SBJ/October 3-9, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Force bankrolls a boost for NHRA

When the recession hit, legendary drag racer John Force began to worry about two things: his sponsors’ return on their investments and the future health of the NHRA. He decided to do something about both, taking $1 million of his own money and developing a mobile marketing campaign designed to promote his sponsors and the sport nationwide.

The mobile marketing campaign, known as the John Force Racing Road Show, is a hauler with double awnings that cover five funny cars, interactive kiosks that collect guest information and flat-panel TVs that show videos explaining drag racing. It debuted at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Las Vegas in March and went on to appear at another NASCAR race, the Indianapolis 500, the Indiana State Fair,
JOHN FORCE RACING (2)
The John Force Racing Road Show brings drag racing to prospective fans around the country.
the Oshkosh, Wis., air show and eight other events. It also hauls Ford funny cars, once driven by Force, that get set up in airports, malls and other places, like an Advance Auto Parts store in California.

Some events pay for the road show to attend. Others John Force Racing selects or one of the team’s sponsors asks it to attend.

John Force Racing says the tour has attracted an estimated 135,000 visitors, collected data from 23,000 of them and appeared at events with a collective audience of 1.8 million people.

“It’s taken our drag-racing market, which we’ve already got, and gone outside it,” Force said. “It doesn’t just go to races. It goes everywhere.”

Force bought the hauler and covers most of the costs for the road show, but he has received some financial support from the NHRA and his sponsors. He is considering selling a presenting sponsorship for the road show in 2012 and adding another 18-wheeler to the caravan.

He plans to take it to more markets and events next year and is already in talks to take the hauler to Indianapolis for the 2012 Super Bowl.

“We were just trying to see if it worked, and right now, we’re convinced it does work,” Force said.

Force got the idea for the road show from Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. When Force came into Charlotte-Douglas International Airport for a drag race last year, he saw a new SUV from one of Smith’s auto dealerships in the airport lobby. He asked Smith why he put cars in the airport and learned that hundreds of thousands of people saw the cars on a given weekend.

“I said, ‘That’s where I’ve got to put my race cars,’” Force said. “I’m getting my sponsors new exposure that they don’t get.”

All of Force’s sponsors are incorporated into the program, including Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, Auto Club and Brand Source, an appliance, electronics and furnishing retailer.

The kiosks featured alongside the hauler allow people to swipe their driver’s license and then asks them a series of questions about everything from how often they change their oil to what electronics they plan to purchase in the next year. At the end, the participants are entered into a sweepstakes to possibly win a Castrol hat or coupon for Brand Source. The data captured is shared with Force’s sponsors who can then use it for follow-up promotions and marketing.

“The sponsors were spending a lot of money on these cars, and some of them were giving up show car programs and midway programs,” Force said. “For sponsors who were saying, ‘Is it worth it?’ now they’ve got another area. A little bit of IndyCar. A little bit of NASCAR.”

The other group benefiting the most from the road show is the NHRA. Force’s daughters, Ashley and Courtney, both drive for his team, and he’s interested in seeing the sport grow so it can support them in the future. That’s why several of the events that the tour has attended have been NASCAR and IndyCar races, where Force believes he can turn motorsports fans onto drag racing.

NHRA executives have been pleased with the results and are encouraged about the program’s future. “At the Indy 500, he was mobbed,” NHRA President Tom Compton said. “It’s gotten a lot of attention and turned a lot of heads. We’d like to see it continue to expand in the future.”

By creating the road show, Force also increased his opportunity for appearances. He took the road show to five Denver-area Wal-Mart stores to appear on behalf of Castrol earlier this year, and sales of motor oil increased 180 percent on the days he was there, according to John Force Racing executives.

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