There is no getting around this one simple fact about racing: it costs money. The old saying is, “Racing: how fast can you afford to go?” Unless you were born with a last name like Earnhardt or Taylor, chances are your dad didn’t pave the way for you to head to the racetrack. That means you are going to have to figure it out on your own.
Now, if you invented Instagram, you are in luck, simply call The Racers Group, hand them a large check worth a good portion of your internet fortune, and they will have your racecar on the grid, filled with gas, and ready for you at the next pro event. They will even tell you where you can land your helicopter.
If your last name isn’t Earnhardt and you didn’t invent Instagram, well then, you have a lot of work to do. Allow me to walk you through a few ways the average Joe can score a little sponsorship (or a lot) to help with some of the crazy costs that racing incurs. The first thing to do is watch the film Glengarry Glen Ross, which has absolutely zero car chases in it because it’s about sales. You, son, are about learn how to sell yourself.
One of the most important terms to understand about sponsorship requests is “ROI,” which stands for Return On Investment. You have to convince a sponsor that whatever they are giving you — whether it be a check for $1,000 or a case of transmission fluid — by “gifting” this stuff to you, they will see a minimum of twice that amount in sales (i.e., $2,000 or two cases of transmission fluid sold).
If you can’t guarantee that sort of return on investment, then maybe your proposal should be adjusted because if you don’t make a change, then you are going to hear a resounding “No.” Believe it or not, hearing “No” is actually something, which is better than nothing. Most sponsorship proposals are ignored due to the amount of requests companies receive. In most cases, you don’t hear anything.
Before Redbull gives you a full-ride sponsorship, lining your pockets with cash, and filling your garage with pallets of energy drinks, you are going to have work your way up the ranks. The photo above is when I was autocrossing with the SCCA at a National Tour event in San Diego. You can see the car doesn’t have much for sponsorship decals except the Hoosier decal on the hood and front fenders. Hoosier did not personally sponsor me (they didn’t know who I was). Hoosier Tires was merely a contingency sponsor through the SCCA for National events.
This meant as long as I pre-registered with them before the event, used Hoosier Tires on all four corners for the entire weekend, had the minimum required number of competitors in my class, ran their specified decals in the required size, color, and location, supplied them with photographic proof I was there, and won the race . . . then, and only then, would I earn tire money.
The reality is, I usually destroyed four Hoosier tires during a race weekend to earn one contingency tire. This sounds like a pretty good deal for Hoosier, and it was. It was a good return on investment. Hoosier Tire incentivizes racers to buy its tires, use them like crazy, and hope to get some of their tire budgets back through contingency.
Most sponsorship deals aren’t for piles cash (or any cash at all); usually, they are trades for a product. This was the exact scenario for my first successful sponsorship request. My team and I were building a 24 Hours of LeMons car. This was a big leap for us because we had only competed in drag racing and autocross events up to this point. Building a fully caged race car came with a lot of unexpected expenses for us. We were out of cash, but we really wanted to make it to the next event.
I started putting sponsorship proposals together for the parts we needed. The first one that worked was to Ken Myers, owner of I/O Port Racing Supplies, asking for a four-terminal battery cut-off switch. In my proposal, I convinced Ken that LeMons was an up-and-coming racing series receiving lots of media attention. By giving me this $35 part (yes, that is correct, my first sponsorship deal was for a retail cost of $35), we could spread the word amongst a lot of grassroots teams (who were building cars) to buy all of their safety equipment from I/O Port Racing Supplies.
He was sold and shipped us the cut-off switch. Did we provide a return on investment for the $35 part? Yes, we won the race and were featured in a bunch of magazines — all of which mentioned our sponsor, I/O Port Racing.
Once you have received your free part from a sponsor, it doesn’t mean you are done. In actuality, it is just the beginning. You need to be appreciative and do everything you can to spread the word of the business who is supporting you. Even if that support was merely $35, it is still $35 more than anyone else was willing to give you. One of the things you can do is work to get your story in the media. This doesn’t happen automatically.
For my team, we started with our local newspaper. If you understand how papers work, it isn’t that hard to get coverage. Newspapers have the difficult task of filling a daily newspaper with content to keep the pages from being blank between the advertising they already sold. They don’t care what is on the page as long as it is somewhat relevant to local community stories.
I started sending press releases to the local sports writer to help him fill his section with something other than the usual local high school girl’s tennis coverage. He was glad to get something different to run with, and the next thing we knew, we were in the newspaper. And more importantly, we were mentioning our sponsor I/O Port Racing Supplies.
Once you collect some sponsors and work with getting some media going, you need to make sure you are putting your sponsor’s name on as many things as possible. Your car needs to look professional and be clean at all times. You need to get some sort of team uniform going so any photographs taken of your team, your car, your trailer, whatever, provide exposure for your sponsors.
Not only do you need to ensure your car has the correct sponsor or contingency stickers in the right places, but you also need to ensure your driver’s suit has the proper patches in place. Your uniform is just as important as your car because, when the cameras come out at big moments like a podium celebration, your vehicle will probably be in impound. Take the time to obtain patches (or create them) for your sponsors and sew them on.
Racetracks are what race cars are built for, but that isn’t the only place race cars can be seen. Car shows, parades, kid’s birthday parties, any place where there are loads of people is a place to display your race car. Sponsors love this stuff. They are often more interested in the vehicle being at a big car show like The Eibach Meet versus a race, and rightfully so. The fact is more people attend car shows than regional road races or local autocrosses.
At the car shows, we take the time to let kids sit in the car, put on the five-point Autopower harnesses, and take pictures. We also have hero cards to hand out and write autographs on. At the end of the season, we take the time to send a care package to our sponsors listing all of the events we attended, copies of all the media they were in, a nice photograph poster of the car, a T-shirt, and a copy of our hero card.
It is this follow-through that ensures we can keep our sponsorship for another season. If you don’t do this follow-up, chances are any sponsorship you received will be a one-time deal.
From what you have seen, my team spends a lot of money on sponsorships: custom stickers for the car, flags, T-shirts, uniform embroidery, and autograph cards. You may think we spend more money on all of the sponsorship hype than we get from our sponsors. The reality is, in some cases, we probably did.
However, we are ensuring our sponsors get their return on investment. We are trying to create a brand and a long-lasting relationship. That way, when the next big event comes along, and we need help, hopefully, our sponsors are willing to throw more support our way. It is a long process, but the end-game has to be continually selling the sponsor on why your team is the one with which they should be connected.
Outside The Box
I’m continually looking for opportunities to spread the word for the companies who have been kind enough to support my racing habit. I look for different magazines that might want to do a feature on our racing team or podcasts that might want a race car driver on the show. Recently, I did the Technik Podcast, where I had the chance to talk with host Peter Hopelain about racing. During that conversation, I mentioned some of my sponsors for the audio podcast and represented all of my sponsors with the background in the video version (below).
Thinking outside the box, I was able to get one of our race cars in the Nissan Motorsports calendar. This was really cool for our team, and it was a great package to send to our other sponsors to show them how we were representing them. This didn’t happen automatically. I essentially harassed the people at Nissan until they included our car in their calendar. Don’t take no for an answer, just like the characters from Glengarry Glen Ross.
The road to sponsorship is not an easy one. If it were easy, every autocrosser in the country would have free racing tires. If this all sounds like too much work, then invent something new on the internet and get rich before you go racing.
The process is selling yourself and providing a service to a sponsor that they need. And then following through on your promise, providing that return on investment. And last but not least, ensure your social media game is on-point. Sponsors like a lot of hashtags, tags, and lots of followers. Now that I think about it, follow Krider Racing on Instagram, I need more followers too!