I was traveling in a pack of high end cars going about 95mph in my Subaru WRX during a spring night in Texas. The 2003 Gumball 3000 rally from San Francisco to Miami was the setting. As I sped away from the pack for no reason, some lights heading the other direction flipped on and then “Dukes of Hazard” across the median and took off after me. Being surprised, scared, and nervous, I pulled over to start my ordeal. After being threatened to be taken to jail, told that my speed was reckless, and being made to feel like a degenerate, the State Trooper returned back to me with a ticket. He said, “I understand what you boys are doing. I used to race too. I used to race SCCA and auto cross my old Chevy’s. It’s not about how you are driving, but more about the people around you.” After sharing our common bond in the middle of nowhere on a Texas night, we took off and continued our journey. Looking back on this situation, I can relate many others to it. If you have tracked your car, then you have a bond with others. Feeling the energy of high speed, diving into turns, and last minute preparation is what makes us hungry for more. But though it is a passion, what does it do for your business?
A couple of scenarios play out when comparing your company’s automotive activities to your business strength and direction. Being involved in racing whether on the enthusiast or competitive level is a great way to interact with other businesses or potential customers. When running out on the track, your strengths of your business are shown through the vehicle you have built to run. This intrigues viewers and makes a strong statement to others evaluating your company’s capabilities. Finally, how does your involvement affect your business bottom-line? Are the trailer, race car, equipment, and staff worth it at the end of the day when it comes to making money? There is only one way I can tell you this. My opinions and experiences will speak for themselves.
Introduction and Induction
I first got introduced to auto cross through a customer back in 2002. I took my WRX out and did a couple of timed runs which was fun. But not getting out of 3rd gear and all those short quick turns started to become more of a headache then a talent. After 2 more auto cross events, one of my customers, Jack Holley, told me to come out to a BMW track day where he instructed. I told him that I had done a couple of cone dodging events and should do ok on a track. He replied with, “Do you wanna see what real men do?” I laughed and in typical Jack humor, he took me around that Firebird Raceway track scaring the living heck out of me. I was hooked. Five different cars, 6 or 7 different tracks, and 4 years later, I am still running the road courses and seem to think I am going for the gold each time!
As the Arizona market was growing, the local road racing scene was continuing to prosper. Wanting to prove that Vivid Racing was a dominate force in Arizona; we wanted to do more than just run the drivers education events in our street cars. So we started what was known as Project 240sx. Built from the ground up, this 1993 car included a fiberglass wide body, 2.4L turbocharged engine, carbon fiber doors, custom roll cage, fire system, 6 piston front brakes, and a wicked green paint job. We then acquired a Ford F350 diesel truck and a 28 foot enclosed trailer. Actual assets owned were probably around $40,000. Time invested in building this race car was around 8 months. At the end of the day, was it worth it? Well the car did 2 major drift events, 2 time attack races, and 3 track days. We spent more time working on the car and preparing than we did on the main business focus. Long nights and weekends, a lot of dollars, and some definite stress were part of the adventure. After the hot season kicked in back in 2005, we decided to part ways with our cool toys.
Now going back and looking at our return on investment, I think we got some good magazine and local coverage on the car and company, but this was no different then us doing events in our street cars that our customers also share the same passion for. When we would go out and run our Mitsubishi EVO VIII, we could hang out with the other EVO guys and talk EVO setup, compare parts, and take each other for rides. When we were running our Porsche 996C2 at the track, we gained some notoriety from the Porsche Club guys and even the BMW guys we were running with. I believe that having high end race cars and competing every weekend is great for the manufacturer that needs to be in that focused market. As a product distributor, being on more of a grassroots level helps us target our direct demographic. For example, we bought a 2007 Subaru STI to build as our full demonstration car for Agency Power. Agency Power is a manufacturer of performance racing products for Subaru’s and other cars. Having all products from control arms, exhausts, turbo kits, sway bars, wheels, and more, we wanted to be able to take this street car out to the local track days to show how our Arizona designed and built products performed. Including magazine coverage, this vehicle encompasses what a normal daily driving consumer can expect on and off the track. This equates directly to sales and recognition as you are able to track and conclude the outcome of your investment more aggressively.
Doing this on a grassroots level, how can you interact with those potential customers? Having the demonstration car when we are at the events is a great segue to a simple yet professional product display booth. While the car is out running laps against the other drivers, our booth showcases the products being used on the vehicle. We hand out stickers and fliers and talk to fellow racers about their cars. Whether we make parts for them or not, we build those relationships that make people feel comfortable. Sometimes companies get so big and forget where they came from. Being out there shaking hands like a politician is sometimes the best way to relearn your market. Once the hot laps are done, the car comes into the tent and parks showing off what it hopefully just did on the track. Now that people have met the reps, seen the parts, it all ties together with the car.
Starting out on the grassroots level, and then moving to the full racecar setup, and back to grassroots, I can say that for our company focus, grassroots style racing is better. You can reach your demographic nationwide through your web presence from your local racing events as well. Showcasing pictures, videos, and car info from those events can help relate your fellow road racers to what you are doing. Sometimes making that once or twice a year trip out of state will surprise some of those customers. Finally quantifying your racing endeavors into profits is something that will take time to see. Unless you are doing weekly events, most of us will see casual growth over a 6 month period or race season.
In Our Experience
For Vivid Racing, our business started out as a mail order type of company. After dominating our target markets in the mail order game, we put energy to our local demographic. With the extensive facility, we can now take our local racing efforts and see them affectively pushing more installations, dyno tunes, and website traffic from the regional market. On the retail end, some companies like to only focus on distribution or local traffic. We like to broaden our capabilities to reach all in this Internet savvy market by giving the best of both worlds.