Please Support The Sponsors

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The announcement that Hartman Oil Company had surprised Sarah Fisher with a brand new Dallara for her fledgling race team was one of the brightest spots in a summer that has had its share of doom and gloom. I sent an e-mail thanking “Wink” Hartman for supporting Sarah and the IndyCar Series. Based on the fact that they are involved in the oil and gas industry primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma, I’ll never have a chance to personally support their business. But now that I have heard of them and know what they did for Sarah Fisher, if there was anything I could do to help them – I would.

For most of my adult life, I have always done my small part to patronize the companies that support racing, specifically open-wheel but even some of the other series. I also make it a point to withdraw my support of their products if they ever pull their sponsorship away. When Valvoline announced they were leaving Derrick Walker’s operation at the end of the 1999 CART season, I made sure that I never used any more Valvoline products. Did they notice that they had lost my business? Hardly. But it is still my way of showing my support.

I tend to be fairly brand-loyal to begin with. Marketing is my background and it takes a lot to make me change. I use Heinz ketchup, Colgate toothpaste and drink Coca-Cola – not their competitors. But if their competitors ever got into primary sponsorship of an IndyCar, I could be swayed.

It was easy to support Honda because I already did. I have never been a smoker, but if I were—there is no question that Marlboro would be my brand. I prefer to shop Target first. I probably would anyway because I prefer it to the other stores, but being a sponsor for so long makes it automatic. For ultra-budget conscious shopping, I now support Dollar General just because they support Sarah Fisher. If at a busy intersection with several choices, I’ll seek out the 7-Eleven even if it doesn’t look as nice as the other stores. When in the Indianapolis area, I will go to Meijer and I’ve even gone into a Menard’s just to check it out.

I’ll even support sponsors who aren’t my favorites. So far as fast food is concerned – I’ve never been a big McDonald’s fan, but so long as they support the series, I’ll support them. The same goes for Peak anti-freeze. I’ve always been a Prestone guy, but not anymore. IBC is my favorite root beer, but I now buy Dad’s. I don’t consume energy drinks, but if I did – I would drink either Venom or Mona Vie. I do draw the line sometimes. I have an i-Phone, so I won’t be supporting Motorola, although I did buy a Motorola for my son in Danica’s first year with AGR.

It is tougher to be loyal when the sponsor is business-to-business. It was kind of difficult for me to support Bombardier – but if I were to ever be in the market to buy a private jet, it would have been a Lear. I’m not in the construction business either, but if I were then ABC Supply would be my choice. Although they were a sponsor for years in CART and the IRL, I never really knew what Mi-Jack did. Tony Bettenhausen always had AMAX and Alumax as sponsors. I think they were related, but I was never really sure what they did either. I read their press release in May when they sponsored the Rahal-Letterman car, but I’m still not sure I know what DAFCA does – but it has something to do with preventing cyber-terrorism. I don’t think that I am among their targeted demographics.

I miss the days when the big sponsors came from the automotive industry. Years ago, there were no bigger battles than the ones waged between Champion and Autolite spark plugs. As recently as 2000, the CART race at Nazareth was sponsored by Bosch spark plugs.

The oil companies also invested tons of money going to head to head sponsoring different cars for either their brand of gasoline or motor oil. As recently as the nineties, we found open-wheel cars with primary sponsorships from Texaco-Havoline, Mobil 1, Shell, Pennzoil, Valvoline, Quaker State and Castrol. Today all we find is Citgo at a few races and their actual parent company PDVSA. Mobil 1 is still an associate sponsor to Team Penske. In the days of the tire wars, you were either a fan of Goodyear or Firestone. You had to pick a side. The Unser’s couldn’t pick. Bobby was a Goodyear driver, while Big Al drove for Firestone.

I sometimes even cross over to the dark side and support brands that support NASCAR. That is the sole reason I used Tide laundry detergent for years. Now there is no Tide car, but since that’s not really my series I didn’t stop using Tide. I also picked Home Depot over Lowe’s due to former IndyCar driver Tony Stewart. I now frequent Office Depot.

We keep hearing rumors of an IndyCar Series title sponsor coming on board. At this time last year, it was rumored to be Citicorp or AT&T. Citicorp ended up having its own set of issues. I already use AT&T so that would have been a nice fit. It would also go head to head with Sprint in their series. Neither one of them ever happened anyway. We also heard of a possibility with Subway. To me, that one had tons of sponsor activation possibilities, but it never came to pass either.

The latest rumor of a title sponsor involves Gillette. This will probably go nowhere, as well. It probably has legs mainly because the Gillette people have been seen at races recently. The league was also willing to alienate Jerry Gappens at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in favor of possibly racing around Gillette Stadium in 2012. There has to be some reason to pass up a chance to race at New Hampshire.

I like the idea of a title sponsor being a well-known consumer company. It broadens the mass appeal of the IndyCar Series, which they desperately need. Gillette was bought out by marketing giant Proctor & Gamble a couple of years ago. They do massive amounts in advertising anyway, and already have a commercial with Marco Andretti’s face. They use someone else’s voice, but it is Marco’s face, nonetheless. I guess they used footage from Sonoma in 2006 because they show him hoisting a trophy.

Sponsor support and loyalty is vital to any form of racing. It is the life’s blood of the sport. When a sponsor uses corporate-speak saying they want value for their investment, what they are really saying is we expect your fans to buy our stuff. I’m not saying to start drinking Azul Tequila in massive quantities or to run out and join the National Guard, but if given a choice between McDonald’s and Wendy’s, or Mobil 1 and Valvoline – try to support the companies that support our series. I just wish I had some way to support Hartman Oil Company.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Please Support The Sponsors”

  1. Support Sarah — shop at Dollar General.

  2. Great article, George. While I can’t support Honda because I can’t bring myself to buy a foreign automobile (and we’ll just leave that at that), I do generally go out of my way to support series sponsors. When the continentals that came with my car go, they’re getting bridgestones. When the oil gets changed, it gets Mobil 1 synthetic. When the cats need food or litter, it (usually) comes from Target. I rocked the RAZR for a while, but did end up going iPhone as well. I generally buy smokes at the Seven-E. Though I don’t smoke Marlboros, I used to rock the Kraft mac & cheese in college pretty hard.

    If Gillette really does become the series sponsor (and I think it’s been fairly unsubstantiated other than the rumblings of a few blogs and forums), I’ll tell you now that they’d probably claim the crown as the company who gets the most of my money. I don’t know if they still do it, but when I was 18, I, and every 18 year old male I knew, got a free mach3 razor in the mail. To this day, about 80% of the people I know still use that razor. It was the most brilliant piece of marketing ever.

  3. Funny how minds work, George. I just wrote a brief blog on “Wink” Hartman and being one of the “good guys” yesterday. In the current economy, for someone to step up on the level that he did deserves every bit of recognition that he can get!

  4. I totally agree. Pressdog actually put Will Hartman’s email address in their blog and I wrote an emial to him thanking him for his support of Sarah. I can’t supprt every sponsor since I don’t own a car-everyboty should be thankful for that given how I drive in video games-but I have spent a great deal of time at McDonald’s even before they became a sponsor and I do go to 7-11 as often as I can.

  5. I send an email to Hartman Oil thanking them and welcoming them to take a look at all the positive comments on Indycar.com or Speedtv.com…I hope he gets that we appreciate what he did!

    here’s the website:
    http://www.hartmanoil.com
    and: whartman@hartmanoil.com

  6. I’ve always been big on Honda: supported their F1 effort, supported their MotoGP effort until they screwed over Nicky Hayden, and I drive a CR-V (one of the boxy ones…not this new swoopy thing). My tires are nowhere near gone yet, but when I need some, you know I’m knockin on Firestone’s door (best supporter auto racing ever had, IMO)

    I’m a big fan of Target, of course, and I’m always ready for a slurpee from 7-11. Plus, my phone is from Verizon (Will Power/Penske), and it will remain that way when my contract comes up.

    I can’t bring myself to ever support CITGO/PDVSA simply because of the political situation in Venezuela.

    I would be more inclined to support the military-sponsored cars if there were actually Americans driving them. Perhaps Panther will go that route if Wheldon indeed leaves after this year.

    Apart from that there aren’t many brands supporting the IRL that I even think about that much.

  7. I tended to support sponsors much more actively when there were more of them. Like your motor oil example, back in the 90’s pretty much all the majors were sponsors. Same thing with beer and smokes. I tried Tecate for one reason (it didn’t take much pushing). Now I am not going to go out of my way to buy a Mona Vie and I have no interest in trying a Venom.

    But historically, there are sponsors and then there are SPONSORS. I go out of my way to buy Red Bull, even though they are not a primary sponsor in the IRL right now, because they have thrown rediculous amounts of money at many things I enjoy. From the air races to four F1 cars to NASCAR, to Cheever back in the day, etc. (How many drivers have Red Bull helmets?)

    These companies build life-long loyalty. Honda, Bridgetone/Firestone, Marlboro, Target, Menards, Red Bull, etc. The benefits realized by these companies go way beyond some extra sales (at least to us hard core fans). These companies have gone way beyond the Azuls or even the Motorolas. What do these companies really get out their years of loyalty? What makes them different from Nissan, Goodyear (yeah, that’s right), Wal-Mart, etc? They clearly have an interest in our sport that goes well beyond the income statement. As race fans, we see this.

    These are the companies that recieve my life-long loyalty.

    P.S. You’d think with their record “windfall profits” the oil companies could step back up. It would make me feel better about gas prices if we at least had a Havoline car again.

  8. I’m in-between. I’ll do it for things where I have no particular preference for a given brand, but I’m going to put Firestones on my car no way, no how, unless I’m stranded somewhere and there’s no alternative. And I think the world of Tony Kanaan but not enough to get over my distaste for 7-11. And I loved AJ Foyt’s #14 Copenhagen car, but I would never buy a tin of the stuff unless I knew someone who’d actually want it.

    I’d give Dollar Gen a look but they’re not in my area.

    I understand the thesis of the article, but I think Indycar sponsorship works best as a way of building brand awareness. I never heard or Argent Mortgage or Boost Mobile before Danica got them. I’m not really interested in Peak Anti-freeze, but I would look at their other products, like the back-up camera they mentioned, and I would likely never have known that if I hadn’t seen Danica’s commercial for it.

    To me it works best with something like Clabber Girl. I never knew CG was tied to the Hulman family. I cook and I buy baking powder; it doesn’t really matter to me whether I get CG or Calumet (the two brands I always see). But I’ll definitely buy CG now. Yet the only way I know CG is involved at all is because it was mentioned when TG got fired a couple months ago. I’m not saying Ed Carpenter needs to drive the Clabber Girl car, but yeah–sponsorship like that would influence my buying habits. And yet it’s not done.

  9. I can’t bring myself to ever support CITGO/PDVSA simply because of the political situation in Venezuela.

    Just an FYI A majority of CITGO gas stations in USA are actually owned/ operated by United Refining out of Pennsylvania. They have dropped the CITGO name & replaced it with other brands they own in states that seem willing to go with this similar boycott.

    Are CITGO’s “politics” any worse than the countries in the Middle East???

    Just askin’ :)

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