Well, there he was. David Ragan’s Spongebob Squarepants No. 55 sat squarely in the middle of the Spongebob Squarepants sign in the middle of the infield during the Spongebob Squarepants 500. See? Strange things do happen in Kansas. The moment, and ensuing need to drag the car out of the water it was drowning in, was either true serendipity for the race sponsor or incredible product placement. I’ll go with the former. However, as I chuckled along with the MRN crew and a twitterverse that just couldn’t stop with the Spongebob quips, I cast my memory over the decades. We’ve had a few remarkable race sponsors. Perhaps not quite as family friendly as the aquatic sponge, but still these are things that will make us talk about them years later.
The first time I really questioned a track’s choice of sponsor was back in 1997 at then titled New Hampshire International Speedway. We attended the CMT 300. During the pre-race concert, people were actually booing the stage. New Hampshire did not listen to country music back then. New England was firmly a rock n’ roll world. There was no excuse for the introduction of the steel guitar to any sound system near us. We grudgingly bought the t-shirt and buried it in the closet. Bad sponsor choice—but notable. We certainly never forgot the name of the race.
Fast forward to 2004 at Chicagoland for the Tropicana 400. New track. New race. New excitement, right? Especially when the enormous blow-up orange tied down in the infield broke loose and escaped onto the track during qualifying. Um, seriously? Yes! https://youtu.be/Zs8sLICBBkc You can’t buy advertising like this.
Of course there are times where we are left scratching our heads. Just last year we had “The Profit” 300 run at Phoenix. I believe “The Profit” sponsored another event at NHMS not too many years ago. We sat in the stands scratching our heads as the track announcer kept mentioning the sponsor. What the heck was “The Profit?” This was ineffective advertising dollars at work. There were a few banners nailed to the stands and on the track, but there was no explanation as to why it mattered they had bought the race name. Eventually I figured out it was some new cable show.
Some sponsors are just plain colorful. Do you recall the invasion of Wonderful Pistachios in 2011 at Richmond? It seemed everything at the track was painted that lovely shade of green—I mean everything! NASCAR appeared to glow all weekend long. The person responsible for executing their product placement should have earned a raise. Great job! And made me hungry for pistachios.
Sometimes we’ll remember a sponsor not for naming an actual race, but what happened at the track. Spongebob’s party on the infield brought Jimmie Johnson’s Madagascar 3 win to mind. He was already driving a special paintjob at Dover in 2012. But hey, when you end up in victory lane and the sponsor has a truckload of clown wigs for you to wear, embrace the silliness and go all out. Those are surely some of Johnson’s most memorable post-race interviews just because of the hair. Just thinking about it makes me want to dance.
However, not all decisions are made with the best intentions at hand. Not too long ago, in April of 2013, Texas Motor Speedway announced that the National Rifle Association had bought the race name. This was a mere four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting, and America’s hot button topic was decidedly gun control. If NASCAR could be considered a political platform, than selling the NRA the naming rights would have been a smart move. However, we are a sport, not an exclusive club. The best way to turn away potential fans is to force them to choose based on political beliefs that are being challenged in the national media. In fact such poor decision making was displayed, NASCAR had to come up with an actual rule to prevent such stupidity in the future.
Fortunately, we are generally not tested in this manner on a weekly basis. Names like Goody’s, STP, Golden Corral, Chevy, Ford and Subway make up the vast majority of NASCAR weekends. They have become reliable friends over the years. However, it is nice to be surprised from time to time. Having David Ragan park his Chevy on his car’s sponsor was one of those moments. Fun stuff. I wonder what next week will bring?
2001 The Winston
One of the most amazing nights in the All Star Race history. On lap 1 of the first segment, the heavens opened soaking the track. Cars flew into the corner and wrecked. A lot of them. During the red flag due to weather, teams were permitted to bring out back-up cars or wrench on their wrecked vehicles. A veritable army of Hendrick teammates descended on the No. 24…and they won. It was a perfect example of teamwork! When we visited the Hendrick shop a couple years later, they had a pictorial review on the wall of that night. Truly a special memory for the Dupont crew.
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