Here's how an underdog racing team challenges Nascar's elite.
The wait is over. After a three-month off-season, the Nascar Sprint Cup Series returned in February. For team owners, the racing on the track isn't the sport's only action. Behind the scenes, owners are also jockeying for position for sponsorships--the fuel that keeps the sport going. As a small team competing against giants such as Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports has had to be creative in finding sponsorships and stretching its resources. Owner Bob Jenkins bought the struggling Statesville, North Carolina-based team in 2004 and has helped lead its resurgence both on and off the track. Front Row claimed a No. 3 finish at the 2011 Daytona 500 and, just as impressive, nabbed the No. 800 spot on the 2012 Inc. 5000 with a three-year growth rate of 427 percent. Below, Jenkins explains what it takes for a small race team to run against Nascar's big boys. --as told to Judith Ohikuare
The last race of each season happens in the second or third week of November. Ordinarily, there's a little bit of downtime between that and the Daytona 500 in February, but not this year. A new Nascar requirement has effectively made all old cars obsolete. Cars will now feature a completely different body style that will make them more closely resemble cars you see on the street.
We took the holidays off, but all winter long we've had fabricators building new cars, hanging bodies, and making sure everything fits. There was a delay in getting some of the hoods, and certain parts weren't available, but in the end, we got ahead of it.
Moving the teams from one location to another is a big deal. Logistically, there's a ton of work to be done. We have three transporters that drive the equipment to the races and back home every week. Then, we make flight arrangements for all of our crew members. We buy seats on a 727 owned by one of the big teams, like Roush Fenway Racing, and fly back with them at the end of a race.
Our strategy is a little different from almost every other small team because we build all of our cars. So many people come into this sport and buy or rent cars from a top team, but all they're really doing is taking someone else's car to the track and running it. In our case, I want us to have the capability to build our cars from the ground up, and have the knowledge and skill to work on them.
Nascar is extremely competitive on and off the track, and very much driven by sponsorship. In the past, teams could go to big corporations like The Home Depot or 3M and receive a big check, but social media is changing all that. Now that there are so many ways for companies to get exposure, race sponsorships have become a much smaller part of their outreach. Some sponsors will still commit large sums to racing because they just believe in it so much--but it's not enough to fill a field of more than 40 cars.
To me, business to business is the future of sponsorship in this sport. That's where we have found success. What we've done over the years is create a niche for companies that have a national presence but aren't necessarily household names, such as Window World and ModSpace. It's a win-win: Some emerging brands may be interested in sponsoring a racecar but don't have the budget to affiliate with one of the top teams.
We also reach out to suppliers to see if there's a way to leverage sponsorship programs out of those relationships. For example, Sherwin-Williams is a sponsor and one of our automotive-paint suppliers.
Buying technology for things like simulation programs is what makes this sport expensive. It's easy for small teams to get sucked up by the cost. Having multiple cars on the track enables us to share data from one car to another between practices.
We move up a couple of positions each year. This year, we would like to have both of our teams in the Top 25. Our legacy may not be that we won the most races or championships, but I think we're the team that does the most with the least. That's a tired cliché, but it's true. We're not always going to be the fastest, but we blend in pretty well.
JUDITH OHIKUARE is a reporter for Inc. magazine. She was a features intern for Seventeen magazine, where she covered health and wellness, and her work has been also been published in Marie Claire. Judith is from Brooklyn, New York. @ohikuare