NEWTON, Iowa – It has been a difficult time for team owners and sponsors in all forms of auto racing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each racing team depends on sponsors to help fund the high costs of racing.
Sponsorship is vital for many reasons as auto racing serves as a high-speed platform for companies to conduct business and entertain key clients at the race track. Business to business contacts that are created through corporate entertainment at races often grows into valuable business partnerships.
Corporate hospitality is also another way to reward clients and employees for their efforts throughout the year, while getting a chance to see the racing world from a unique perspective.
In 2020, there are no hospitality suites, motorhomes or chalets. Sponsors are living up to their commitments to various teams that depend on their money to remain in business, but until life gets back to a semblance of normal, on-site entertainment has been scaled back dramatically.
At last Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America, event sponsors did have guests in their suites, which was a positive step. Honda Performance Development brought its hospitality unit to the track and was able to entertain a smaller than normal group of guests.
At this weekend’s Iowa IndyCar 250s at Iowa Speedway, the attendance will be limited to 5,000 spectators Friday night and Saturday night.
This would have been a big weekend for a team such as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing because two of its three team owners are from Chicago. Bobby Rahal’s lives in the Lincoln Park area on the prestigious north side, while Michael Lanigan is a south side industrialist.
The Iowa IndyCar contests are usually a very busy time for this team as business associates often make the trip from the East from Chicago to watch Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato compete on the seven-eighths of a mile Iowa Speedway.
The limits on on-site crowds has forced Rahal’s team to get creative, when it comes to keeping the sponsors happy.
“We’ve done a lot of Zoom calls with our sponsors and clients,” Bobby Rahal told SPEED SPORT Thursday afternoon. “We’ve tried to frankly enhance the value above and beyond what was promised. Obviously in our case, knock on wood, all of our sponsors have been super understanding, patient, willing to change races. As Long Beach gets canceled, they went to Elkhart last week, that wasn’t on the original calendar for them, yet they were willing to do that. We’ve been very fortunate.
“Of course, many of the sponsors that we have are under no travel or nominal travel policies, as are their customers. Even though a lot of our sponsors are B to B (business to business), where they do a lot of the entertaining of their clients, it hasn’t created too much of a problem yet.”
Last weekend’s doubleheader in Elkhart Lake, Wis., was the first chance this season that Rahal Letterman Lanigan could entertain sponsors at the popular Wisconsin road course.
“Certainly, we had people at Elkhart because we could, and it was beneficial for sure,” Rahal said. “Obviously the Indy 500, at least the plan seems to be we’ll be able to have some of our tickets for hospitality and what have you. Indy, whether it’s in May or August, it’s still the big race, right?
“In the end we’ve worked hard to provide more value for our sponsors. They’ve been understanding. We’re all in this together, is kind of everybody’s attitude. As I said earlier, everybody is happy to be racing.”
Sponsors and fans have had to watch from afar. Although the pandemic is far from over, there appears to be hope that more races on the schedule will start to allow fans to return. When that happens, sponsors can also be part of the action with a smaller than normal group of guests.
IndyCar paddocks have remained closed to team personnel and IndyCar officials only to protect the participants from possibly contracting the COVID-19 virus.
Meantime, Rahal’s team is determined to put a highly competitive product on the race track.
“Of course, the competitiveness of the team has been pretty strong this year even though the results haven’t been there,” Rahal said. “We had a good race going at Elkhart with Graham in the first race, it was looking good, before he had a problem. At least we’re running up front.
“I think all of that combined I’d say has softened the blow.
“So far, knock on wood, everybody has been great. As we continue to race more, that issue becomes less and less of one.”