Craig Murto: Activate your local sponsors

I always hear local racers talk about how tough it is to get sponsors. And I hear local sponsors talk about how tough it is to get anything out of the sponsorship.

This is where sponsorship activation comes into play.

Everybody rained out locally on Saturday night. Most tracks saw what was coming and called their show early. But the AMA Pro Flat Track show at Hagerstown, Md., soldiered on, and for a while it looked like they might get lucky.

The threat of rain kept a lot of fans away, but there were still quite a few excited flat track fans in the stands, many of whom drove hours just to get to see their favorite riders compete. They got to see some exciting practice sessions and an exciting qualifying session, as well as enjoy when the pits opened to the fans before race time.

Unfortunately, only minutes before opening ceremonies, the thunderstorms rolled through and put an end to the chance of the race actually happening.

But it wasn’t a complete washout for everybody. Fans got to enjoy seeing the bikes on track, and they will get their ticket price refunded. But at least one sponsor will be remembered; their sponsorship program is fully activated.

Do you remember High’s ice cream? According to their website, in 1928 the High’s brand was born as a quickly growing chain of ice cream stores in the Mid-Atlantic states. At one time there were more than 500 locations, making High’s the largest ice cream store chain in the world.

Today, however, High’s is a chain of nearly 50 convenience stores. A subsidiary of the Carroll Independent Fuel Company, a 105-year-old, family-owned, Baltimore-based supplier of motor fuel products, most — perhaps all — High’s stores have gas pumps. And they still sell ice cream.

In fact, in the pits at Hagerstown, they gave away ice cream.

A nice display featuring the High’s-sponsored flat track motorcycles of No. 83s Mike Poe and No. 30s Jason Isennock, as well High’s banners, T-shirts for sale for a mere $10, and a freezer full of free ice cream became a popular destination for fans walking through the pits in the 95-degree heat.

That’s sponsorship activation. Reach the fans with more than just your product name on a racing vehicle. High’s certainly connected with the fans at Hagerstown.

The “s” tagged onto the end of Poe’s and Isennock’s number indicates that they usually race in AMA District 7. They compete in the GNC1 class.

Isennock, 29, from Owings Mill, Md., won what would now be the GNC2 race at Hagerstown in 2013. He qualified 23rd for Saturday’s cancelled GNC1 event, and Poe qualified 32nd. They would have had to run heat races and perhaps a last-chance race to earn a spot in the 18-rider feature. That’s a tough thing to do with 50 riders at the track in the division.

After a rider makes the feature in a national event, they can lose the letter on their number plate and pick a national number with which to compete the following season.

Usually the High’s flat track team competes regionally at tracks such as Path Valley and Trailways in Pennsylvania, as well as the flat track at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

Fans that left Hagerstown disappointed the event rained out were going to remember High’s. I know I’ll have no problem patronizing High’s when I run across one of their locations. This is a lesson for local racers and sponsors in sponsorship activation.

Local racers need to let sponsors know that a good sponsorship will cost more than just the money spent on the race team. If Bubba Joe’s Garage is going to put their name on the side of your race car, you need to convince Bubba Joe’s Garage to come to the track and hand out coupons for half off an oil change. Or better yet, offer to distribute the coupons for them.

And you need to be willing to park your car at Bubba Joe’s Garage to attract interest. If you just slap a sponsor’s name on your car and do nothing else until you show up at their door looking for money for next year, you may get that door slammed in your face.

Likewise, Bubba Joe’s Garage needs to realize that a successful sponsorship requires more than just putting a name on a race vehicle. It may cost a little more in terms of offering discounted products and services, but this is what it takes to properly activate the sponsorship.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.