My Martha Maglone, July 3, 2014

goose by car-webJohn Force tells of devoting most of his racing career to “chasing the money.”

And in most successful racing endeavors this endless pursuit of attracting money to race resides at the sport’s heart. But it is not always a concept that sits easy with the racer. The majority of good racers are much better racers than money raisers. But what if a successful technique could be developed that sidesteps the exhausting agonies of finding sponsorship?

Here is one of the concepts exploited by Tom “Mongoose” McEwen that sustained him at the peak of his sport for decades.

Bringing major sponsors to the sport

coors-mongooseAlmost half a century ago Coors, the beer company, didn’t have a sports marketing department when drag racer McEwen first approached them. Interestingly, he didn’t address Coors directly. Instead he approached a Coors distributor he knew in San Bernardino, California and requested decals which he displayed on his racing Corvette. “Then I won a couple of races and requested the distributor send the pictures to Coors, which he did.” Look what we can do in the drag racing market was the message.

Eventually “Mongoose” was rewarded with an appointment at Coors and duly presented himself at their Colorado headquarters for a meeting. They liked him and his ideas—a man rarely bereft of ideas—and hired a person to manage the initiative that brought the promise of new markets. Within a year Coors had established a marketing department for racing, assigned a budget to fund it and staffed it with about six people. Moreover, they examined the prospects offered in the NASCAR marketplace and pursued other sporting opportunities.

“At first they wouldn’t give me any money but agreed to pay for paint jobs on my race car,” recalled McEwen. “They also prepared my press kits.” But then the venture began to flourish and the following year they increased their involvement, awarding him $50,000, and agreeing to paint his 18-wheeler and all related equipment, which was expensive. Over a period of two or three years the “Mongoose” was the recipient of a two-million dollar sponsorship plan.

How do we make the plan work?

Every race weekend the Coors marketing team sent the press kits out to all the local newspapers and radio and television stations. It was adorned with the Coors name on the cover and inside it gave details of driver and team. Soon they prepared taped messages for the radio stations and video clips for the television stations. Later Coors recruited two marketing people who accompanied McEwen. They traveled ahead and on the Monday preceding the racing weekend they approached the newspapers, radio and TV stations and set up interviews. When McEwen arrived on Tuesday or Wednesday they collected him from the airport and set out to conduct two or three interviews each day.

Mongoose&SnakeApart from fulfilling the sponsor’s obligations there was nothing new about the format of the interview, for McEwen had been promoting drag racing for years, attempting to entice spectators to match races since the nineteen-sixties. You might think his victory over Prudhomme during the last race at Lions drag strip in 1972 would be his most enduring memory. But it wasn’t. Witnessing a television channel, Channel 5, arrive at Lions one Saturday night takes prominence. It was the first time live drag racing had been broadcast to television viewers.

Undeniably, this is the way McEwen is wired and his legacy remains undimmed. “That’s a good idea,” he’d say, “shame we don’t have a sponsor who might benefit from it”. Nothing beats a good idea.

Roland Leong “The Hawaiian” said, “McEwen was the smartest of the bunch. And when he came up with the Hot Wheels deal using the Snake and Mongoose characters, it shook the world of drag racing big time. He produced a sponsorship package that allowed him and Prudhomme to buy the best equipment, pay expenses, make money and sell their image all over the United States. I hate to admit it,” Leong went on, “but he showed us the way to the future. He was a lot smarter than most of us who didn’t see past the end of the quarter-mile.”