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Random Lugnuts: Beyond the Hood

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Beyond the Hood

Bill Crittenden
September 29, 2009

This article is the second in a three-part series.  The first is Random Lugnuts: NASCAR Teams and Sponsorship Money

Have you ever heard someone ask why corporations spend twenty million dollars per year to have their logo flashed by a bunch of people at 200 miles an hour?  "Who's going to be able to even read that?" they ask.

First of all, my smartass response is, yeah, but the cars slow down when there's a yellow flag.  My serious response is, while you may not be able to clearly see the logo on the hood or quarterpanel of the car on the track, you can see the logo at a much slower and more readable form in hundreds of other places because it was on the hood of that car.  For the next few minutes, I'm going to explain just why NASCAR sponsorship is about so much more than the hood of the car.

The most obvious form of advertising beyond the hood is in the media coverage of the race.  From photographs of the winners, logo prominently displayed on the front of the drivers' suits, to audio coverage of the interviews in which every driver is trained to mention his sponsors and car manufacturer by name, media coverage of NASCAR racing is saturated with brand images and names.  The sponsor logos often make it into the pictures in online news coverage and the newspaper sports section, and into the video that plays with the nightly news sportscast.  In no other sport are the sponsors so prominently displayed to so many people that aren't actually at the event.  They're even displayed to those who might not even be interested in NASCAR, as pictures with logos occasionally make the headlines on Yahoo! Sports, when baseball fans flip past the racing coverage on their way to last night's White Sox score, and every time a Carl Edwards backflip gets played on SportsCenter.

It even goes beyond that, as NASCAR sponsors' images enter our homes, are displayed on our bodies, and are seen on computer screens outside of sports news sites.  Much like fans of other American sports, who proudly display the Yankees' NY on their Facebook pages, or wear Packers green and gold, or have the winged wheel of the Detroit Red Wings on their basement walls, NASCAR fans surround themselves with images of their favorite drivers, and those images inevitably incude sponsor logos.  If "brand familiarity" and the number of times someone sees a logo is important to advertisers, NASCAR sponsorship has got to be the king of sports advertising.  Just how pervasive and widespread is this secondary advertising?  Let's enter the home of a fan to find out:

My neighbor, John, is a NASCAR fan.  He has been for over a quarter century.  His basement decor is an Earnhardt fan's mix of GM Goodwrench and Budweiser logos, colored black, silver, and red all over, with a little Wrangler blue-and-yellow.  At the bottom of his stairs are cardboard stand-ups of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr., in their GM Goodwrench and Budweiser firesuits.  Pictures hang from almost every available patch of wall, many of them signed postcards from drivers, most of them showing an image of the driver's car, sponsor logos clearly readable.  Just a few feet to the left of his desk is his die cast case, and on display are well over a hundred cars, with the logos of Coca-Cola, Bass Pro Shops, Wheaties, True Value, Sun Drop, NAPA, SuperCuts, ChannelLock, the Kannapolis Intimidators, Amp, Menard's...I can go on, but you get the point.  You'd think his basement was sponsored by GM Goodwrench, but quite the opposite, he paid for all that stuff in there.

NASCAR Dale Earnhardt Die Cast NASCAR die cast display
How many company logos do you see in this image?  How many GM Goodwrench logos are there in this picture?
Photo ©2009 Bill Crittenden
View photo, 4,934KB

These images don't stay in our basements, either.  How many corporations would love to be able to sell millions of people t-shirts with their brands' logos on them?  Most companies can't give that stuff away, and those who can probably find their shirts being used for car wash rags.  But NASCAR fans pay anywhere from $10-25 for t-shirts and hats that more often than not include the sponsor's logos and they wear them proudly to show off their favorite drivers.  Last year I got my first Dale Jr. shirt, with Amp and National Guard on the front and back.  I know those sponsors' logos are clearly seen when I wear the shirt, because I certainly can't move at anywhere near 15 miles an hour, and certainly not 150.  And we don't just wear our shirts and hats to the races, we wear them around Walmart, to the bank, at family picnics, everywhere.  The sponsor's brand logos are again visible to people who aren't even NASCAR fans!  Thanks to toys and children's clothing, you can even see some logos in my family photos!

Bill Crittenden 2002 Tropicana 400
With the NAPA pit box in my brand new Michael Waltrip swag
Photo ©2002 Heidi Walczak
View photo, 645KB
Jimmie Johnson Hat 2002 Tropicana 400
Jimmie Johnson fan in a Lowe's hat
Photo ©2002 Heidi Walczak

This phenomenon isn't limited to the physical world, either.  We proudly display our favorite drivers, corporate sponsors included, all over our home pages (you can see Amp and Budweiser cars on Jerm's Joint's homepage), MySpace profiles (Johnny Benson's Toyota sponsored truck on The Crittenden Automotive Library's MySpace page) and Facebook walls.

I agree, millions of dollars a year is too high a price to pay for a logo on the hood of a car going 200 miles an hour, but getting onto the hood of the car is the way to get those brands into the pictures, mentioned on the radio, plastered all over Facebook, and worn on the backs of millions of NASCAR fans.  Just over a hundred thousand people might actually see that hood of that car, in person, on any given NASCAR Sprint Cup race day, but then it has the chance to be seen by millions more fans and non-fans alike, seven days a week, and for a long time after the race has ended...which leads me into the subject of Part 3 of this series.

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