Race Weekend Central

‘Blue Collaring It’: Ryan Ellis Has Gained 15 Sponsorships This Year

From driving for Key Motorsports to Obaika Racing, Ryan Ellis has driven for a fair share of teams in the past in order to keep his racing dreams alive. Perseverance does pay off for Ellis.

Ellis announced that he will be driving full-time for Alpha Prime Racing in the No. 43 car for the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. This year marks the most NASCAR races that Ellis has run in a season.

Frontstretch‘s Jared Haas caught up with Ellis at Road America in late July.

Watch or read the interview below:

Jared Haas, Frontstretch: At Road America, you made your debut [in the NASCAR Xfinity Series] here, 11 years ago, in 2012. What do you remember about that debut?

Ryan Ellis: Nothing, honestly. I didn’t even know I made it here. We tried to make it a few times at Watkins Glen, I think Montreal as well. But I do remember being in the Grand Am garage a little bit and got a text just asking if I wanted to start and park a car for Jimmy Means. I hopped in the [No.] 52 and had a lot of fun. I got to know Jimmy [Means] a little bit. I honestly didn’t know who he was at the time, but I obviously learned the story and it was just so cool to be a part of it.

Haas: The yellow No. 52 car ran four laps and parked it that day. You’ve grown quite a bit since that first start. This season, you’ve made the most starts in a season already throughout your NASCAR Xfinity Series career. What’s been the biggest lesson for you throughout these races?

Ellis: I think just being in the car week to week is really helping me with understanding how to set these cars up. They are a little bit different than when I first got in them, especially with the side force change in the last year.

I’ve never really had a team, like, I know that sounds kind of weird. When you’re working with five to six different teams throughout the year, you don’t really gel with a certain group. You don’t even leave your bag in the hauler. Just the second week that I’ve ever had my name on a hauler and a locker.

It’s really, really cool just to have all that stuff and have some continuity because it’s just very different to me to have, like, a real home.

Haas: You’ve had some quite a few interesting sponsors this year with Raising Canes and Four Loko. I know Raising Canes was a social media post. Can you go a little bit more in depth on how those deals work together where you got Raising Canes and Four Loko to sponsor you?

Ellis: Yeah, we actually had Talladega sold a couple of times, specifically with the Raising Canes opportunity. I think something just kind of came up, somebody moved some races around and it was available maybe four or five weeks out, if that.

So, I shot them a bunch of emails, like I’d say 60 of them probably, and I had that tweet attached to it. Eventually, they finally noticed and they were like, hey, let’s hop on a meeting. I think the perseverance is kind of what got me that opportunity, but we had a lot of fun with that. We brought the group out from Atlanta, their marketing and advertising firm, got to know them, and I’m a huge fan of Raising Canes. Raising Canes and Four Loko do go together.

It worked out really, really good and got our career-best finish because of it.

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Haas: It was an 11th-place finish at Talladega. You have been getting Raising Canes, Four Loko and these [sponsorship] opportunities. How many of these sponsorships were before the season started during the off-season, and how many were mid-season deals that came together?

Ellis: I was just looking the other day, I think we were initially talking about a 13 or 15 race deal like around December of last year. I think at that point, we still had two or three open [races], so we probably only had three to fives, maybe six primary sponsors. Now, I think we’re at 20 [sponsors]. It’s really cool.

It’s been quite the journey of working myself and our small little team that we got with Sarah Handy and Garrett Miller. We just are blue collaring our way to all these partnerships and just trying to keep them happy so we don’t have to sell 20 sponsorships next year.

Haas: During the West Coast swing, unfortunately, those two races [at Sonoma and Portland], you couldn’t find sponsorship for those races. When did you go, well, shoot, I don’t have the sponsorship to go race. When did that happen?

Ellis: Me and Tommy [Joe Martins] had kind of been in constant conversation. We were both hoping it would work out. Portland and Sonoma were just kind of hard West Coast markets that are not your typical NASCAR demographic.

I think like a couple weeks out, we kind of had the idea that it wasn’t gonna work out. I just stayed like up front with Tommy and say, hey, I don’t think we have anything. It seems like we got something going, and [Martins] was really working with us a lot. I want to communicate with him as much as possible so I don’t put him in a bad spot financially. They were able to find Dylan Lupton as he had some sponsorship behind him, and they made that work.

It’s so week to week right now. I think we sold Watkins Glen like yesterday. We’re just trying to make it all work. I think we got two races left for the rest of the season, but we’re pretty hopeful to finish the season out.

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Haas: You mentioned five primary sponsors to 20. There’s a lot of drivers that are coming in that they have the raw talent, but they don’t have the marketing skills. Some of these drivers, they come in, all their marketing is “Hi, I drive a race car fast. Put your logo on there.” What’s one piece of advice that you give to some of the younger drivers about marketing yourself as a driver?

Ellis: I’m not gonna give any advice. No, I’m just kidding.

I think they just try to sell the opportunity that they’re looking for. They’re saying, hey, sponsor me, I could put a logo on my car, and invite you out to the track.

But it’s much more than that. You need to find out how you can drive their business. You need to find out really what they need and then how you can help them solve it. It’s so different from sponsor to sponsor, whether it’s Four Loko or Renascent Demolition on the car in a couple of weeks. Everybody’s just a little bit different on how they want to do their deal and what they’re looking for in it.

It’s being innovative and really not taking no, unless they actually say no for an answer because a lot of times, they’ll just ignore you. But you just gotta keep working at it.

About the author

Jared Haas joined the Frontstretch staff in May 2020. A graduate of Cedarville University in December 2019, Jared has been followed NASCAR since 2006.

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