People often believe that obtaining sponsorship at the club racing level is not possible, but that is not true. Before you start to seek potential sponsors, you need to establish realistic expectations and determine how much effort you are willing to put into it. While it is difficult to obtain cash sponsorships at the club racing level, sponsorship can come in many other forms. Here is a question that you need to give some thought to – why do you want to pursue sponsorships? Is it because you need financial sponsors to race at the club level? If the answer is yes, then you are better off getting another source of income to support your racing. If you are relying on sponsorship, you will create a lot of stress for yourself while trying to do something that should be fun. If it would be nice to have sponsors, but you are not financially dependent upon it, then great! Sponsorship can add to the enjoyment of racing if it is approached in the right manner. Seek sponsorships for the right reasons, and go into it with the right mindset.
Many people suggest that it would be better to take the time that you are planning to spend on your sponsorship efforts, and get a part-time job. The positive side of the part-time job is that it is guaranteed income, knowing that your efforts will result in a paycheck. Remember that sponsorship is also work to some degree and can become stressful at times. On the other hand, it can also be enjoyable and a great learning experience. Do you want to learn what the racing business (yes, I did say business) is really about? Beyond club racing, obtaining and retaining sponsors is extremely important in the racing industry. In professional racing, what do you think constitutes a successful racecar driver? Surely your driving skill and racing record is important, but you live and die by your ability to obtain sponsorship. You could be an extremely talented driver, but if you can’t bring money to the team, it will be very difficult to succeed. On the other hand, a person could be a good driver, perhaps not quite as talented, but have a strong ability to obtain sponsors. That person will find things much easier. Honestly, an entire book could be devoted just to the sponsorship topic. This section discusses the basics of racing sponsorship at the club level and will provide you with enough knowledge to begin your own sponsorship campaign. You should also understand that there are differences in obtaining and maintaining sponsors between the club racing level and professional levels.
Why would a business want to become your sponsor? This is a question that you need to give thought to and incorporate it into your sponsorship plan. Sponsoring your “racing team” is a marketing opportunity for a business. Seek out businesses that would most benefit from what you can provide them. Again, set realistic expectations and goals. When approaching a potential sponsor, focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. If you use the opposite approach, you will be walking out the door empty-handed quite frequently. There are reasons why a business can benefit from sponsoring your race team, and it is your job to point these reasons out to them. To give you a starting point, I have listed a few potential benefits for sponsors below.
- Hopefully the major benefit to the company is you! Try to think of ways you might be able to help promote their business. Talk the business up.
- Publicity for the business. While there are not typically a significant number of fans at club races, there are other drivers, corner workers, friends, and family in attendance.
- Employee morale. It can be fun for a business to be involved in a race team.
- Potential tax write-off. If you own a business, this may also be an excellent opportunity for you! When discussing this with a potential sponsor, be very careful. I strongly suggest that anytime this is mentioned, you state it as a potential tax benefit, and recommend that they consult a tax advisor.
- The dream of wanting to be racecar driver. For those people who have always dreamed about racing themselves, this will allow them to become involved in racing through you.
- Bragging rights. The business owner can brag to their friends that they sponsor a race team.
A common question asked in club racing is: Do you need to be a winning driver to obtain sponsors? I personally found the answer to this question to be very surprising – the answer is no! It is even possible to obtain sponsors before you begin your first racing season, even before you have a racing license. So what does it take? The first and most important step is to get out there. Sounds simple enough, but this step is one of the hardest parts in the process. Approach people with a big smile and a well thought out sponsorship proposal. The goal during this first visit should be to “sell” the business owner or manager into wanting to talk with you a bit further about the sponsorship opportunity when they have some time, or if you are really lucky, right then. Respect the fact that they are trying to operate a business, and that their time is usually very limited. You also need to be prepared to be rejected many times before you finally land a sponsor. Don’t take it personally! Pursuing sponsorships is very similar to many other types of sales, and you need to treat it that way. I know, I know. I just said the evil “sales” word. Think of it this way, you are selling yourself and something that you are very passionate about. Really, what do you have to lose, other than hearing the words “no thanks”? I also realize that it is easier said than done, but it is the attitude you need to have.
When speaking with potential sponsors, make sure that you spend your efforts talking with a decision maker, or at least with someone who has close contact with the decision maker of that business. Otherwise it is simply a waste of your time. It only takes one or two companies to make sponsorship worthwhile. Keep plugging away; it will come. The key is persistence, persistence and guess what? Persistence. One tool I found useful is to create a sponsorship package to provide potential sponsors. Additional information about sponsorship proposals is discussed later in this section. Just because you drop off an impressive sponsorship package, don’t expect the business to be calling you. It often takes several follow-up calls before actually obtaining a sponsor. Sponsorship is a bit like dating. For the longest time you just can’t seem to even buy a date (well, in most states anyway), and then finally you have a significant other. Now, all of a sudden you have a ton of girls (or guys) wanting you! It is ironic how it works that way, but let’s say it has to do with an increased confidence level. This same theory often applies to finding sponsorships.
When I started attending club races, I walked around the paddock and looked at all of the amazing racecars with their sponsors’ names on the cars. I became curious about how they obtained their sponsors and what the race team received from them. During this process, I learned that many racers are their own sponsors. What I mean by this is that the person driving the car owns his own business, or has a friend or relative who is a business owner that sponsors the race team. It may be an overly-quoted phrase, but it is so true: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” So, who do you know? Do you have a family member or friend who owns a business? Possibly a friend of a friend? Or even better yet, do you own your own business? Think of all the businesses you have built some type of relationship. Use all of your potential resources, and don’t be afraid to ask. Using networking to obtain sponsorships is extremely important. The squeaky wheel bearing gets the grease. By all means, I am not suggesting that you ask for a handout from a friend or relative; truly approach this as a sponsorship relationship.
As previously mentioned, sponsorship can come in many different forms. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking sponsorship is cash. Quite honestly, this form of sponsorship is very difficult to obtain at the club racing level, but there are other forms of sponsorship that will be as good as cash to you. Take time to prepare a list of the types of businesses you will approach, and give consideration to the various forms of sponsorship they could provide you. What are a few types of businesses that you may want to consider approaching? To provide you a very basic starting point, the following are types of places to consider:
- Auto body Shops: They might be willing to paint your racecar, repair damage incurred during races, etc.
- Used car dealerships: Typically when used car dealerships purchase their used cars, they purchase them in “lots”. These lots (or packages) of cars often have vehicles that the dealership does not want to sell at their dealership. While these vehicles don’t represent much value to the dealership, they can be very valuable to you. Do you need an inexpensive tow vehicle? What about a parts car? What about a fixer upper? (Unfortunately, due to insurance reasons, it is usually very difficult to get a business to loan you a vehicle to use for towing purposes.)
- Garages: Do you currently need any mechanical work done on the car? Or maybe they would be willing to provide you future help with the car. Another possibility is for the garage to mount your race tires and do other basic maintenance for you.
- Salvage yards: This is a great source for used parts, which you will definitely need!
- Performance muffler shops: They could provide you with a racing exhaust system. If they are not willing to sponsor the entire cost, approach them with another option: Maybe they would be willing to provide you with the work at no cost and charge you only their cost for materials.
- Need a place to store your vehicle? Try a self-storage business. A few other great options are landscaping businesses (they all have places to store their equipment) and farms (you may be able to use some of their barn space).
- Auto parts stores: It may be tough to get parts for free, but often times it is possible to get them at a discounted rate. Parts stores usually have “regular consumer” rates as well as “contractor” rates. It is not unheard of for a parts store to offer racers the contractor rates, or even possibly parts at cost.
- Sign shop: The business could provide the vinyl lettering for your car, including other sponsor’s basic lettering.
Be creative with your efforts! You are only limited by your imagination. The company does not even have to provide something directly related to racing. In fact, it is usually difficult to get a business that is directly related to racing to sponsor a race team. The reason is that the majority of their client base are racecar drivers; therefore, if they were to provide one racer support, but not others, it could upset their other customers. When giving thought to what companies could help with things that are unrelated to racing, think about how the sponsor could save you money in other areas of your daily life, thereby enabling you to put more towards racing. What things could possibly save you money? For example, do you have any pets? Sounds like a strange question, but when you go away for vacations, do you need to kennel them? Approach a kennel to sponsor you in return for taking care of your pets. Another reason why these forms of sponsorship are an easier sell is because they do not cost the business any out-of-hand cash.