collect bicycles for the needy.
  • Donate remote control cars (or even racecar replicas) to local children’s shelters.