Western Comment: Giving back pays off in the end

by James Menzies

Over the past few years, I have developed a passion for motorsports that is now unrivalled by any other major sporting event. The intensity, the speed and the glamour have got me hooked. I guess you could say I bleed methanol.

Last year, in an effort to get involved in racing, I began volunteering with an Alberta-based Canadian Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (CASCAR) team. In my spare time, I designed a Web site for the team, and I try to help out in the promotions end of things.

When the CASCAR series comes to Calgary, I help out in the pits. You won’t find me tearing down an engine or fine-tuning tire pressures, but I try to lend a hand wherever possible and just simply enjoy the excitement of being part of the buzz on pit lane.

As the most inexperienced crew member, I was designated the “catch-can guy.” My job was to open up a valve at the back of the car during pit stops to allow the free flow of gasoline into the car’s tank. Then, when it reached the top, excess fuel would splash into the can I was holding and as the gas-man stepped back, I would signal the car on its way.

Most importantly, I would try to avoid being set on fire when the fuel splashed up through the vent at me.

It was quite a rush, I can assure you.

Now, as the team I work with starts preparing for the 2002 season, I am gaining a truer sense of the important role that companies play in making sports like auto racing possible.

Last year, we were fortunate enough to represent Quaker State on the CASCAR West circuit. Our driver Dennis Masse took rookie-of-the-year honors the previous year, and Quaker State was eager to jump on-board and shell out the necessary coin to allow Dennis to field a car.

We weren’t able to deliver a win last year, unfortunately, but Quaker State was certainly well represented by a classy team, and both sides enjoyed a solid mutual relationship.

Without their support, Dennis wouldn’t have been able to put a competitive car on the grid, and as a result of the partnership Quaker State was able to sell more motor oil through some unique promotions.

This year, I am gaining even more insight into the important role sponsors play in sports. A racing buddy has recently launched his own business called Race Promotions Management (RPM), which is aimed at landing sponsors for the CASCAR series and individual teams.

It’s not easy convincing companies to shell out up to $250,000 to have their logo splashed on the hood of a race car. Unless you’re dealing with an out-of-the-box thinker who is prone to trying out new ideas (it doesn’t hurt if they’re a die-hard race fan either), it can be a tough sell.

But the Canadian trucking industry has traditionally been one of the most eager to take part in promoting the sport.

Western Star Trucks sponsored a western entry last year. Challenger Motor Freight sponsors a successful Eastern team and they must be doing something right, as they found themselves on Canada’s 50 Best Managed Private Companies list this year. Mid-America Freight, Volvo Trucks, TEAM Truck Carriers, TTR Transport and National Fast Freight were just a few of the other companies that chipped in to help out one team or another in recent years.

On our team, Dennis was able to convince local truck dealer, Southland International to buy a piece of fender that proudly carried its logo from race to race.

These companies should be commended for taking an alternative approach to marketing their companies while fulfilling dreams at the same time.

At a recent Calgary Flames game, I noticed that Mullen Transportation is involved in a program that allows young minor hockey players to enjoy each home game from the comfort of Mullen’s private box – just one of many initiatives by Mullen.

As well, the recent Winter Olympics were rife with sponsors helping amateur athletes (and some non-amateurs) compete on the world stage.

During times of economic turmoil, I imagine it’s tempting to trim these programs out of the budget altogether.

But it seems that trucking companies, for the most part, are sticking to their obligations and in many cases, expanding their contributions.

While something as simple as placing an ad on the hood of a race car may seem to go unnoticed by many, I assure you that your contributions to sport and community are appreciated. n

James Menzies heads our western news bureau and he can be reached at 403-275-3160.

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