Please Support The Sponsors
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.