SBJ/May 4 - 10, 1998/No Topic Name

Crew chiefs form sales squad

Race fans will wear Ray-Bans because Jeff Gordon does. They’ll eat at McDonald’s because Bill Elliott says he does. They’ll switch to Miller Lite because Rusty Wallace did.

Now we’ll see whether they’ll choose a wrench because Terry Labonte’s crew chief did.

Hoping to capitalize on NASCAR’s seemingly bottomless trough of sales opportunities, four of the sport’s premier race-team leaders have united to form the Crew Chief Club, a marketing partnership meant to cut the garage sector in on stock-car racing’s runaway appeal.

Larry McReynolds, Robin Pemberton, Jimmy Makar and Todd Parrott – the crew chiefs for Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, respectively – will put their stamps on products that will carry the Crew Chief Club mark, selling apparel and pursuing endorsements.

The four crew chiefs hold equal shares in the enterprise, with a fifth stake belonging to the Motorsports Decisions Group Inc., a Harrisburg, NC., marketing firm launched by Danielle Randall.

Racing sources said a fifth crew chief, Steve Hmiel of Roush Racing, was invited as a founding member but declined because of potential conflicts with deals controlled by the team and its sponsors. Randall would not comment. Hmiel could not be reached.

A line of licensed Crew Chief Club apparel manufactured by Chase Authentics debuts when the Winston Cup circuit swings through Charlotte on May 16. It will carry images of the crew chiefs and race crews, as well as team colors, but no photos of the cars. Those images could be used down the line with approval of individual teams and sponsors, Randall said.

That’s only one restriction that the group faces, since unlike drivers, who are independent contractors, crew chiefs and crew members are race-team employees. No team wants its employees tied into projects that service a major sponsor’s competitor.

For example, if the Crew Chief Club lines up a beer deal – as it hopes to – Pemberton won’t be able to participate unless it’s with Miller, which sponsors Wallace’s ride. Earnhardt, team owner Richard Childress and McReynolds already are signed on with Snap-On Tools, so McReynolds would have to stay out of the deal if the Crew Chief Club signed with another tool manufacturer.

As part of its alliance with NASCAR, the Crew Chiefs Club also agreed to stay out of the automotive aftermarket – oil filters, brakes, etc. – where NASCAR is in the midst of trying to establish a heavily funded, high-profile link.

In exchange, the chiefs get NASCAR’s promotional support and door-opening credentials. That may not sound like much, but industry sources agree that it’s become difficult to do business in stock-car racing without it.

"We wanted to come through the front door and help support what NASCAR is doing as opposed to coming in with another mark that would genuinely confuse the consumer," Randall said. "I could’ve done this without NASCAR, gone out seeking endorsements in the automotive after-market and , believe me, they would’ve come. But in the long run, we’re all better off working together."

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