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DRO: How much money do you need to race a full season?

Vandergriff: It really depends on the sponsor’s goals with the race team, but two-million dollars will make you very competitive out here. I mean, we finished in the top 10 every year spending about that amount. Now, if you want to test every Monday after every race, and you want to have some R&D programs, and you want to hire the best people, and people to manage other people, and take that and consume every moment trying to win a championship, it can easily cost over three-million dollars. It just depends on what the goals are. My previous sponsor was more concerned with the products we sold for them; as long as we had a competitive team, that suited them just fine.

DRO: What are the benefits of drag racing to a sponsor, specifically a non-tool, non-beer or tobacco, non-automotive parts company?

Vandergriff: I think drag racing is a great fit for companies that actually need interaction with the spectators. If you’re just looking for mass television numbers, then obviously NASCAR is a great fit for that, but if you actually need to be able to interact with spectators and show them your product, show them how it works, or show them why it’s better than your competitor’s, then drag racing is the best fit.

We have these people here eight, 10, 12 hours a day for three days, and between the times when the pros are on, they’re looking for something to do. So if you have something new or something better, this is the best place to show people. I mean, NASCAR’s great, but the fans go from their cars to their seats, watch for three or four hours, and then they get back in their cars and drive home. There’s no time for you to show them why your product or service is better than somebody else’s. They don’t want to talk to you; they’re either late for the race or trying to beat traffic. Drag racing doesn’t have that problem. We have them here all day long and that’s the kind of companies we try and target, those that can benefit from actual interaction with the fans.

DRO: Would you also say an NHRA team sponsorship is more cost effective than a NASCAR deal?

Vandergriff: There’s very much a better dollar-to-return ratio over here than in 99 percent of the programs in NASCAR. You can go over there and spend 10 or 15 million dollars and it’s not going to guarantee you anything, but you can come here and spend two or three million and be one of the heroes, and get your marketing message across to basically the same demographics, the same do-it-yourself-type guys—actually, even more so in drag racing fans. It’s a very cost-effective way to reach the same customers and I wish more companies weren’t so enamored with if they’re gonna’ be in racing, it’s gotta’ be in NASCAR. I think if they just looked at us for dollar per return, you’d see more companies coming this way.

DRO: Did you have a deal in the works with Coca-Cola or POWERade before POWERade signed on as NHRA’s title sponsor?

Vandergriff: Well, we’d actually been educating POWERade on drag racing and the opportunity, and obviously they were very interested in our sport.

DRO: What time frame was that?

Vandergriff: Shortly before they became sponsor of the NHRA drag racing series. I think when Winston pulled out of the sport it provided POWERade an opportunity that fit more with their corporate marketing plan. NHRA had actually gone to Coca-Cola and Coke passed on the opportunity, but made the point that POWERade had been taking a look at drag racing. So the opportunity to sponsor the series was made to POWERade.

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