Tweet from Camping World owner set up the company as the NHRA’s new title sponsor

NHRA Camping World sponsorship
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
1 Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Marcus Lemonis first learned the NHRA drag racing series had abruptly lost its title sponsorship via Twitter and used the same social media platform to alert the league his Camping World company was interested.

Lemonis tweeted Sept. 22 to NHRA that Camping World isn’t “scared of our commitment to racing… let’s sit down and talk sponsorship.” Just 12 days later, NHRA announced a multi-year partnership with Camping World as its new title sponsor.

“This is the power of social media, it really is. Welcome to 2020,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said. “Marcus is extremely good at positioning himself and his company in a great light on social media, and he took advantage of a great opportunity, probably within 24 hours of the news.”

Lemonis took notice the same day NHRA filed suit against sponsor Coca-Cola after Coke severed its 19-year sponsorship agreement that ran through 2023. The suit alleges Coca-Cola, which marketed various products during the deal, “seized on global tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic, as a pretext” to walk away to save money.

NHRA, like most businesses, has had a turbulent season while navigating the pandemic. The schedule of 24 events was decimated by cancellations, teams struggled to make budgets work and John Force, the immensely popular 16-time Funny Car champion, sidelined his four-car organization when racing resumed in July.

This season will ultimately have just 11 events and the abrupt and unexpected loss of the title sponsor was going to be a significant blow.

Then Lemonis took notice.

Camping World has sponsored NASCAR’s Truck Series since 2009 and Lemonis is already a significant contributor to the motorsports industry. The NHRA sponsorship issue was tagged to him on Twitter by another user and he immediately began his due diligence.

“I do spend a lot of time working with people that want some help,” Lemonis said. “We all need help. I need help in my businesses, I need more customers. They need help in their business, they need more customers. And I’m attracted to things that are in crisis. I am a person that likes to look for the things that look undervalued and underserved.”

The banter between Lemonis, the NHRA, its competitors and fans at first appeared to be playful with perhaps some potential.

“It was really me flirting more than anything else,” Lemonis said.

Then he began to research the series, had conversations with industry insiders, studied attendance and ratings figures, and sent a team to the Gatornationals in Florida just three days after the Twitter relationship began. Lemonis was not interested in marketing to one audience, and if drag racing catered to NASCAR customers he already served, there was no reason to move forward.

“I was shocked at how the reports came back in almost every instance that the audience and the viewership was different,” Lemonis said. “I had photos and videos provided to me from Gainesville that showed there are far more families and multi-generational families. grandparents, parents, kids, all around campers. And I was very impressed by the amount of diversity, both in gender and race.”

Lemonis brokers deals directly, and he rapidly closed the deal. He has seen social media reaction accusing him of “dumpster diving” but defended his business strategy. Lemonis said he must act in the best interest of shareholders and employees, just as the NHRA is required.

“If you want to be opportunistic in business and have it work for both sides, you do things quickly,” he said.

The new sponsorship was announced Sunday during the Midwest Nationals, and Camping World immediately assumed NHRA’s naming rights. NHRA, five days before it lost Coca-Cola, had reached a multiyear extension with Fox across its networks for the biggest television platform in the sport’s history. On Wednesday, NHRA released a 22-race schedule for next season.

What could have been a disastrous year for NHRA is now three events away from its conclusion. Limited spectators have been permitted, and the series takes pride in how well it adapted during the pandemic.

“Our stakeholders, our fans, our race teams, our track partners and our sponsors have all really come together to understand the challenges we’ve faced in 2020,” Cromwell said. “That’s allowed us to race this year, provide great racing for our fans and really set a springboard into 2021.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.