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Joining the NASCAR Program

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It’s not about what you know—it’s about who you know. Like the saying suggests, forming partnerships helps get your foot in the door to potential business. So, when a quick lube wants to grow its company’s roots, who are the best people to turn to? For Victory Lane, it was NASCAR.

Four years ago, Victory Lane stumbled upon an opportunity to join the program, sponsoring Cup Series driver Garrett Smithley to increase brand recognition, and working with Smithley’s sports and entertainment agent, Phillip Smalley, and his company, Spire Inc., on vendor relationships. Over the past four years, the company has grown its network to 33 stores with four more currently under construction. Jim Harrington, the executive vice president at Victory Lane says all of those added locations except one came out of the partnership. These are the perspectives involved in joining the NASCAR program.

 

The Victory Lane Role

“We always thought a connection with racing would make a lot of sense,” Harrington says.

But the opportunity, according to Harrington, just fell into their lap.

Four years ago, president and CEO of Victory Lane, Justin Cialella, got a call about a possible NASCAR sponsorship at a racing event in Michigan, and if they were interested, Victory Lane would get a good deal. Harrington says they didn’t have a lot of prep under their belt; they were just getting their feet wet to see what was out there.

After a year in the partnership, the company stumbled on another opportunity in the Saturday Cup Series. Harrington says it’s like baseball in that the minor league played Saturday and the majors played Sunday.

“We were playing around in the minors,” Harrington says.

That’s when Victory Lane was introduced to Smithley—through mutual friends. And through this introduction and right timing, Victory Lame decided to sponsor Smithley in the Cup Series and have him become the face of the Victory Lane brand.

“We wanted a brand ambassador that shared the same values as us,” Harrington says. “When that person is in your suit with your logo, how they act and react is a reflection on you.”

 

The Driver Role

With the sponsorship of Victory Lane—an overall requirement—Smithley was able to make his first Cup Series debut in Michigan. Since then, he raced in six last year with five cups scheduled for 2020 with the possibility of expansion, coronavirus notwithstanding.

NASCAR sponsorship is a little bit complicated, but at the same time simple, according to Smithley.

“If we have a company that’s interested in doing something, we look at their goals and what they are trying to accomplish,” Smithley says. “It can be anywhere from ticket passes to giveaways to a full sponsorship program, which is social media, store greetings, et cetera.”

And that’s exactly what the Victory Lane sponsorship involved. Smithley was the face of the company’s brand. The company has created a Tech Tuesday series across social media accounts, read to a local class as a part of National Read to a Child Day to get kids excited about reading, and has regularly made an appearance at store grand openings to meet the community and sign autographs. When Smithley went to the Payson, Ariz., store opening, he visited a local school to speak to 75 elementary school kids about racing. 

“To try to grow Victory Lane, it’s about brand awareness and how they are helping the community,” Smithley says.

During a sponsored race, Victory Lane’s logo is on the Cup Series car and he wears his suit with the company's logo in full view—even if it isn’t a sponsored event, Smithley still wears the Victory Lane suit to appearances. In a Phoenix race, Victory Lane wasn’t sponsoring his race that day, but he wore his Victory Lane suit as Pitbull and Blake Shelton introduced the drivers on stage.

“[Victory Lane is] constantly posting about the partnership with me,” Smithley says. “As of right now, when fans think of Victory Lane, they think of Garrett Smithley and vice versa.”

Since the sponsorship, Smithley says there have been several companies that have gone to him asking how they can get involved with Victory Lane.

 

The Facilitator Role

While forming partnerships has been instrumental in Victory Lane’s growth, the relationships would have never formed without a formal introduction to Smithley and vendors.

“The racing is just the icing on the cake,” Harrington says. “It’s really the behind the scenes, B2B stuff that makes this stuff work.”

Phillip Smalley is a sports and entertainment agent for Spire Sports Inc., the agent that sponsors Smithley and the agent connecting Victory Lane with industry vendors—he’s the middle man of the two.

“Phillip came in along with Spire and said they loved their business and we wanted to help them grow theirs,” Harrington says.

Smalley says Spire is in charge of managing their motor sports program on a daily basis in order to bring business opportunities to expand the brand into areas where a new franchise market could go.

“I think for Victory Lane, the NASCAR base is their main customer,” Smalley says. “Those are the customers for Victory Lane that can afford franchises.”

Smalley says with how Victory Lane uses the NASCAR program, they aren’t spending a lot of money to run an ad during the Sunday race. Instead, they use the program for its hospitality to entertain partners and vendors.”

“If you can take a potential franchisee or customer and walk them by big Fortune 50 or 100 brands, it legitimizes your brand,” Smalley says.


 

The Return on Investment


“We have been able to find a partnership with Spire and Garrett that allows us to responsibly invest in our growth and get adequate returns in racing,” Harrington says. “Our program has grown every year based on the return in that year.” 

The partnerships with Smithley and Spire Inc. have helped Victory Lane grow its brand recognition, with Harrington noting franchise sales, vendor partnerships have gone up the most. According to Harrington, the partnerships have been a minimal investment with a substantial return—before Harrington took over in 2014, Victory Lane hadn’t had any new franchise sales in years. 

“In the last 24 months, we’ve sold six franchises and four of them have been connected to racing,” Harrington says. “As we continue on, more and more opportunities will grow within that NASCAR network.”

The first two years, the company focused on investing back into its procedures and trying to reinvent the business with modern technology. By year three, the company really dove into franchise sales; 2019 was a growing year for them. As the company entered 2020, Harrington says they’ve been able better understand the company’s potential. The goal over the next three to five years is to be at 100 locations, start off with 10 to 15 franchise sales, then hit 20 to 25 added franchises per year.

Image courtesy of Victory Lane 

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