Independent driver Kirk Shelmerdine has made it into the biggest race of his life, but now he's racing to get a primary sponsor.
Shelmerdine, who has not finished in the top 20 in his 23 career starts spanning 25 years, qualified for the Daytona 500 on Thursday as the last driver to make it based on speed.
The 47-year-old, who was the crew chief for four of the seven Cup championships won by Dale Earnhardt Sr., is seen as a low-budget field filler. He only has a handful of small sponsorship deals, including an electrical company, an oil company and a Native American gambling outfit.
"He has made it this far with nothing," said Heather MacKenzie, president of MLF Sports, which recently started representing Shelmerdine and searching for potential marketing opportunities. "What we're really looking for is to use this to get us a primary sponsor for the whole season."
MacKenzie says the cost of that deal would be $4 million to $5 million. Budweiser will pay about $20 million to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car this season.
"It's the cheapest deal anyone who wants to be in NASCAR can get," MacKenzie said.
The other option is for MacKenzie to sell the sponsorship for Sunday's race only, which she says will cost a company about $500,000. In 2002, two weeks before the Daytona 500, Hooters agreed to sponsor Shelmerdine if he made the race. But Sunday will be Shelmerdine's first time in the field at Daytona.
"We have two days to get decals made," MacKenzie said. "I guess the absolute latest we can do a deal is Saturday at 4 p.m."
Love on the track
One of my favorite new deals is the relationship NASCAR has forged with Harlequin, a leading publisher of women's fiction. As part of the deal, the company will publish NASCAR-themed love stories. The first book, "In the Groove," is already on sale nationwide. NASCAR research supposedly shows that female fans are 26 percent more likely to read romance novels than women who don't follow the sport. As part of the deal, women can go to www.getyourheartracing.com for a chance to win a six-day, five-night trip to Charlotte for two, dinner with Carl Edwards and two tickets to the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge.
Your ad here
Giving away a free advertising spot to an upstart small business is not a new idea. Mail Boxes Etc. used to give away a free 30-second Super Bowl commercial to the best small business. But I've never seen this done in NASCAR. Office Depot is changing that. The office supplies company that sponsors Edwards' No. 99 car is giving away the rights to a small ad on the car's B-Post, between the front and rear windows of the car, for the final 25 races of the season. The sweepstakes takes place through April 9. Companies must have fewer than 99 employees to enter. Those who think winning is the ticket to success, think again. In 1999, Mail Boxes Etc. gave away a Super Bowl commercial to Jeremy's MicroBatch Ice Cream. A year later, the company suspended operations.
Smells like motor oil?
In recent years, we've seen Dale Jr. sign a deal with Drakkar Noir, but I never thought I'd see this. Yes, folks, it's Daytona 500 cologne. Elizabeth Arden is bringing Daytona 500 cologne to JCPenney and Sears this April. Bottles will range from $30 to $40, and the company also plans to roll out an aftershave. Arden already has Jeff Gordon under contract. He endorses the company's Halston Z-14 brand.
Checkers Drive-In Restaurants unveiled its Officially Licensed NASCAR Frozen Burgers this week. Each package contains six beef patties and a collectible NASCAR-licensed burger seasoning shaker. The burgers will hit grocery store freezers in early spring.
Swiss watchmaker Tissot has signed a deal to become the official timekeeper and watch of NASCAR. A line of NASCAR watches featuring racing-inspired themes will appear this spring, although the company has not signed any individual drivers yet.
Watch this again
Daytona 500 highlights and behind-the-scenes coverage will be available for download -- as will be the case for all the races throughout the season -- at the iTunes Music Store for $1.99.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.