SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

NHRA re-signs longtime partner

The NHRA and longtime partner Auto Club of Southern California have renewed a bundle of sponsorships for nearly $5 million a year over five years.

Auto Club, which has been with the NHRA for the past 16 years, has the naming rights to the NHRA-owned drag strip in Pomona, Calif., as well as title sponsorship of the season-ending event there in November. The largest AAA affiliate in the country, Auto Club is adding title sponsorship of the NHRA’s May race at Gateway, near St. Louis.

Auto Club has struck those deals one by one over the years, including presenting sponsorship of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, an on-track element called Safety Safari and a series sponsorship of the NHRA Street Legal division. This latest renewal rolls all of these agreements into a single five-year contract. That doesn’t include a team sponsorship of driver Robert Hight at John Force Racing for about $3 million more.

That combination of deals puts Auto Club in a class with the most prolific sponsors in the sport, including Coca-Cola (Full Throttle), Lucas Oil and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

“This is a big win for us and for the sport,” said NHRA President Tom Compton. “This is a very significant relationship for us, and it’s also a long-term deal. There’s a lot of equity built into the Auto Club name and safety is certainly something that aligns us both. They’ve also found that beyond the emphasis on safety, they’ve been able to promote key services at national events and that’s a big reason they’re so deeply entrenched with us.”

Auto Club’s renewal of NHRA sponsorships places it
among motorsports’ most prolific sponsors.

This latest renewal will take the Auto Club’s relationship with the NHRA to 21 years and the Auto Club’s CEO, Tom McKernan, has been around for all of them. In fact, the NHRA has the ultimate “in” with Auto Club because McKernan’s daughter races dragsters as a hobby.

Supporting the NHRA, whose core mission has been to provide a safe environment for hot rodding, is a business decision that’s quite personal for McKernan, a 43-year veteran with the Auto Club.

“This is a way for us to always keep our brand in front of people,” McKernan said. “Our tag line is that ‘We’re always with you’ and keeping our brand in front of people is a reinforcement of that.”

Auto Club, which started in Southern California and still has a strong base of customers there, now counts more than 13 million members across 20 states. That accounts for nearly 30 percent of all the AAA members nationally.

Most of those members joined AAA for the roadside assistance, McKernan said, but many of them don’t know about other services, such as auto and home insurance, and travel.

“After roadside assistance, which everybody knows about, it kind of falls off from there,” McKernan said. “This is an excellent platform for us to build more awareness for those other services. We get information from people at our displays and we find that we’re able to sell quite a bit of business from that. … We’ve found the demo of NHRA fans to be very good, in terms of education level, income levels and just their sensitivity to all things automotive.”

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