Does That Mean I Have To Like It?

The emotions tied to sports are an interesting study. When it comes to everyday decisions in my life, I consider myself very logical, rational and consistent. Some would wrap all of those up and just say I’m boring. Something has got to make sense in order for me to act on it. That’s probably why I’m so opposed to change. I really need to see a good reason to change something. Changing for the sake of change is not good enough.

With sports that I’m passionate about, logic and reasoning take a back seat to emotional outbursts and irrational behavior. My sports passions are the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing, the Tennessee Volunteers football team and the Tennessee Titans. Before the Vols began their resurgence a couple of years ago, some may have said that I follow nothing but sinking ships and I’m a glutton for punishment.

My rational side of everyday living is always in conflict with my emotional side when it comes to sports. Deep down, I may know that something makes sense and is done with the good of my sport in mind – but I may actually hate whatever has been done in the name of good sense.

Such was the case when I saw the news that a traditional sponsor in open-wheel racing has signed a three-year agreement to become a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 – beginning this year with the 100th running.

From this point forward, this year’s race will be known as the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, or something to that effect.


What is PennGrade, you might ask? Well, that’s a good question. It is an oil designed for high-performance racing and street engines. It is marketed by D-A Lubricants, a sponsor that has ties going back decades with IMS – but on cars, not the name of the race.

The deal reportedly pays IMS $1.5 million a year over the course of three years to be part of the name of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (presented by PennGrade).

I knew this day was coming, but does that mean I have to like it? I also know that one day I will surely die. Does that mean I have to like it?

Sponsorships of sporting events are nothing new in sports. In fact, I’d say motorsports sponsorships were the very first sports-related sponsorships, going way back to the birth of the sport. In the mid-eighties, college bowl games started adding brand names to the name of the bowl. There was the USF&G Sugar Bowl, The FedEx Orange Bowl and the Mobil Cotton Bowl. Soon afterwards, some bowls dropped their traditional names. The Sun Bowl simply became the John Hancock Bowl.

In the nineties, sports venues took on corporate names. Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium became Pro Player Stadium. Candlestick Park was renamed 3Com Park and Jack Murphy Stadium was suddenly Qualcomm Stadium. Newer facilities sold their naming rights before they were built. The Titans Stadium began life as Adelphia Coliseum. The Carolina Panther’s home was originally Ericsson Stadium. One of the most surprising moves was when Humpy Wheeler sold the naming rights of Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s. For ten years, the historic track was known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Beginning in 2010, the name reverted to Charlotte Motor Speedway, as it is still known today.

Other tracks sold their names as well. For a while, Sonoma was known as Infineon Raceway. Canada’s Mosport Park is now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. California Speedway at Fontana is now Auto Club Speedway.

For years, races have carried sponsor names. The Valvoline 200, the Texaco-Havoline 200, the Marlboro 500, the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama and the Firestone 200 are just a few names from the past and present that have dotted the IndyCar landscape.

But through it all, there were a few events and venues that were considered off-limits. Yankee Stadium, Lambeau Field, the Rose Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 were thought to be stand-alone events or venues that needed no sponsor to prop them up.

But times have changed. The Rose Bowl has been presented by AT&T and Vizio in recent years. The Kentucky Derby has been presented by Yum! Brands and the Daytona 500 has been presented by STP, Dodge and Toyota in past years. In fact, the Indianapolis 500 was the last to fall to the big corporate payout. But does that mean I have to like it?

There have been signs pointing to this for years. Several years ago, Shell had signage on the outside wall in Turn Four along with the logos on the pit wall pointing away from the track. Then there were logos painted in the grass infield just inside of Turn One. Within the last year or two, TAG Heuer had signage on both walls facing the track at the famous yard of bricks.

It could be worse. This is a presenting sponsor, meaning it comes after the title of the event. A title sponsor comes at the beginning. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not ready for the Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Indianapolis – no matter how much they made off of it.

But if they were going to sell their collective souls at 16th and Georgetown, I wish it had been for a less obscure product. You’ll notice that those other brands mentioned above; STP, Dodge and Toyota were all brands that everyone has heard of. Shell/Pennzoil, Verizon, Target, Samsung and Apple are all household names that anyone would recognize.

IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 need to work to remove the perception that this type of racing is not an obscure niche sport with presenting sponsors you’re never heard of. NASCAR currently has well-known sponsors like m&m’s and FedEx. IndyCar has Mi-Jack, NTT Data, Hydroxycut and now PennGrade. It creates the perception that IndyCar can’t attract the top-name sponsors, so they have to go for the names that few have heard of. Whether that is actually the case is debatable; but you know the old saying – perception is reality.

Proponents of this move will say I need to get with the times. They think I’m too hung up on tradition and I need to pull my head out of the sand. They will say that I’m an idiot if I didn’t see this coming and that it is for the greater good of the sport.

My response to them is that I did see this coming. We were told a year ago by Mark Miles that this was probably the next step. It creates much-needed revenue. I get it. My rational side tells me it ,makes sense. But does that mean I have to like it?

George Phillips

33 Responses to “Does That Mean I Have To Like It?”

  1. After thinking about it, I’m good as long as it doesn’t become the “Sponsor’s Name” Indianapolis 500. Maybe it might add to the purse and be a deciding factor for a driver from another series reason for entering. I would be all for that.

  2. One thing Curt Cavin, Robin Miller and now you, George, have either forgotten or didn’t know about DA Lubricants (parent company of PennGrade) is that it was founded and run for decades by… TOM BINFORD, longtime Chief Steward of the Indianapolis 500. He was a community leader here in Indy and started DA Lubricants in the late ’40s, early ’50s and had his logos on Indy Cars by the mid-’50s. I certainly don’t mind a local company who has been a part of that race for 50 years being a presenting sponsor and I don’t like change even more than George! Now a title sponsor is completely different….

  3. I have heard of D-A Lubricants, not PennGrade, a line within D-A Lubricants. It does sound rather obscure which does not much help erase the niche perception that IndyCar has acquired the past 2 decades. Remember how big Texaco’s Havoline was? In the modern age, and looking at the vote tally so far, it looks like most are accepting this modern reality in sports.

    • An additional thought: why a presenting sponsor now? Of all years, they choose the100th running of the Indy 500 for introducing this. Is Hulman and Co. that strapped? One would think they could have at least waited until next year for the 101st. I guess it is spitting hairs here but it is the 100th Indy 500!

      • Mike Silver Says:

        I agree. I thought it would happen next year so as not to detract from the 100th running. Guess you have to take it when it’s there.

  4. I agree. What is Penn Grade? If you’re selling out one of the biggest names in sports, why couldn’t you get a reputable brand name? I understand their brand needs the exposure, but for the 100th running of the 500? Was no one else interested?

  5. it’s still the Indy 500. When the month of May arrives, it’s about preparing for THE race. it’s about The 500. When the Pagoda donned the Bombardier name, I still referred to it as the pagoda. good for IMS, money talks. looking forward to May 2016!

  6. D-A acquired the Brad Penn brand of lubricants from ARG in Bradford, PA at the end of 2014. PennGrade1 is one of several lines within that brand. ARG claims to operate the oldest lube oil refinery in the US and wanted to focus only on refining/blending/packaging and let D-A handle marketing and distribution. That’s become commonplace in the lubes industry. Most of Big Oil wants to do nothing more than produce base oils and let smaller firms handle blending, packaging, and distribution.

  7. After 75 trips around the sun I am done tilting at windmills and worrying about things I have no control over. I don’t think that D-A Lubricants (good stuff) is that obscure and they have a long history with the track as Phil Kaiser pointed out. If the name of the place-the Indianapolis Motor Speedway- were to change, then sure I will get my placards out of storage and storm the 16th Street gates.

    Be thankful that as yet there is no Kohler Toilet Bowl in Flushing, New Jersey.

    I would like to see the money spent on increasing the purse, eliminating the snake pit, and maintaining the traditional tenderloin.

    In the category of you can’t make this stuff up, Nascar just announced that their Truck Series will now feature “Caution Yellows”. Every time there is 20 minutes of non-stop racing there will be a caution yellow to bunch up the field. You can take this to the bank: There will be presenting sponsors for every one of those caution yellows. Sigh…………………

    • Ok, I’ll bite.
      Why would you want to eliminate the “SnakePit?”

      • Probably because I have had too many bad experiences with drunks at the track, such as coming back to my car to find drunks dancing on its roof. Each to his own I guess.

  8. Well said Mr. Ford.

  9. Could be worse. I’m waiting for the venue itself to be named. Is the “Lamisil Motor Speedway” really that far off?

  10. billytheskink Says:

    While this doesn’t spell the end of the world, it does spell the end of an era, and that is lamentable. The time in which the Indianapolis 500 was too proud, too “sacred”, to attach corporate sponsorship to the race’s name itself is over. The 500 has long been a nostalgic respite from the barrage of necessary advertising that covers most other racing events. That has begun changing in recent years, but the lack of sponsorship in the race name itself was a part of the event’s idyllic charm.

    That it took as long as it did for this to happen, given the economic realities of major auto racing, is surprising in hindsight. I suspect the 100th running was chosen to be the first to carry presenting sponsorship because it was the most valuable edition of the race to potential sponsors, at least for the foreseeable future. This is good for IMS, from the standpoint that it provides them significant additional revenue that they will (hopefully) use wisely. Nevertheless, we do lose a small part of what makes the 500 so special, and I can’t fault anyone for being disappointed about that.

    I too would have liked to have seen a more well-known brand as the presenting sponsor, particularly one with a broad reach to promote their association with the race. Perhaps DA has a wider promotional plan than I expect, but they do not at this time have a brand that seems to command much attention on its own.

    On the other hand, I was not familiar with Penn Grade before this announcement. Now I am, so DA is likely accomplishing their goal with this sponsorship (with me, at least). It is hard to complain when a sponsor wants to give the sport money.

  11. Tony Johns Says:

    My biggest concern was not that they sold the naming rights. That was coming no matter what.

    My biggest concern was how cheaply they sold them. $1.5M is nothing to sneeze at if you’re looking at the amount out of context. But for a property like the Indianapolis 500 and its history, I had hoped that they would have eked out more money in exchange for what is the last prime real estate in sports naming rights. I was hoping they would use their leverage to boost the purse levels back up to where competing in the 500 would be financially attractive even for last-row starters.

    The amount IMS settled for leads me to several possible conclusions, none of them very attractive, and none of them ameliorated by the spin that D-A Lubricants used to sponsor cars back in the day. The fact is that PennGrade got a stupendous bargain and it’s likely because IMS could not command more.

    • They always talk about sponsor activation. So I suppose the relatively bargain price to sponsor the 500 would be better if D-A spent more money to advertise their product and the event.

  12. One of my dreams I hope to see fulfilled in my life time is a car called either the Mucinex special or perhaps the Jublia Toenail fungus special run the 500.

    • God forbid. Every time I see one of those Jublia commercials with that old tennis guy I switch to another channel, any other channel, to avoid throwing up.

  13. I suppose it doesn’t bother me as much because advertising has been on the track’s walls and infield grass for a few years now. I don’t remember when they started that, maybe 2012?? I share the opinion of many here that I hope it doesn’t change to something like (Sponsor) 500 at Indianapolis. That would be bad form.

  14. My complete reaction: “Meh. OK.”

  15. Mike Silver Says:

    I’m okay with a presenting sponsor, just thought it would be next year. When I saw the event logo with the sponsor name added, though, I felt it cheapened and diminished it. Glad I have already purchased an event shirt so I don’t have to have the sponsor logo on it.

  16. JP, Colorado Springs Says:

    Well gang, the really good news is that the crappy 100th logo just got worse with the addition of the sponser’s name tacked on. They sold out our beloved race for 1.5 million? That’s peanuts. This is the best we can do? Great leadership again, Mark Miles 😡😡😡😡😡

  17. The Indy 500 is a for-profit entertainment event and always has been. If they want to make more money selling naming rights?

  18. The Lapper Says:

    I believe that Penn Grade will be spending added dollars on commercials and that is even more money for the 500 and IndyCar. Also, their advertising will be activated towards the 500, the greatest race in the world.

  19. Mr. Woo Woo Says:

    You may not like it but you are going to have to sick back and look at it because it is what is happening now!

  20. How does the Clabber Girl Indianapolis 500 Mile International Sweepstakes sound to you, George? 😉

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