The Ever-Shrinking Sponsor Relationship

I was saddened to see that Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka has ended their partnership with Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR). Fuzzy’s has been on the sidepod of at least one ECR car since the inception of Ed Carpenter Racing in 2012. However, that was not Fuzzy’s first foray into IndyCar racing. Fuzzy’s was the primary sponsor for Carpenter’s 2010 Indianapolis 500 entry with Vision Racing. One mostly forgotten fact is that they were the primary sponsor on a second Panther entry in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 – the No. 44 for Buddy Rice; when Carpenter was driving the Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Racing.

Fuzzy’s has been on at least one car in each Indianapolis 500 since 2010, and has been on at least one car in every IndyCar race since 2012. That’s quite a run for a locally based company. The time a sponsors name is on the sidepod keeps getting shorter all the time.

I always do my best to support the products and businesses that support IndyCar. I am not a huge drinker, especially when it comes to hard liquor. My adult beverages of choice are beer first and wine second – and these days, I may go weeks at a time without touching a drop. When I do drink hard liquor, it’s scotch first and vodka second. But in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never touched a drop of Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka – but I own four bottles of it. We bought three commemorative bottles and one regular bottle over the years for keepsakes, with no real intention of drinking them. The seals are unbroken on all of them.

Whenever I’m in a liquor store in Nashville, I always look for it. I figure if I can find a bottle locally, we might actually use it. Unfortunately, I’ve had no such luck. Most stores here have never heard of it. One said they might start carrying it, but several years later, they still haven’t. I was in a liquor store in Atlanta a couple of years ago. They said they once carried it, but it hardly sold so they stopped.

My point with all of that rambling is to suggest that even though Fuzzy’s may be available in some places outside of the 317 area code, it isn’t a readily available national product.

Regardless of their distribution coverage, Fuzzy’s has been a loyal support of Ed Carpenter, his race team and the Indianapolis 500. It’s a shame to see them go. I don’t begrudge them. I appreciate what they’ve done for most of the decade. Nine years of involvement with the sport is now the exception, not the norm.

Many point to Target and their relationship with Chip Ganassi as the gold standard with sponsorships, and it may be. Target was on at least one Chip Ganassi car from 1990 through 2016. That’s twenty-seven straight seasons of sponsorships with one team. I’m not saying that’s a record, but I can’t think of any relationships longer than that, off the top of my head.

Team Penske carried the famous Marlboro livery that I love from 1990 through the 2009 season. After 2001, they could no longer carry the name “Marlboro” on the sidepods, so they got creative and carried the name of the team, Marlboro Team Penske, instead. That lasted until 2006, when they were forced to only have Team Penske on the sidepods. After the 2009 season, they were not even allowed to carry the Marlboro Chevron on the car, even though they were still receiving financial support from Altria, the company that Philip Morris had morphed into. I’m not sure when support from Altria stopped, but I think it was soon after the 2010 season.

Verizon first came on board with Penske’s IndyCar team in 2009, as a part-time sponsor for part-time driver Will Power. That means they just completed their tenth season with Penske. So since 1990, Penske has had a twenty-year partnership and a ten-year partnership that overlapped around the 2009, and maybe 2010 seasons.

ABC Supply has been on the cars of AJ Foyt Enterprises since 2005 and they are currently the longest tenured primary sponsor in the sport. Say what you will about the Foyt team’s performance on the track, but they don’t seem to have trouble keeping sponsorships. How long was Copenhagen on the side of Foyt’s car in the eighties and nineties – and without a single victory?

Kmart was on the Newman/Haas cars for well more than a decade. From the late eighties until they started experiencing financial difficulties in the early 2000s, the Kmart logo graced each Newman/Haas entry from Mario Andretti to Christiano da Matta.

Miller Beer or one of their brands was a regular sponsor in the IndyCar paddock. From Team Penske to Pat Patrick to Bobby Rahal’s team; Miller livery was a constant in IndyCar for years.

Don’t forget the oil companies. At various times over the last forty years; Pennzoil, Quaker State, Valvoline, Havoline and Castrol were just some of the oil companies that graced IndyCar sidepods. Pennzoil is on the car of Helio Castroneves for every other Indianapolis 500 and Valvoline is now an associate sponsor for Harding Steinbrenner Racing – but I wish the oil companies and automotive companies would come back.

These days, longtime sponsorships are rare. DHL has been on the car of Ryan Hunter-Reay since 2011. The Ganassi cars for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist will presumably carry the same sponsorships for all seventeen races next season – with PNC Bank and NTT Data, respectively. That is not the norm these days. Even teams like Team Penske and Rahal Letterman Lanigan have rotating sponsors. One week Simon Pagenaud will be in a Menard’s car, while Graham Rahal will be driving a car sponsored by United Rentals. The next week, Pagenaud will be in a DXC Technologies car, as Rahal is in a car with Total Petroleum livery. It’s hard to keep straight.

It’s not just teams that are seeing sponsorships last for a shorter amount of time. The entire series is suffering from the same malady. PPG was the title sponsor for CART as the PPG CART World Series from 1982 through the 1997 season. That was a sixteen year run. PPG had become synonymous with IndyCar during that span. When they left prior to the 1998 season, they were replaced by FedEx, who lasted five years.

It was even tougher those days for the IRL. Pep Boys was the title sponsor for only two seasons in 1998-99. Then the most bizarre title sponsor deal ever covered the 2000-01 season as the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. From 2002 through 2009, there was no title sponsor. IZOD signed a five year deal starting with the 2010 season, but they bailed one year early after the 2013 season concluded. Verizon jumped on board in time for the 2014 season and fulfilled their five-year commitment, which just wrapped up with the conclusion of the 2018 season. Whose name will the IndyCar Series bear next season? Stay tuned.

But hats off to Ed Carpenter Racing and Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. They stayed together exclusively for every race since 2012. In this day and age, that’s something to be proud of. I hope they can make their next partnership work just as long.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “The Ever-Shrinking Sponsor Relationship”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    No comment yet?
    Well, I tip my hat to you for all your research and writing.
    Thank you.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    AJ Foyt also enjoyed a long relationship with Jim Gilmore and Gilmore broadcasting, which was prominently featured on his cars as an entry list-mentioned sponsor every year from 1973 to 1990. Gilmore fielded cars for Gordon Johncock for a few years before he linked up with Foyt as well.

  3. I remember as a kid just loving STP on the cars. We would even go to the gas stations and they would give you a free sticker. They would end up on our bikes just like the race cars.

  4. sponsorships/partnerships can be like a marriage.
    priorities will change. maybe “hats off”
    to enduring marriages as well.

  5. Gregory Hunt Says:

    For the rest of my life, I will associate the Target logo with Scott Dixon.

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