WADE: NHRA’s Case Of ‘Marcus Mania’

Susan Wade.

SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Call it “Marcus Mania.”

Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis jumped in to sponsor the NHRA in the wake of Coca-Cola’s brazen breaking of its 19-year contract that had three more years remaining. So to racers, sponsors and team business delegates, Lemonis’ luster glows like a Times Square billboard.

Funny Car veteran Ron Capps said his RV “has been a big part of my kids’ childhood around the races. And I have literally spent probably enough money at Camping World over the years, no joke, to own a fuel team.

“I’ve watched what they’ve done with the (NASCAR) truck program and I feel good about it. (Lemonis) is a business guy and he’s going to make it work for his company. I think he’s already pleasantly surprised,” Capps added. “He sent a couple of his business advisers to Gainesville (in September) just to walk around and watch the sport. They called him and were blown away by the sport and what a natural fit it was.”

For team sponsor Dan Pikarsky, founder and president of Hot Wheels Americana Series Premium Car Care Products, Lemonis’ presence in drag racing represents opportunity.

He said, “I commend Marcus Lemonis. I respected him before as an entrepreneur and a professional businessman. He’s successful. He stepped up. He saw the connection and the opportunity and didn’t think twice about it.”

It was the same for him when he aligned his company with Top Fuel racer Lex Joon, the Dutch FIA champion who, according to Pikarsky, has experience with “distribution of automotive chemicals globally. He knows it’s about more than going A to B on the track. It’s about going A to B from our warehouse to customers’ cars. He understands my business.”

Likewise, Pikarsky recognizes the NHRA’s appeal for Camping World. Earlier in his career, Pikarsky was vice president of Cagnazzi Racing, which fielded Pro Stock cars. The team’s sponsor was Slammers Milk and he recalled the days when he, the product reps and racers would visit the campgrounds that sprang to life at or near race tracks during event weekends.

Twice a day they drove golf carts equipped with coolers stocked with the various flavors of the milk into the campgrounds and handed out samples to race fans “because the fans were in the campgrounds, hanging out.”

All around the NHRA circuit, campgrounds are located adjacent to the track entrances. Lemonis found a perfect demographic fit with NHRA.

Tami Powers, Alan Johnson Racing’s business development director, said Lemonis “is an incredibly innovative, forward-thinking individual. He has empathy. He has business savvy. Just his energy and the way he runs his businesses and connects to the community, it’s going to keep the NHRA on its toes. This guy is going to hold everybody accountable for where his money is going. This, by default, will up their game and that I’m optimistic about.”

Lemonis said, “The stakeholders for me are the fans. That’s it. While I worry about the sanctioning body, I’m worried about the fans and the team owners. Those are the people ultimately who are giving us the ability to have a sport and the team owners are taking a financial risk in being in the sport. It’s not about being disrespectful to the sanctioning body. But if the fans aren’t happy and the teams can’t make the numbers work, then what are we doing? That doesn’t make any sense.”

He said he’s going to assess everything through the filter of the fans: “And I know that’s not exactly what NHRA would always want to hear. But without the fans, without them and customers for me, I don’t know what we have.”

Lemonis added he “would never demand anything, just because we know our role in the process is as sponsor, not a shareholder. But I will use my platform to commend those things that are really working. Particularly, the one thing that I do see the NHRA doing very well is being very concerned about two things: (1.) the health of their teams and (2.) how the business-to-business transactions inside the sport, how that process plays out. That will determine a lot.

“One of the things I think NASCAR has done well for years is really create this roundtable of sponsor-to-sponsor relationship. I’m going to want to see NHRA continue to enhance that. I think you’ll see me play a much larger and more vocal role in creating the B-to-B opportunities,” Lemonis continued, “because if people aren’t making money sponsoring, from customers and B-to-B opportunities, their shareholders and their board are going to raise that crinkled eye.”

His relationship with FOX, Lemonis noted, is “very, very robust, far beyond NASCAR.”

He interacts with network officials also through Major League Baseball. And, he said, “They have been nothing but supportive of our business. The FOX relationship has been one of those ones where they’re always thinking about me before I’m even thinking about me.”

Right now, tons of people are thinking about — and thanking — Marcus Lemonis.