Talk about milestones. In 2007, ABC Supply celebrates its 25th year in business, and A.J. Foyt Racing, the Indy Racing League (IRL) team behind the ABC Supply No. 14 car, celebrates twice as many years of engine-roaring, oil-splattering, checkered-flag action competing in the Indianapolis 500 and 16 other races that determine the annual IRL champion. The season that kicks off March 24 at the Homestead Miami Speedway will mark ABC's second full year as an A.J. Foyt sponsor, and high hopes abound that the addition of driver Darren Manning will propel team ABC into the winner's circle.

Foyt, who holds the IRL records for most races won and most championships, is “one of the most competitive men you'll ever meet, who won't settle for finishing at the back of the field,” says ABC president David Luck. “He is a legend in the sport that really resonates with our customers and associates, and when the sponsorship opportunity became available during the Indy 500 in 2005 we jumped at the chance.”

The ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt car hopes to capture the IRL championship this year with a new driver but similar expectations for a successful partnership on and off the track. Courtesy ABC Supply According to Luck, Foyt's reputation as a tireless worker who comes from humble beginnings and is focused on success further strengthens the bond between ABC Supply and A.J. Foyt Racing. “That strong connection between our company and our team helps make the sponsorship an effective tool to use in attaining our goals,” Luck says.

The 2007 IRL championship is of course one of those goals, but—champagne showers and spokesmodel congratulatory smooches aside—sponsorship of the No. 14 car brings ABC rewards throughout race season and beyond. Those benefits include engendering a team spirit within the company and building loyal and successful relationships with contractor customers, not to mention putting the ABC Supply logo on display at the most widely attended single-day professional sporting event of the year—the estimated attendance at each Indy 500 usually tops 300,000 spectators.

Pedal to the Metal

But like any pro supplier program integrating marketing, employee betterment, and customer outreach, ABC puts a lot more muscle into its Indy sponsorship than just forking over a check each year. “There are many ways that a company can leverage a sponsorship program like this, but you have to be willing to do the work in order to make it a success,” Luck says. “Otherwise you are just throwing dollars away. Writing a check is just the beginning. Everything after that is what makes a sponsorship worth it.”

Last year, the Beloit, Wis.–based pro supplier ran several promotional programs in conjunction with the Indy season. A “Get in Gear” promotion kicked off during the pre-season gave customers an opportunity to win ABC Racing merchandise, including polos, windbreakers, T-shirts, hats, and koozies. A “Your Name Here” program gave customers the chance to win a single race sponsorship on the No. 14 car. As part of the prize package, their company name was put on the car and they were given tickets to the race with hospitality passes and a private meet and greet with A.J. Foyt along with a photo opportunity of them with A.J. and the car. ABC finished the season with a “Sweet Home Chicago” promo where one lucky customer and a guest received an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago for the final race of the season.

NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray poses with Irwin Industrial Tools' and Roush Racing's No. 26 car. Sponsorship of NASCAR brings unique opportunities to Irwin and Irwin distributing dealers alike. Courtesy Irwin Industrial Tools “All of the promotions in 2006 were well received, and as a result we will be running similar promotions in 2007—with some improvements of course,” Luck says. “We are also planning a special ‘25/50 Anniversary' promotion to celebrate our 25th anniversary as a company and A.J. Foyt's 50th anniversary in the IRL.”

To manage the programs, ABC has a full-time marketing person whose primary responsibility is the race program. The almost-daily communication between ABC and the racing team works out details on show car and driver appearances, merchandise, uniforms, hospitality events, pit tours, promotions, track signage, and more, all of which need to be integrated with ABC's other sales promotions and events. “We work very hard throughout the year developing these elements that keep our customers and associates connected and involved in the program, and we work very closely with Foyt Racing throughout the entire process,” Luck says. “It takes a lot of work to make these promotions run smoothly, but they keep our customers actively involved in the racing program and they seem to really appreciate it. Our customers work really hard and this is our way to say thank you, and that's the fun part.”

Marketing Mileage

If you've got the need for speed but are running a bit low on cash, fret not. Though major sponsorships like the IRL and NASCAR can be cost prohibitive for smaller dealers (Luck can't comment on ABC's specific investment, but says that it is in the millions of dollars), the popularity of local and regional motor sports means there are plenty of smaller teams out there looking for sponsors. Motor sports–centric marketing firms like Speed Media International in Mooresville, N.C., can hook up interested parties with sponsorships ranging from prime-time racing to what Speed Media director of operations DJ Pearsall calls the “Saturday night racing” of sprints, modifieds, outlaws, and dragsters. While Speed Media does not release contact names or sponsorship costs, Pearsall says the key for sponsors, regardless of the size of their monetary commitment, is to identify a team that matches well with the sponsor's business and business culture and can help to maximize program goals. “Sponsorship success,” he says, “is about delivering your marketing message as much as it is winning a race.”

There's also no shortage of upstream vendors eager to include distribution networks in higher-profile motor sport sponsorships. Tool companies, in particular—including DeWalt, Makita, and Irwin—love to hit dealer training seminars, contractor cookouts, and other events with drivers and their rides in tow. “Throughout each season, Irwin sales teams nationwide bring the power of NASCAR to our retailers and distributors,” confirms Irwin director of motor sports Eric Pinkham, who heads up the toolmaker's NASCAR sponsorship of the No. 26 Roush Racing car driven by Jamie McMurray. “Whether a national promotion or grassroots outreach program, we eagerly share the ways in which Irwin stands behind its product, and our involvement in NASCAR certainly helps attract attention and provides a stage on which to speak.”

Luck agrees, and he anticipates the internal morale boost and external marketing value of this year's 25/50 ABC Supply and A.J. Foyt anniversary program will be priceless. “You know the program is doing what you set out to do when you come in the office on Monday after a race and everyone is saying, ‘I saw our car on TV this weekend' or ‘How did our team do this weekend?'” he says. “I think the phrases ‘our team' and ‘our car' about sum up the team spirit this program provides.”