I’m going to open this post with a hard Truth: Road Racing “Sponsors” are NOTHING like what 99% of people think they are.
Everyone from the outside thinks we all have “sponsors”. Many people think sponsorship is easy: Company A writes you a big check for the honor of putting their sticker on your car because you won a race or two. Right? Not at all.
Sponsorships are not charity. Businesses who sponsor drivers will pay money or provide free (or more likely, discounted) parts, expecting that the advertising you do for them will earn back their investment and then some. To be clear; for every dollar they give you, they want(need?) to see that back in extra sales. If you can convince them to sponsor you, but they don’t quickly see the value…. Don’t expect to be “sponsored” for long.
“But… I see Sponsors all the time on NASCAR, F1, Drag Racing, and other Racing on TV!”
Nationally Televised racing is just that. Nationally Televised. And with that, extraordinarily expensive (Hundreds of thousands PER weekend) to compete in with any shred of competitiveness. F1 and NASCAR fill up stadium seating with exorbitant ticket prices… club racing may have incredibly competitive (and more pure, IMO) racing, but even with free admission it never has more than a few people in the stands (Who are almost always drivers in other classes, crew, or people directly related to drivers).
Road Racing in the United States has several tiers. To wildly oversimplify it: “Crapcan Enduros” (non-licensed) are considered the basement tier. “Club ” racing (SCCA, NASA, Licensed Enduro series, etc) is considered the Entry Tier. Then there’s “Entry-Pro” like Pirelli World Challenge and Indycar sponsored Support Races (Global MX-5) in the middle, and “Pro” IMSA/Weathertech racing at the top.
If you check out Crapcan, Club, and even Entry-Pro there generally aren’t anyone in the stands that aren’t family, friends, or crew. If you get into Pro Road-Racing, they sell tickets for events, but aside from one-off popular events (like 24 hours of Daytona) there are still very few people in those stands. There is occasional TV coverage, but it isn’t major. Even in top tier “Pro” racing, a huge chunk of team budgets come from drivers bringing their own money and essentially buying their seat. So whether you are spending $1,000 a weekend or $100,000 a weekend, you’re basically racing for yourself. Want to sit next to thousands of screaming fans? Buy tickets for a NASCAR or F1 race.
Want to race with packed stands and screaming fans? Consider checking out Oval Track racing. It’s the one form of racing where you are able to race, even at entry and grassroots levels with paying fans in the seats. Paying fans bring attention for sponsors and even prize money (Also something conspicuously absent from club racing). Expect serious, cutthroat competition with the higher stakes.
“Wait, I see plenty of cars in club racing with businesses and sponsors on them!”
Quite often, the businesses you see “sponsoring” club racing cars are the driver’s own personal business, job, parent, or friend. I’m not saying that lucrative club racing sponsorships are unheard of, but if you ask those drivers, they typically aren’t taking a huge check to have the name on their car (though it is a decent tax write-off for some).
Many sponsorships you see are for partial services, like a shop giving discounted alignments for sponsored cars or free tire mounting and balancing. These are generally labor services vs paying cash or parts.
And yet, many “sponsor” stickers are from drivers who just like and want to support a specific brand or business without necessarily being compensated. Many more also emulate a classic livery because it looks really cool, without any form of compensation. There are tons of Martini and Gulf liveried vehicles in Club racing, but I’d guess that not a single one is doing it as a sponsorship.
There are still some people in club racing with generously paying sponsors. So Who gets sponsors, and why?
If you want to prove value to potential sponsors in road racing, you need to get creative…
You have to convince a potential sponsor that YOU are the person who will work for them. Sponsorship is much more than whether or not your car is a good platform to showcase their parts. The people who get sponsors aren’t necessarily the fastest or best drivers, they are the people who can get the most positive attention for the advertiser. Without primetime TV coverage, how will people see your sponsor’s name/product?
What makes you different from any other person? Do you have a special story? Do people regularly gravitate towards you for some reason or other? Do you have a very popular online presence?
I spent some time working for a good friend in his race shop. People regularly contact him asking for free parts in exchange for running a couple stickers. When he would ask them what their plan was to earn him enough business to offset his costs, they were often dumbfounded… or would reply, frustrated, that they’ll obviously display his stickers!
It’s not that simple.
When I was doing a lot of commissioned artwork, I gave some discounted drawings as “sponsorships” on promises of displaying at car shows, handing out business cards, spreading the word, etc. Though my experience was generally limited, I never saw ANY return from any of it. I know they did what they promised, but it handing out business cards and putting my sticker on their car wasn’t effective enough to warrant any future involvement as a “sponsor”.
How is your social media?
Social media is king. Since road racing doesn’t have a huge fanbase or mainstream media following, you need to show how you will do the legwork and get the sponsor’s name/product in front of possible customers. One of the first things a prospective sponsor will do is check out your social media accounts. Is your account popular… How many Thousands of followers do you have? Are your posts in line with the company’s current message? Are you posting regularly? Do your posts get engagement? …Just don’t think that simply having a few thousand followers means you’re prime sponsorship material, expect to work prove that value and work at it.
What to do?
There are plenty of great articles, podcasts, and books directly pertaining to creating a good sponsorship proposal. If you are a driver seriously seeking sponsorship, take the time to read some of these so you can come out of the gate strong. You don’t show up to a job interview in flip flops with photos to show on your phone to showcase. Create a portfolio, be presentable and professional. Expect to promise a specific number of race appearances, shows, online presence, blog posts, etc. You need to show up to a potential sponsor with a persuasive, well thought out plan.
In short, have a solid plan (a sponsorship proposal) for how you will BOTH benefit from any sort of partnership.
So, if you do all this… how much money can you make with racing?
Time and time again on this blog I repeat the quote: “The best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one.” There just aren’t
many any ways to compete in this hobby and make money while doing so. If you are savvy enough to get some sponsor support, and successful enough to earn contingency sponsor prizes, you may be able to cut a significant chunk of your season’s budget…. but you surely won’t be walking away with a heavier wallet. The most effective thing you can do to minimize out of pocket expense is in choosing a car that is affordable, reliable, and won’t blow through consumables.
“Isn’t there SOME SORT of “Easy” Sponsorship?”
The one form of sponsorship which is open and attainable to all racers is “Contingency Sponsorship” I spoke about this in a previous blog post, essentially Contingency Sponsors have already agreed to support a racing series. All you usually need to do is run their stickers and if you finish a race in certain positions (usually around the top 5 cars) you get some sort of prize. It will not offset all your costs for an entire weekend, but they can go a long way to lowering your expenses. Click the link below to read more.
Through my time running Time Trial and Racing contingency prizes have long way to cutting my running costs. If you are currently racing, or are considering it… Make sure you are getting the most out of your possible contingency sponsors, there are a lot of people who drop the ball on claiming contingency prizes. Also, make sure you treat these sponsors right to keep them on board with sponsorship: Run their products and post your appreciation when you win.
“Since I can’t get rich with Racing, does that all mean racing is pointless?”
NO! If anything, it means the opposite. Since racing takes such a personal investment it means everyone at the club level are willing to make great personal sacrifices to be there… We’re all committed. We’re out here racing for not much more than a few bucks in contingency prizes and a cool plastic trophy. Without sponsors to impress or big prize money to win, we’re simply out racing for the fun of it. We work together, help each-other out, and do all we can to make sure we’ll have a great race. There is still competition, egos, and red mist, But it’s nothing like racing where your season’s funding and career is on the line. Since you are racing for the fun and bragging rights, you aren’t usually considering wrecking competitors to get by. Instead, you plan on cracking a beer and laughing with them over your in-car video once you get back the pits.
Are you looking at club racing as a stepping stone to “Going Pro”? There are plenty of people (often very young) who show up with that intent. The experience gained is certainly valuable, but there aren’t any NASCAR Scouts at club road racing events, and IMSA teams won’t be impressed if you finish mid pack of a 5 car field. Even at the pro level, the work, luck, and talent required to make a career is astronomical. If you let racing get too close to “Work” all the fun goes away.
The Moral of the story: Don’t expect to go club racing and find a ton of sponsors to pay for your hobby. If you regularly finish well in races, contingency sponsorship may go a long way to offsetting your costs… but the vast majority of your budget will be coming from your own pocket. If you want to run in one of the very few racing series that do get sponsors and prize money? Expect huge costs to be competitive, and cutthroat competition (both on and off the track).
Now that we’ve taken the air out of the “Free money” sails… want to read up on some other ways to participate in Track Days and Racing? Click HERE To see more posts by “No Money Motorsports”