Brands Help Hot Rod Group Build On Heritage

NHRA drag racing"Sunday, Sunday, Sunday" used to be the hot rod chant, the AM-dial voice announcing races at the local drag strip. The organization for the sport, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), wants to move forward, building the heritage of the growing sport without losing that hometown feel.

New programs include a multi-year sponsorship with Coca-Cola's Full Throttle brand next year, awareness campaigns, and a new program with PSAs and PR aimed at getting kids to come to NHRA tracks instead of neighborhood streets to feel their need for speed.

Tom Compton, president of the Glendora, Calif.-based organization, which oversees some 5,000 race events annually on a network of 140 or so tracks across the U.S., says the league has several plans in the works. The company will launch a campaign this year to build awareness for the sport. Also on tap, ads and PR to address the issue that drove Wally Parks to found the organization in the 1950s: illegal street racing. Parks passed away last year.



Compton says Coca-Cola replaced Winston as primary sponsor of the sport, with the beverage giant leveraging sponsorship to promote its PowerAde brand. "The NHRA PowerAde Drag Racing Series" is televised on ESPN2.

He says NHRA's market impact is nationwide, with racing venues in the top 37 top DMAS, a nine-month racing schedule, with an average of 125,000 spectators per event. "On ESPN2, we had 60 million viewers last year."

The league has just signed a new contract with Coke making the Full Throttle energy drink series sponsor starting next year through 2013, Instead of PowerAde. "[Coke] will put more money and resources behind the sponsorship. NHRA will, in fact, be the only sport or property of any kind Full Throttle will associate with in their advertising," he says. The PowerAde Series comprises 24 races in 22 cities.

Compton says the NHRA has a 32.6 million-strong fan base, making it the second-most-popular race league in the U.S. "It is a male demographic, with the youngest average age among major sports properties except professional soccer," Compton says. He adds that about 50% of fans have switched consumer brands to support an NHRA sponsor brand--of which, he says, "there are over a hundred." Major sponsors include Budweiser, Caterpillar, UPS, Pontiac, Harley-Davidson and GMC.

But the league suffers from low awareness, per Compton, which NHRA plans to remedy with a marketing campaign including advertising and events this year. "We are spending a lot more advertising the events now, and have just secured rights to the entire film and video history of NHRA. So, we will relaunch NHRA Home Entertainment, a new licensing program, and we are going to overhaul the Web site. We are going to make the brand easier to associate with," he says, adding that the NHRA's TV ratings have grown every year for the past four years, and this year are up over 20%.

The NHRA commissioned a statistical study by Scarborough Research that found, among other things, that 12% of Nascar fans say they are also NHRA fans, and 32% of NHRA fans say they are fans of Nascar.

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