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Thinking Out of the Gearbox 

How NASCAR can gain new sponsors

As a fairly recent convert to the joys of stock car racing, I and a growing national fan base have found that the rewards of the sport are nearly endless. Still, NASCAR's increasing national appeal won't guarantee it immunity from the number one problem plaguing every American institution: funding. NASCAR's lifeblood comes from sponsor funding. Slapping your decal on a race star's car is a great way to advertise, but for the racing team, it's a financial lifeline that can be cut short if the sponsor's company has barely staggered through the current economic debacle. Creative measures will be required to keep racing fresh, well funded, and poised to secure its place as a national pastime.

In my opinion, there have been a number of missed opportunities for inventive sponsorships, so I humbly submit a couple of examples for your consideration:

1. Consider the ghastly series of events at Haas Carter Racing. They were shattered early in the 2002 season when they lost K Mart as a primary sponsor. This, I feel, was the perfect opening for Martha Stewart, and since she didn't realize it, it really was incumbent on Haas Carter to seek her out. At the time, Martha was the only prop K Mart had left; it would've been a natural segue. They could have saved the 66 car, it could have been repainted in a sage and cream color scheme, and Martha herself could have driven it. She would have been able to bring in whole new categories of sponsors and fans that Haas Carter couldn't even imagine.

The Martha sponsorship could have resulted in a new clothing line suitable for qualifying, Happy Hour and race day, as well as accessories to add variety to the essential wardrobe simplicity that's de rigueur for those who enjoy the pleasantries of infield life. It's easy to imagine Martha swanking around in a designer jumpsuit, from which a new line of race day ensembles and household accessories would naturally evolve. Imagine Martha Stewart Everyday campers, infield furniture, linens, dishes, coolers and grilling accessories. Infield life would never recover from the impact of the philosophy of affordable good living.

At the same time, NASCAR could comfortably cross the gender barrier with a female who was not only a driver, but also a captain of industry and a team owner. Martha Stewart didn't build a multimillion-dollar corporation based on her shy, demure personality. As a driver, she could mix it up with the best of them. Even Jimmy Spencer wouldn't have the nerve to punch her in the nose.

And who among us wouldn't look forward to the driving and car maintenance segment of the Martha Stewart Living Show? Before you know it, she'd be showing Simpson how to make harnesses and telling Penske how to build engines.

Yes, it could have been a good thing, which I'm sure she realizes now that she feels the hot breath of the SEC and the Feds up her linen knickers.

2. Enterprising teams could add to the general excitement by cultivating sponsors whose products complement current sponsors at their own or at other teams. For example, the #6 Viagra Ford is a natural to drive against the Victoria's Secret/Wonderbra, Climatique/Vasoplex car. All of these are well-recognized and legitimate products that have taken top shelf status in our high pressure, look younger, be sexier society. This would give new dimensions to the expression "beatin' and bangin'," and inevitably some breathless announcer will fall into the trap of telling us about the Climatique car sliding though the traffic, or the #6 penetrating into the pack. Some of us live for moments like these.

3. It's simple: Fans + Sponsorship = Wave of the Future. Sponsor dollars are going to be harder and harder to come by as many sponsors threaten to go out of business (K Mart) or suffer severe losses and shift gears and get out of the Winston Cup (Sprint, RJR). Soon, fans are going to need to step up to the challenge of keeping those dollars flowing. In some instances, the fans themselves could receive a modest fee for permitting a sponsor to use their person, or their property, for aggressive advertising.

I, for one, would be happy to put decals on my car for a fee, but then too many people are already willing to do it for free. So here's another idea: I'd be happy to have a driver use my telephone for advertising purposes. I get a huge number of calls every day from folks I don't want to talk to, and they never seem to tire of listening to my brief and uninspiring message. Why not have a driver leave the message on my voice mail? It'd be an entertaining novelty that would encourage even more people I don't know to call often, with the main difference being that my voice mail would make pitches to them as they listened to the driver's voice:

[ring-ring] HI! This is Kyle Petty, owner and driver of the #45 Georgia Pacific Dodge Intrepid. [Reading from prepared script] Georgia Pacific makes a variety of paper products for home, business, as well as recreational use. Brawny paper towels might be too strong -- and that's good, because in my business, you need to be tough -- and fast -- like BC powders: fast -- just like daddy, I mean King says. And start your day with a healthy cereal from General Mills, like Cheerios, or Chex, the breakfast of racing champions and a Petty family tradition. Later on, when you're sitting around watching the race together, there's nothing like microwave Pop Secret popcorn and a refreshing glass of Coca Cola to share family moments while you cheer your favorite Petty team driver. [Resumption of Petty's normal delivery] OK, Hey man, OK here's the deal: Paula --- she's not here now. And that's OK -- she's around, she just can't talk right now. Leave your message, leave your name, leave your number. When she can, she'll call you quick. All right. Bye.

Or. . .

[ring-ring] A'ight. Thus s Whard Bhurton driver of th #22 Catupilla Dodge and winner of th 2002 Daytona 500. Paula's somewheres, shit ah don know where she's at -- now listen, teamin with Catupilla, you too can drive a positive and lasting change in the world. . . And you know, I find new thangs to do with WD 40 eva day. . . [mumbling] aw, ah caint say that f*&%$(! thang -- Jus leave your message now [muffled in background as he hangs up: "whutd you boys doodthus cahr? Damn thang runs lak a three legged goat. . ."]

Or. . .

[ring-ring] Thank you for calling Paula! I'm Michael Waltrip, handsome and debonair driver of the #15 NAPA Auto Parts Monte Carlo, and the winner of the 2003 Daytona 500 and the Talladega EA Sports 500. And you know, I'm a lot taller than you probably think I am. I didn't get to be so tall by using NAPA Auto Parts, but you can be sure that NAPA Auto Parts will never sell you short. Please leave your message for Paula after the tone, and remember: you can see me every Sunday on the track in the NAPA Auto Parts Monte Carlo, and weekly on the Speed Channel's Inside Winston Cup along with host Allen Bestwick and my sidekicks Kenny Schrader and Johnny Benson! Have a fantastic day!!

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