Gordon nudges Axalta into grassroots deal
Heeding advice from endorser Jeff Gordon, Axalta Coating Systems is adding a grassroots element to its motorsports sponsorship portfolio by backing a team in next month’s Knoxville Nationals sprint car event in Iowa.
Axalta, the Philadelphia-based company that sells paint for cars, buildings and other machinery, is a longtime partner of front-running race teams including NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports and Formula One’s Mercedes AMG-Petronas Motorsport.
But Gordon, who was sponsored by Axalta and its forerunner company DuPont throughout his racing career, told Axalta executives that they could benefit from adding a deal with sprint car team Jason Johnson Racing. The team, which is now run by Johnson’s wife after he passed away in a sprint car crash last year, is running its No. 41 entry driven by David Gravel with Axalta’s traditionally vibrant paint scheme.
“We’re pretty well established in most of the major motorsports series, but my focus is to try to be relevant in the biggest events in motorsports, too,” said Wade Robinson, managing director of global motorsports for Axalta. “We’ve been involved with sprint car racing before with Kasey Kahne Racing, so it’s not brand new to us but we don’t do a ton with it. It’s a grassroots, rural crowd, which is a big part of our customer base, so it’s a neat fit.”
Axalta did not disclose the cost of the one-off deal, but industry executives said such a pact would typically cost around $50,000. Assets include the paint scheme and at-track hospitality, which Axalta will take advantage of by hosting customers from the Midwest. Robinson noted that the premier Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series doesn’t travel to Iowa, so this gives Axalta the chance to host nearby customers who don’t typically get the opportunity.
The Knoxville Nationals, with a purse of nearly $1 million, is one of the U.S.’s marquee sprint car events, and the dirt track race typically draws more than 20,000 fans and several NASCAR drivers as team owners and competitors.
Gordon, who was a sprint car driver before transitioning to NASCAR, helped set up the deal after talking to Gravel. Gordon realized the team needed sponsorship and has a special story to tell about how Bobbi Johnson, Jason Johnson’s widow, has continued to run her husband’s team after his death.
The coatings company has a laundry list of business-to-business deals in motorsports and Robinson said Axalta maintains a 4:1 return on investment in racing. Deals it has struck include International Speedway Corp. using $250,000 worth of Axalta’s paint for ISM Raceway’s renovation. ISC is also using Axalta’s paint for its renovation of Talladega Superspeedway. Axalta is one of the major “injector” entrance partners of ISC track Daytona International Speedway, and it is an official partner of NASCAR. Bespoke Sports & Entertainment serves as Axalta’s agency of record.
Gordon views the sprint car deal as an opportunity to educate Knoxville Nationals fans about Axalta’s history. Formerly named DuPont Performance Coatings, the group was sold in 2013 to The Carlyle Group. Carlyle eventually exited and Berkshire Hathaway is now Axalta’s largest investor.
“I still think there are some people out there trying to figure out what Axalta is, so it’s always telling the story,” said Gordon. “But [in NASCAR] we don’t cover the Midwest as well as we could, so it also connects [Axalta to] customers.”