Breaking Down the Donald Trump Sprint Car Sponsorship

Y’all know I don’t talk about news very often. I’m more about the business of racing, less about the results and gossip. And I certainly don’t talk about politics. (Both stances are less stances than insurance policies against my safety and sanity. But I digress.)

But a news story out of the Knoxville Nationals caught my particular attention, and I shared it on my Twitter account. The headline reads:

Donald Trump getting his message out by sponsoring a car at the Knoxville Nationals 

(You can click on the link to read the whole article, if you haven’t already, and it’ll open in a new window.)

Photo by M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Photo by M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

I thought it might be fun to break this one down, the DirtyMouth way, because whether you’re looking for racing sponsorship or want to market to race fans, there are some interesting insights in this quick relationship.

So, here we go.


Start with the headline: the whole point of the sponsorship is to ‘get Trump’s message out’. Not to help Roger Crockett and car owner Bruce Williams out of the goodness of his heart. Not to have a logo on a car that’ll bank $150,000 at the end of the weekend. And probably not to get nothing at all in return.

Trump’s campaign team chose this marketing vehicle to get his message out – a priority for political campaigns and companies alike.

So, every time you ask why a company would sponsor you over a car that wins more races, or your track over, say, a stadium that gets quite a few more fans, recognize that you might be buying into an excuse. If your platform gets a company’s messaging out to the right people, you’re worthy of pitching them.

The Right People

That leads me to my next point: getting a message to the right people.

Take this quote from the Washington Post: “He’s catching on with the average Americans who have had it with foreign wars, our trade policies and a stalled economy,” said Drew Ivers, Ron Paul’s 2012 Iowa campaign chairman.

Average Americans. If we assume that race fans are ‘average Americans’, Trump’s sprint car marketing is dead-on. Not that every race fan will like it or agree with it. But most of us are more aware of Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. And, because of the cancer awareness and pro-military messages they combined with his ‘Making America Great Again’ slogan on the car, many of us are more aware of what his campaign wants to align him with.

The point? When sponsorship is about messaging, getting that message to the right kind of people is paramount.

How it Happened

The reason I picked Jeremy Elliot’s article over others that reported the story – if you want a lengthy look into Trump’s Iowa bid, read this one from Politico Magazine – is not just because of the racing accuracy, but also because crew member Jeff Morris mentions how the partnership came about.

“A friend of mine has a party bus, and he wrapped Donald Trump’s logo on it for Tana Goertz, who is his Iowa campaign manager,” Williams team member Jeff Morris said.

“They are going around to the Iowa State Fair and other places where there are a lot of people. So when they wrapped the bus, they asked if we would wrap our race car for this week’s Knoxville Nationals.”

Continued Morris, “We told them there is about 30,000 people down here, so they thought it was a good idea.”

Hmm. See anything interesting there? A personal connection to someone who can influence decisions is what opened the door. Selling the exposure to the number and types of people at the Knoxville Nationals clinched it for the team.

And the kicker? This line: “This deal took three weeks to come together.”

For those of us, myself included, who plays the long-term relationship building game, it just goes to show that quick timelines can work in circumstances like this. Political campaigns are quick, with rapid decision-making, constant pivoting and the need to react. You could see why this timeline would work for them.

But here’s what the Trump campaign was banking on – the short-term relationship with this team would reach fans who had long-term relationships with sprint car racing and the Knoxville Nationals.

We’ve all bought in. They’re buying access to that.

Sounds like a basic principle of sponsorship to me, whether or not you agree with the politics.


Want more fresh ideas for building a winning program?
Sign up for information you can't find anywhere else!

Surprise! You're already subscribed. Thanks for trying again :)
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.
Please provide a valid email address.
Thank you, your sign-up request was successful! Please check your e-mail inbox.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Please fill in the required fields.

P.S. One thing we didn’t talk about? How Williams’ other sponsors felt about being associated with Trump’s campaign. Or if Tasker Phillips was able to get buy-in from his partners before taking on the Trump deal after Crockett was eliminated due to engine trouble. Partnerships are multi-dimensional, and each of them affect the others. When weighing short-term partnerships, this is an important risk element to consider.

P.P. S. Yes, if you know me, there was at least one beverage consumed while reading and writing about Donald Trump. Adulthood sure is interesting!

About the author

Kristin Swartzlander Kristin Swartzlander is passionate about applying business sense to racing 'nonsense' in hopes of growing the sport of dirt track racing. She is a business strategist who works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them learn how to use public relations, marketing and social media to achieve their goals. Learn more about social media, marketing and racing sponsorship on the DirtyMouth blog.