NASCAR is more than just a car racing event. It's a subculture, and the audience of 6 million who tuned in to June's FedEx 400 is a testimony to its popularity. Camping World CEO and serial entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis of CNBC Prime's new reality series "The Profit" knows the value of having these fans in your corner.
"Everything for me is about business," he said in an interview. "When I looked at the potential for brand and grass-roots marketing in this, it was a no-brainer. Tailgating has a bigger presence in NASCAR than in any other sport."
His first foray into NASCAR sponsorship came in 2004, when he threw his company's money behind racer John Andretti. Three years later, he took it to the next level, and sponsored the Craftsman Truck Series, rechristening it the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
This move made Camping World one of the sport's top three sponsors, just behind Nationwide Insurance and Sprint. He credits the decision to sponsor NASCAR events with his company's expansion.
"I had 40 stores when I started, and today, I have 104," he said. "I attribute our integration into NASCAR as a major contributor. Another benefit that's somewhat intangible is NASCAR does amazing business-to-business opportunities. Our relationship with other sponsors and the opportunity to spend time with other Fortune 500 companies is probably, from a business standpoint, one of the other best reasons" for sponsorship.
By sponsoring NASCAR events, Lemonis joins the pantheon of businesses that have put their money behind the sport and its top drivers. But who are some of those drivers, and who has sponsored them? Read ahead to find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 20 July 2013
Racing is in Kurt Busch's blood. His father, Tom Busch, was a NASCAR driver during the 1970s, and his experience inspired a teenaged Kurt to start racing dwarf cars.
He transitioned to racing full-size cars at age 20 and began competing in NASCAR events the following year. A scant three years later, he had already racked up more than $6.2 million in winnings.
Busch is sponsored by the Furniture Row home furnishings company. Additional sponsors include Alpinestars, Chevrolet and Monster Energy, maker of highly caffeinated drinks.
Travis Pastrana spent more than a decade as a motocross racer in the X Games and as a racer in the Rally America Series. He made his NASCAR debut in January 2011 at the Toyota All-Star Showdown, taking sixth place.
At 9 years old, Joey Logano became the youngest driver to compete in a Legends Car. By age 12, he was the youngest champion in Legends racing history. In 2012 alone he competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series winning a combined 10 races.
Logano's sponsors include Penske Corp., Shell Oil, Pennzoil and Coca-Cola. He recently competed in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 14.
Brad Keselowski comes from a racing family. His father, Bob Keselowski, and his uncle, Ron Keselowski, both competed in NASCAR events, and his brother Brian is also a Sprint Cup competitor.
Rather than rely on his last name, Brad became a fierce competitor and walked away from the 2012 Sprint Cup with the championship trophy, which he won on the basis of his five wins, 13 top five finishes and 23 top 10 finishes. His primary sponsors include Miller Lite, Discount Tire and Ford Racing.
Franklin, Tenn., is home to the Darrell Waltrip Automotive Group, a dealership for new and used cars. But before the man who is its namesake got into the car sales business, he was a NASCAR driver who won 84 races between 1972 and 2000.
Waltrip had numerous sponsors during his long career, including Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Chevrolet. However, one of his most iconic vehicles was the number 17 car that he drove in the late 1980s, that was adorned with the logo of Tide laundry detergent.
Michael Waltrip is the younger brother of NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip. He's been racing since 1985, is still active today and gives no indication that he intends to stop anytime soon.
In a career pushing 30 years, it is unsurprising that Waltrip has had quite a few sponsors. The many logos that have graced his car include those of Hawaiian Punch, Domino's Pizza, Country Time Lemonade and Citgo.
Jeff Gordon began his career racing sprint cars at age 13. He joined the Hendrick Motorsports racing team in 1992, and never left. Currently, his record stands at four NASCAR Cup Series Championship wins, 87 career NASCAR cup victories and a third-place rank on the all-time wins list.
Gordon's sponsors include AARP, DuPont, Pepsi, General Motors and Quaker State. When he's not racing, he also runs the wine label, Jeff Gordon Cellars, whose first vintage was 2004 and whose grapes are sourced from Northern California vineyards.
Danica Patrick isn't the only woman in NASCAR, but she's surely its most famous. In August 2011 she joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Cole Whitt on the JR Motorsports team, and in February 2012, she won the pole at the Nationwide Series race at Daytona, becoming only the second woman in NASCAR history to do so. But she took the whole thing in stride.
"It was about being the best driver and not the best girl," she said to the press when the race was over. Be that as it may, she's gotten sponsorship deals that Richard Petty was probably never offered, such as OPI Nail Polish and Coke Zero as well as such gender-neutral fare as Sega and Chevrolet. Her team is sponsored in part by GoDaddy.com.
Jimmie Johnson started his racing career competing in motocross and off-roading. He became a Sprint Cup competitor and became the first rookie driver to win the same track twice in a single season, and went on to rack up three wins.
Johnson has since recorded a total of 60 wins since 2002, and is the only driver to win five consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championships. On July 14 he finished in sixth place in the Camping World 301. His primary sponsor is Lowe's.
Cale Yarborough has been retired since 1988, but he still stands as one of the top 10 NASCAR drivers of all time, due in part to winning its premiere race four times and becoming the first person to qualify with a top speed exceeding 200 mph.
Yarborough had numerous sponsors during his 25-year career, including Busch Beer and Valvoline. But the sponsor with whom he is perhaps most commonly associated is Hardee's, and he recorded two top five finishes in his Hardee's-sponsored Delta 88 in the 1987 NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Marty Robbins was one of the most popular country singers of the 20th century, but he was also an avid racecar driver. He was no dabbler, though. In 13 years of racing he recorded six top 10 finishes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The majority of the time, Robbins paid for all the costs associated with his racing himself, but he did manage to snag a few sponsors during his career. These included radio station KLAC 570 in Los Angeles and Coca-Cola.
Robbins sadly passed away in 1982, but the following year the race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in Tennessee was renamed the Marty Robbins 420 in his honor.
When Marcus Lemonis isn't running his multibillion-dollar company, Camping World, he goes on the hunt for struggling businesses that are desperate for cash and ripe for a deal. In the past 10 years, he's successfully turned around over 100 companies. Now he's bringing those skills to CNBC Prime and doing something no one has ever done on TV before … he's putting over $2 million of his own money on the line. In each episode, Lemonis makes an offer that's impossible to refuse; his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he'll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit; even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.