No. 1005
July 17, 2019
 

About The UjianNasional

Author, commentator, influencer. "The Consigliere." Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established Ujian-nasional.info on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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Fumes


Tuesday
Feb052008

FUMES #431

February 6, 2008

Once More into the Abyss.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit.
Ah yes, another racing season is upon us, and for major league open-wheel racing fans it means another year of pretending that things are okay, or wishing things would just get fixed, or wishing that NASCAR would just go away, etc., etc. Well, wishing isn't going to solve anything, as we all know. And with open-wheel racing media guru Robin Miller's latest dead-accurate reporting on yet another near-miss for a reunification plan - this one put forth by Tony George, the head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League - which went nowhere, of course, open-wheel racing in the U.S. is once again assuming its recent role as a giant afterthought.

It's no secret that corporate America, the TV networks and the mainstream stick-and-ball media have all but given up on open-wheel racing in this country and left it for dead, with only the historic Indianapolis 500 mile race qualifying as legitimate news. The rest? Maybe if you're an average citizen in southern California on the Long Beach race weekend or around Cleveland for their Champ Car race you might hear something about a race going on, but that's about it. We all know the Perfect Storm of events that contributed to this mess, so I won't bother rehashing it here, because it's too tedious to even type. Suffice to say that we've watched the disintegration of a major league racing series right before our eyes over the last nine years, and it's flat-out depressing.

Even with all signs pointing to an agreement for the 2009 season that would have the top Champ car teams finally moving over to the IRL, if I'm a marketing honcho at a large American corporation, what could a sponsorship presentation for the IRL or one of its major teams possibly say to convince me that I should spend my company's money on major league open-wheel racing? That I'd be a big fish in a small pond? That I could become the overall sponsor of the IRL and "own" the series?

I can tell you right now how this would go down. If I'm a marketing pro with a non-racing sensibility, then I say "no," flat-out. The IRL, even with the best of the Champ Car teams added, delivers nothing for me, to Hell with the demographics. And that doesn't even begin to get into the TV ratings aspect of the whole thing, which would be laughable, if it already weren't so pathetic. No, the IRL in 2009 won't be able to rely on the standard sponsor presentations or dog-and-pony shows that racing series and racing teams put on today because they'll go nowhere.

Instead, the IRL will have to turn back the clock and mine corporate America's coffers the way it was done back in the old days. It may be hard to believe in this media-saturated, marketing-fueled NASCAR racing world that we live in today, but once upon a time corporate racing sponsorship didn't even exist. Even teams at the very top levels of racing (including F1) existed on the deep pockets of enthusiastic team owners. It wasn't until Colin Chapman showed up at Monaco in 1968 with his Team Lotus 49Bs painted in Gold Leaf tobacco livery that the whole sponsorship thing got rolling. Think about that for a moment, because racing sponsorship wasn't always a "given."

And even once Chapman got the ball rolling, the only real "sponsors" that racers landed were because the executives at the very top of these companies were racing enthusiasts and had the clout to make it happen. And there were no such things as meaningful or substantive ways to measure any of these advertising expenditures, either. Back then, it was because "the boss" wanted it to happen, and the board of directors didn't question his logic (at least they didn't if they wanted to be directors for very long). But for its time it worked, and racing fans benefited from it to be sure, because it grew the sport.

Remember the legendary Can-Am series? People often forget that it was sponsored by Johnson's Wax and the huge purses (for back then anyway) were the direct result of that company's involvement. Was there any logic to it? No. It was just because there were enthusiasts at the very top of the company who wanted to do it and went out and got it done. And where was the "home" of Can-Am racing back then? Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. And where is Johnson's Wax headquarters? Racine, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half away.

Did the Winston sponsorship in NASCAR's good old days happen because it was heavily researched and dissected? No, it happened because the guy at the very top of the company loved stock car racing. Even today, huge racing sponsorships are often the result of racing freaks deeply embedded in these companies - and with the decision-making power to get it done.

So whatever Tony George and his IRL sponsorship wranglers are doing, they're going to have to change their tune if they want to get started on 2009. Find the enthusiasts at these big companies in corporate America who will commit money to the IRL despite all of the negatives because they still love open-wheel racing after all these years of rancor.

From where I sit, that's their only shot.

mtrsptshist_1864_HR1.jpg 
(Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona, FL, 1963. Dan Gurney standing by his NASCAR Ford at the Daytona Speedway before the Daytona 500. Gurney had five NASCAR Grand National wins between 1962 and 1980, all at Riverside Raceway in California.