By John Close
With million dollar budgets and the quest for the all-holy brand recognition, NASCAR teams have been lining up in large numbers to jump on the cause-marketing bandwagon.
Week after week, NASCAR teams are ‘logoing up’ to bring attention to a seemingly endless string of societal concerns, foundations and charitable organizations.
Frankly, the list is mindboggling.
For instance, here’s a list of causes NASCAR teams featured on their race vehicles this past weekend at Phoenix –
Troops To The Track
Wounded Warrior Project
Whooping Cough Awareness
American Diabetes Month
Drive To Stop Diabetes
Wake Up Narcolepsy
Meanwhile, recent weeks have seen NASCAR teams hype these initiatives –
Drive To End Hunger
Hire Our Heroes
Breast Cancer Awareness
Driven For A Cause
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Drive Sober Arrive Alive
St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital
Fraternal Order of Eagles
There’s more, but you get the picture.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not against ‘cause marketing.’ Needless to say, there are an endless number of worthwhile initiatives to be supported. And – there are certainly plenty of good, caring people who fashion NASCAR media and marketing programs who are true in their motives when supporting such causes.
That said, the sheer number of these cause awareness campaigns is a bit troubling.
When does ‘awareness’ cross the line with shameless self-promotion?
When does attaching yourself to a cause for a weekend become exploitation?
As a former NASCAR media and marketing person, I helped fashion numerous cause-marketing campaigns in the 1990s and early 2000s. Almost all of them were season-long, behind-the-scenes initiatives that were specifically designed to highlight the charity or cause we were supporting – not necessarily our race team.
Today, it seems like teams jump from cause to cause on a weekly basis. In an effort to garner the eyeball count, team promotional departments compete just as hard off the track as the driver and car do on it. Hit the right cause-marketing button – or the latest public interest spike – and you’ve just taken the checkered flag for your sponsor regardless of how the team does on the track.
It’s a fragile balance, a razor’s edge tightrope walk making sure your driver and team get the appropriate exposure through a cause-marketing campaign without it being exploitive.
That said, I’m not totally cynical. I’d prefer to give everyone the benefit of the doubt assuming all NASCAR team/sponsor cause-marketing initiatives have honorable motives.
But when cars/trucks start showing up in large numbers at NASCAR events each week with different/seasonal cause-marketing campaigns as they have been recently, it makes you wonder a bit just how sincere some of these teams and efforts really are.
Winds Of Change –
As the 2013 NASCAR campaign winds down, there’s been the usual ‘Silly Season’ banter as to who is racing where next season.
This year, a number of long-time Cup division veterans – Bobby Labonte, Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin – apparently will be out of the mix when the 2014 season takes the green flag in Daytona next February.
While it will be tough to see some of them ‘retire,’ the fact is it’s time when you consider their recent performances.
A quick look at the stat sheet reveals –
Bobby Labonte hasn’t won a race since 2003 and has just two top-five finishes in his last 246 events.
Ken Schrader’s last Cup win was in 1991. His last top-five finish was in 1998.
Terry Labonte’s last win was also in 2003 and he’s had one top-five finish since then.
Jeff Burton hasn’t won a race since 2008. He finished 20th and 19th in the final championship standings the last two years and can finish no higher than 18th this season.
Mark Martin is the only driver in this group that is still competitive and hasn’t overstayed his welcome. Martin – now 54 – earned his last win in 2009 when he scored five of them. He’s also notched 14 top-five and 36 top-10 finishes over the last four years nearly winning several of those events.
He’s still relevant.
The others are not.
Bottom line – no matter how good you are in any given sport, you can’t outrun Father Time.
That goes regardless of who you are or how good you used to be.
About John Close
John Close covered his first NASCAR race as a professional media member in 1986 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.
Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.
Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008. His third book – On The Spot – a volume about the history of NASCAR race spotting, will be published later this year.
Close resides in Charlotte, NC with his wife Gail and son Sam.
You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at closefinishes@carolina.