Getting What They Pay For

The failure of the Indy Racing League to attract and retain sponsors has been well-documented. The flip side of the coin, however, has not garnered nearly as much attention.

There are several long-term success stories – Pennzoil, Delphi, Coors Light and Menards comes to mind – and a new wave of high-profile sponsors is bolstering the IRL through these rough financial times.

In the past two weeks, Hollywood cigarettes and Red Bull energy drink have announced plans to sponsor an IRL car in 2003. Hollywood even dropped its CART FedEx Championship Series program in favor of the IRL.

Even smaller, lesser-known companies such as Purex and Tae Bo are finding the IRL to be just what the doctor ordered.

Purex, a laundry detergent, joined the IRL in 2000 as the primary sponsor of Robbie Buhl’s No. 24 G Force-Infiniti. In its debut, the Purex car made it to victory lane when Buhl won the season-opener at Walt Disney World Speedway.

In August, Purex officials announced an extension of its sponsorship of Buhl through the 2002 season.

“Purex has become the No. 2 detergent brand in the country, thanks in part to its IRL sponsorship and the opportunities that affiliation has created,” said Scott Fullmer, director of marketing for the laundry care division of Dial Corp. “Our business model is pretty simple -- we want to sell cases. We don't look at our relationship as a sponsorship, it's a partnership. They do a fabulous job of working with us.”

In May, Dial Corp., parent company of Purex, expanded its partnership to include Coast soap as a secondary sponsor of Buhl’s car. Next year, the secondary presence will be Dial soap.

“We think there are a lot of really neat synergies here," Fullmer said. “Especially in markets that hold IRL races, sales in those markets have experienced twice the increase of non-IRL cities.”

Hollywood cigarettes have been a mainstay in CART for several years, but its switch to the IRL in 2002 speaks volumes. The Brazilian company made its first foray into the IRL this season with rookie Felipe Giaffone. Thanks to the talented Brazilian driver, Hollywood was up front a lot.

“We feel the IRL has a great future,” said Mark Hulit, consumer marketing director for Souza Cruz, the parent company for the Brazilian Hollywood brand of British American Tobacco.. “The series is very professional, cost-effective for sponsors, and it is carefully planning for the future. And, the series continues to develop and strengthen with each season under the leadership of Tony George.

“Mo Nunn Racing and Felipe Giaffone will be a solid combination in our efforts to achieve results in 2002 and into the future. We feel the timing is right to focus on the IRL for the future.”

Red Bull energy drink is branching out from Formula One to include Eddie Cheever in the IRL. The company announced its plans Oct. 19, and Cheever confirmed the deal last Tuesday.

The IRL still could use a few big-name companies to shore up its image, but it’s clear things are beginning to turn around.

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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