A Professional Racer talks to us on how to find the money to race

Racing is expensive. Someone has to pay the bills. Look in the mirror or read this article.

Getting sponsored is really hard. I admit that. Everything about racing is hard, but some things about it are just WAY more fun than finding the money and its easy to focus on doing those things instead. Reality, check- No funding, no racing. If you want to race seriously you have to be good at finding money.

Is this your life? Your racing results are great, you have 10 championships under your belt, you are practically a household name at your home track, you have a winning smile and an image and personality like a Hollywood celebrity..but you’ve just been blown off by some twerpy 25 year old Marketing MBA because of CPT, or ROI or some other acronym and/or mystery ad program that is taking up 100% of his multi million dollar marketing budget. Just frikkin’ great.

But they loved you, right? You spent hundreds of dollars or more courting the people, qualifying the decision makers and traveling to meetings with mucky-mucks. But they said “No”. Don’t they get it? Probably not…but neither do you, really.

So what did you do wrong? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Your first mistake was ever getting into a business like racing in the first place, you should have gotten a good job down at the sawmill and saved your money like Mom told you to. But, I know, you HAVE TO RACE. OK if you are going to do this, then lets try and get you some money to help out.

Don’t expect this short article to be the “bible” of sponsorship hunting. I have had some small success with selling sponsors in my 20 years of racing, but they have never been the “great sponsor” that pays all the bills, they have been small deals that covered costs, provided products, or offered free services. In fact I have spent most of my efforts finding ways to pay for racing without sponsorship because its so hard! There are some terrific books out there about this subject, read them all! One of the best is called “Sponsorship and the world of Motor-racing” by Guy Edwards.

All right, its time to stop your whining and lets accept some of the hard realities about racing sponsorship. You wont like this part much…

1. NASCAR IS racing in the US. Period. If you race ANYTHING besides a Winston Cup car especially if it turns right and left, you are in for a hard road ahead. Most Non-racing people think of stockcars when you say the word “racing” to them. Deal with it. Find things that your series offers that NASCAR doesn’t. Don’t laugh, they are there. If you are already racing in a stockcar, good for you, but lose that southern drawl for us OK? Always remember that you are not selling stickers on the side of a race car. In most cases they are not worth the cost of the stickers to any sponsor. You are selling a “TOOL”, and teaching them how to use it in ways that make MORE money than they already have, and WAY more money then the tool itself costs. They don’t really want the expensive drill motor (your racing team), they want the hole in the wall (more profit). If you can understand this one concept then you are ahead of 90% of your money competition. And it IS a race for the money. Your most important race is off the track between August and December, when the whole industry competes for a limited amount of sponsorship dollars. You are up against, Roger Penske, John Force, Richard Childress and many others. Can you beat them? Maybe, but you need more attitude adjustments first.

2. YOU are the product. Yes, sorry folks, as passionate as you are and as talented and serious as you are, image beats talent in the race for money every day. YOU have to look and act like a racing driver to the person who is buying you. If you look like Jeff Gordon, or Angele Savoie good for you, but if not, work on it. Really. This is the entertainment business folks, be an entertainer. You will be representing the sponsors’ company as soon as you sign, and if you want to know what sells, watch some TV commercials. You will see attractive people more often than not. Its not fair, but you don’t see Rosanne working for Victoria’s Secret either do you? Male or female, use all of the tools you have in your personal arsenal to win over everyone you meet. Its like dating, be nice, be smart, be cute and you might get a second date, or at least free tires. Presentation and image IS everything.

3. You are NOT a marketing person. Don’t even try to be. Unless you have a degree in marketing, trying to recommend a course of action or strategy to a savvy marketing director, will make you look and sound every bit as stupid as he would explaining chassis set up to you. But that’s OK, YOU are the driver, admit that you don’t know a all about marketing and smile, this will earn some respect for you. If you can, hire a marketing rep who knows the lexicon of the marketing world. It WILL be worth it. You don’t need a big agency, but using someone with a degree or experience with people AT THE LEVEL you are looking for is critical. Don’t try to BS your way through a question you don’t know the answer to. They will know.

4. Make a plan, stick to it, and visualize winning each step. The first step is the hardest, but it might go something like this.
Before you start.
Make a list of everyone you know who is rich. Put them in a black book. Call all of them and ask for money for racing! I’m serious! If they don’t want to help you, they might be able to lead you to someone they know who will. Rich people hang out with other rich people. Go make rich friends, people like to have fun with their friends. Racing is fun and that makes you a cool person to know. Most racing sponsorships are done because of friendships. They get done because it sounds fun to some CEO with money, and then they JUSTIFY it with a sound business plan. If this idea seems uncomfortable or insincere to you, call that Sawmill your Mom told you about , I think they are hiring.

A. Research the company you are calling. Don’t waste you time cold calling everyone, or shotgunning proposals. Know what they want and need and give it to them. Don’t get mad at them if they are hard to reach, be patient, but put yourself in their place. You are just another salesman calling, and how do YOU like sales calls?

B. Call a PERSON not a title. If you need an angle, use the seven stages of Kevin Bacon theory, everybody knows somebody. Find a name to drop, or flirt with the person who answers the phone. Call every day if needed until you get a meeting or a firm “no”. Don’t be afraid of hearing “No” Revel in it! YOU WILL HEAR IT A LOT..GO COLLECT THEM! Every “NO” you get, is one less before the first “Yes”. When asked what I did for a living when I wasn’t racing, I used to say, “I collect No’s”. You should too.

C. Get a meeting. your first meeting should NOT be a pitch. Try to keep it informal and just tell them you have a few questions. Its a chance to learn what they want, and you can ask some qualifying questions like…

“Mr. VP of Marketing, we have many sponsorship menu options to choose from, is there a range of available funds that I should work with when I prepare my proposal?” Or “In what ways can we use the racing team as tool away from the track to help you drive sales?” I possible, don’t waste time “dancing with the lackeys.”.only show your real stuff to the person who authorizes a check to you. ” I’ll take it to my boss” is a No. Add it to your collection.

D. Prepare and polish your presentation. Aim it right at them, specifically. Make it short, but make sure you have all the “nuts and bolts” like value and cost per impression available. Rehearse it and try to anticipate every possible question they might have. Present it in person, unless there is NO way to meet with them. A mailed proposal has almost no chance. You are what makes your program unique and valuable, show them face to face.

E. ASK FOR THE FREAKIN’ MONEY. Don’t make your pitch and then wait for them to offer a check. Close the deal and ask, “What would be the best way to handle billing on this program?” Make sure you ask for enough money to do what you promise!! Know what that number is, and remember a good promotional program will have at least one dollar for running the sponsorship end for each dollar you need for the races.

F. Deliver MORE than you promised. Always.

G. RENEW! Don’t forget to plan your renewal pitch after a recent success. Don’t wait until your rival has taken your CEO out for a beer while you were under you car. Get a renewal commitment as early in the season as possible so you can work on your car for the next season.

OK, that’s the deal. I know I’ve only scratched the surface, and it sounded more like boot camp than a marketing primer. But if you toughen up that outer hide and take some actions you WILL find your support. This is a tough business, and its not always fair, or polite, or even honorable at times. But if you can deal with the realities I’ve outlined here you can be as tough a competitor off the track as you are on. Go out and start collecting those “No’s” and you will stand a good chance of finding more than tire money in the bank before you are done.

But please remember, even if you do everything perfect, and have a cool program that makes really good business sense, they might still say “No”. Its their company, and just like you, they don’t buy everything that is offered to them, they don’t HAVE to buy your racing program. Go on to the next pitch, take what you’ve learned and make the next presentation better, and try again. You might have to do 100 more before you get a “yes”, but you WILL get it.

You can do it, after all you are a racer, you have already proven that you can do something that most people will only dream of, now go earn your future in it!



Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.