WADE: DSR Maximizes Sponsor Investment

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JUPITER, Fla. — Drag racing multi-team owner Don Schumacher, the consummate entrepreneur, has transcended all the doom-and-gloom economics.

Proof this past week was his addition of popular NASCAR sponsor Aaron’s to his growing list of marketing partners, as well as his sponsorship summit here.

Aaron’s executives were able to meet and discuss opportunities with about 40 other individuals representing the more than 30 different companies that are marketing partners with Don Schumacher Racing’s fleet of Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars. The three-day event was a rousing kickoff for the PRO Winter Warm-up pre-season test session.

In an effort to maximize his associates’ investment value, Schumacher — who lives in nearby Stuart — invited them to Palm Beach Int’l Raceway for the summit, which combined business and pleasure. Golfing at Indian River Plantation Marriott Resort, dinner and cross-promotional marketing were at the top of the agenda Monday through Wednesday.

“I do what I need to do to assist my sponsors and assist my teams,” Schumacher said.

Whatever it is, the former racer who has owned a real estate firm, jewelry store, and even raised and sold emus, can identify it and react quickly to it. Schumacher arranged a similar such summit several years ago at Chicago for his race team’s marketing partners.

The business-to-business prospects, he said, include show-car, driver-appearance and hospitality ventures.

Among the networking that Schumacher said makes him proud is enlisting his business associates in the Army Pays program. Each business in the program has made a commitment to grant a job interview to a soldier exiting the service who has expressed interest in the company.

So broadening the chances for a soldier transitioning to civilian life is one example of the B2B model Schumacher is following.

“We’re growing. It’s pretty cool that with the way the economy is, we’re growing,” said Antron Brown, one of three DSR Top Fuel drivers. “It’s more than just putting the name on the car. You become part of this deal — it’s our family. And you get that sense. There are a lot of companies at DSR where they’re able to do a lot of B2B deals. It makes it worthwhile for them spending dollars out here. They see a return [on their investments] right away. That’s what’s so cool about our DSR program.”

Aaron’s has expanded its NASCAR investment to sponsor Funny Car driver Jack Beckman for 12 races (complementing Valvoline’s 10) and to serve as associate sponsor of Brown’s Matco Tools Dragster for three races in 2011.

– If all the stars align properly, Austin Lambright, the 23-year-old car chief for Terry McMillen’s Amalie Oil/University of Northwestern Ohio Dragster, could make his driving debut as early as the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., the second race of this year.

The team plans to send the hauler to the Anderson, S.C., home of crew chief Richard Hartman before it makes its way across frigid America to Pomona, Calif., for the Winternationals.

McMillen said he’s hoping he’ll be able to give Lambright the chance to make his licensing passes at Atlanta Dragway at Commerce, Ga., which is about two hours from Hartman’s home. If that can happen, McMillen said, he needs to see if the entry-list number cap will allow him to enter Lambright’s car, the one McMillen drove last season.

The plan is to limit Lambright to five or fewer races in 2011 so he will be eligible for rookie-of-the-year consideration. The young Hoosier Thunder Motorsports protégé already has an impressive résumé as a mechanic — possibly one who might follow Mike Neff’s lead at John Force Racing and spend his career tuning and driving.

The only downside of waiting until 2012 is he would be sharing that process with the heralded Courtney Force, who wants to pocket that Road to the Future Award like her sister, brother-in-law and mentor Robert Hight, and teammate Neff did.

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