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The VIP Treatment: Catering to Well-Heeled Enthusiasts With Arrive & Drive Programs

Arrive and drive programs are a current source of growth in motorsports as these series offer a way for people to enter or stay in racing. Plus these programs offer unique marketing opportunities for creative racing business owners.

By Laura Culley

Arrive and drive programs offer a variety of benefits to just about anyone in motorsports whether you're an eager young gun or a gentleman driver—and everybody in between. From the driver's perspective, these programs take the hassle out of racing and provide an expedient route to a racing career without all the downsides of individual team ownership.

For a racing entrepreneur, these programs can provide a steady stream of revenue in parts sales and services.

"Arrive and drive programs are becoming increasingly popular because all of the agony of owning your own team is removed," said Hayden Harris of SpeedWorks R&D in Indianapolis, Indiana, the official arrive and drive source for the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Series sanctioned by the Grand-Am Road Racing Association. "There are the obvious benefits such as the professional race car preparation, but there are also less tangible benefits like not having to constantly update the car to maintain the racer's edge or sell a car when the rules change or the car becomes obsolete. Our business depends on customer satisfaction, so we work hard to have our cars at the state of the art. The driver brings a Grand-Am license, helmet, a HANS device or equivalent, fire suit and personal gear."

It works just as well from the team perspective. "The economics in the Star Mazda series, for example, are that the cost-per-car of hauling one car around to the races is pretty high, but if you're hauling two, three or four cars, you start seeing efficiencies," said Dean Case of MazdaSpeed Motorsports in Irvine, California. MazdaSpeed Motorsports doesn't offer arrive and drive programs directly, but a lot of their series and teams do. "The Star Mazda series has an Expert and Masters class for over 35-year-olds and over 45-year-olds that is a championship within a championship. A lot of those guys are gentleman race drivers, if you will, who want to race with the younger guys. Five years from now when one of these kids wins the Indy 500 he can say, 'I raced with him back in 2010.' There are a lot of gentleman racers in Grand-Am, too, and when it comes to the Rolex 24 Hours, there are slots available for a paying driver."

Training series for budding new talent are hot right now. Top professional-level teams are mining fresh new faces that come without all the baggage inherent in more traditional pathways. As a new driver, you can cut to the chase and concentrate on the driving part to accelerate a budding career. Or, you can also revitalize an old career, hone your skills at a specific track, or simply experience the racing experience for a day.

And with the variety of available programs, it's a snap to choose a program that fits your goals. For example, if you've aimed your aspirations at Formula 1, for example, the Jim Russell Formula 3 program might be for you.

"The Jim Russell Racing Drivers School offers arrive and drive programs at many levels from karting through Formula 3 race cars," said Phil Lane of the Jim Russell Championship Series based at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, that owns, prepares, and fields all the cars on the grid. "We have positioned our series as a premier arrive and drive concept on the global stage. We offer equal equipment at an affordable cost in a modern, relevant racing car based on Lola's 2006 German F3 Championship-winning design so that the focus stays on continuous improvement, driving merit, and consistency."

At the same time, the Russell program includes other benefits for a successful, well-rounded racing career. "These programs are an incredibly cost-effective means of racing a thoroughly modern racing car," Lane explained. "A Formula 3 season can cost in excess of a million dollars. We offer a 16-race championship in a no-compromise car with complete coaching, premium hospitality, off-track training that includes nutrition and fitness, sponsorship acquisition, media training, and more for under $100,000. Since we control the entire race weekend, we can also offer significantly more seat time."

The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Arizona, defined the racing school mold and now they have two arrive and drive programs, in addition to their regular driver training for street drivers, novice race drivers, police, and corporate programs.

"The first is with the kart school," explained Casey Milano. "We have a fleet of 125cc Rotax TAG karts that we use for arrive and drive practice sessions and testing. At this point, there is no race series or class for these karts, so it's an opportunity to get good track time without the investment.

"The other is our Bondurant Championship Race Series in Formula Mazda," added Milano, noting that Bondurant has never offered a formal race series until now. "We are utilizing Formula Mazdas for an 18-race championship over nine weekends. For the first year, the Championship Race Series will have a maximum of 12 participants, so it's first come, first served. As long as the driver meets our requirements, they can participate. All they need is their personal equipment—suit, helmet, gloves, driving shoes, and head-and-neck restraint. Bondurant provides everything else. The cars are equally prepared and meticulously maintained."

In road racing, Mazda is the most raced car, holding roughly a 50 percent market share, according to Case. He explained that MazdaSpeed has the Star Mazda series presented by Goodyear, the Skip Barber MazdaSpeed Challenge, and the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, adding that Mazda is also involved in drag racing and circle track racing, just not so much. "We've also got factory-assisted teams in Dyson Racing in ALMS, SpeedSource in Grand-Am GT, and Tri-Point Motorsports in Speed World Challenge.

"The economics of the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup really lends itself to multi-car teams who run as many as six cars on a regular basis and are capable of running eight or 10 cars," added Case, estimating that a one-off weekend in the MX-5 Cup probably carries a $10,000 price tag. "There isn't one set price. The team will sit down with a driver to discover their needs and objectives. You don't have to commit to doing a full season of MX-5 Cup. One guy came in from the Ferrari Challenge and made the comment that he'd had an accident that cost him $60,000. The MX-5 team owner laughed and said, 'I can build a brand-new MX-5 Cup car ready to race for $47,000 so it's pretty impossible to have a $60,000 crash. Plus, the grand prize for the MX-5 Cup is a full-season in the Speed World Challenge—that's a quarter of a million dollar prize!"

Billed as the first green racing series, the VW Jetta TDI Cup operates more like a contest based on ability. Drivers are selected through a comprehensive application process and there are no one-offs.

"A driver has to have demonstrated a motorsports background and aptitude," explained Adam Hoover, noting that the VW Jetta TDI Cup is powered by the clean burning 2.0-liter TDI four-cylinder turbo diesel. "They will be invited to a driver selection event, which is basically a runoff of sorts, but it's not just on the track. Drivers are evaluated for their marketing aptitude and media readiness, and ultimately, 25 drivers are chosen to participate in the program. The drivers are responsible for a $45,000 entry fee that covers everything but their travel expenses and crash damage to the car. It even covers tires that many series don't."

While arrive and drive programs are abundant in the road racing arena, the idea is just opening up in dirt track racing. Peter D Motorsports based in Phoenix, Arizona, offers a rental car program with Modlites, mini-sprints and Dwarf cars, often called welterweight race cars.

"The old time-is-money cliché is true," said Peter Dozeman, who currently prepares cars for three to six drivers. "The typical person who uses such a service understands that they will get better results by having a professional crew transport, service, and maintain their racing program—and who better than the company who built the car? Our customers typically make a lot more money in the time they would spend maintaining their race car than they pay us for the service. Race results are also better because we supply professional help."

Chuck Johnson of MLC Motorsports in Reno, Nevada, agreed. "As drivers become busier in their own work and family environments, many simply do not have the time to accomplish all the work necessary to prepare their race cars for the track," said Johnson, who in partnership with Bulldog Motorsport of Patterson, California, function as customer support representatives for SCCA Enterprises, Inc., for their Formula Enterprises (FE) and Sport Racer Enterprises (SRE) race cars along with the new Pro Challenge Race Cars for SCCA's San Francisco Region and the Western United States. "Building, prepping, set up, and driving your own car can be intimidating for many people. Drivers can develop the on-track skills to become competitive by attending driving schools available at circle tracks and road courses around the country. However, the bar is raised when adding in the maintenance, transportation, set up, and damage repair to your own car. Arrive and drive solves that problem. Arrive and drive programs are an excellent way for an aspiring race driver to get involved in the sport."

Currently, MLC Motorsports serves between five to seven drivers participating in the regular San Francisco Region regional race series, which totals 11 races over seven to eight weekends each year.
Another advantage is you also don't have to lock in a heavy investment right off the bat to organize a team and haul it around the country. "You pay a bit of a premium for the convenience, but arrive and drive programs provide a lot of flexibility to move from series to series," said Jamie Slone of the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge owned by Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. "If you don't own a car, you don't have to worry about selling it later and you don't have to drop all your money up front to get it going."

Other programs are more focused to a specific race track. The Mid-Ohio School at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course based in Dublin, Ohio, started in 1993. The next year Honda signed on as the school and track sponsor.

"We have a whole slew of racing programs from competition licensing, open coaching at a variety of levels, high-performance programs using Acura TSXs and defensive driving using Honda Civics," explained Jesse Ghiorzi, noting that they address every driving level from 16-year-olds with a learner's permit to intense racing programs and corporate events. "Everything except the defensive driving and street training programs will get you on one of the premier tracks in North America where championships are won."

Creative Marketing

While the racing part is fun, the engine for today's motorsports is marketing—creating business relationships, developing synergistic promotions, selling product and sponsorship dollars. Without it, few teams could afford to show up. With a little creative thinking, arrive and drive programs can provide an environment for those things to happen.

"It's much more than just awareness of a business, putting a logo on the side of the car, or measuring if the TV camera caught it," explained Slone. "Those are the old days of sponsorship."

Just about any business can utilize these programs, with sponsorship as one effective method. "There are lots of ways to go with team sponsorship, most of which are quite reasonable," said Harris, also offering the Kenny Brown/SpeedWorks Driving Experience with oversight and coaching by Kenny Brown. "This could allow exposure on our cars, crew gear, and transporter. Probably more important is the business-to-business possibilities with our connections to Ford, Miller Motorsports, BFGoodrich, Grand-Am, and other entities. Business-to-customer relationships fit the entity trying to reach the sports car fan."

Even regular businesses with a product to sell and little to no interest in a hardcore racing effort can get involved with an innovative promotion or an employee team-building exercise. Arrive and drive programs offer cost and time efficiency, economical and practical resource management, and an array of promotional opportunities in an exciting environment with an abundance of business-to-business contacts and competitive out-of-the-box thinking. All you need is the idea.

"First define your goal," advised Slone. "There are a number of ways you can get involved. Perhaps there's a driver you want to work with or maybe you want to provide an internal sales contest for your company where your salespeople are competing for opportunities to go to the race track and have a behind-the-scenes experience. Or maybe you're doing it as a contest for your distributors. Maybe you're interested in driving sales through to your end customer. It could be a sweepstakes or some kind of contest where they win the racing experience. It just depends on what the individual company's needs are. The possibilities are endless."

Mid-Ohio's Ghiorzi agreed. "A lot of people think the only thing you can do at a track is be a spectator at a race," said Ghiorzi. "We only have six spectator events a year and the track is open over 200 days a year when we conduct other events."

Johnson also suggested that shop owners and car builders can get into the business. "Race shop owners or builders who want to increase their customer base have an excellent opportunity to do that via arrive and drive programs," Johnson added. "Many potential drivers have neither the desire nor the expertise to work on their own cars. These programs open up an exciting opportunity to those shops to expand their business and potentially help young drivers move up into professional racing."

If you want to get involved in the arrive and drive market as an equipment and service provider, Johnson suggested building the business one step at a time. "To get started in this business, you need to have transport vehicles and support personnel with race driving and race mechanic experience," he said. "Getting started is generally one step at a time—first the prep shop and mechanics, then a rental car and driver coach followed by the trackside support equipment."

Milano advised that prior experience is also vital. "If you don't have knowledge of the racing business from a team owner or team manager perspective, this may not be for you," she said. "It looks good from the outside, but it takes a well-managed program to be successful. The equipment must be maintained properly and you better perform on race day if you want people to pay to drive your race cars."

The bottom line is that just about any marketing plan will work splendidly in a racing environment. "You are selling fun," said Dozeman. "If you are selling products to a high-end customer and you think they might be interested in an arrive and drive program, work that angle in the deal. It just might make the sale."

 

 

 

 




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