MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (June 18, 2007) — A business partnership with one of its dealers sparked Titan International Inc.'s involvement in motorsports—a seemingly unconventional venue for a company that specializes in agricultural and off-the-road (OTR) tires.
The sponsorship opportunity evolved with family-owned, Mount Clemens-based Leslie Tire Service, the major distributor of Titan tires in the greater Detroit region. Owner Tracy Leslie was in financial need of a sponsor for his 19-year-old son Billy Leslie, a racer in this year's Automotive Racing Club of America (ARCA) RE/MAX Series, a stock car racing series similar to NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series, but one where both professional and amateur racers compete.
Without the financial resources to compete in the entire series, Billy Leslie last year competed in only five races, which turned out to be a $150,000 out-of-pocket expense for his family. Today, race drivers can be confronted with more than $1 million in costs, Mr. Leslie said, and could possibly win at most a third of that if they have a phenomenal season.
Mr. Leslie is quite familiar with the financial hardships of motorsports—he won the ARCA RE/MAX Series National Champion in 1988 and two RE/MAX Series races at Winchester Speedway in 1988 and 1989.
“There is no way to recoup your investment for the year except to partner with the bigger companies coming in that need another avenue to advertise,” he said.
Companies spend upwards of $20 million annually to advertise at NASCAR, the top echelon of the sport, according to Mr. Leslie. Of course, not all companies have an infinite advertising budget, and the fact that ARCA broadcasts 15 races on television means “it's a very lucrative deal,” he said.
This year, Billy decided to compete in several races in mostly Midwestern states. With locations such as the Illinois State Fair and at Des Moines, Iowa—which happens to be the headquarters of Titan Tire, a unit of Titan International Inc.—Mr. Leslie thought the select races were ideal venues for Titan's marketing strategy. The audience, primarily farmers and construction workers, are typical Titan Tire clientele.
Now, all he had to do was convince Titan International Chairman and CEO Maurice Taylor Jr. that a sponsorship would benefit his company.
After much persistence on Mr. Leslie's part, Mr. Taylor agreed to sponsor Billy for 10 races starting with the Winchester ARCA 200 held at Winchester Speedway in Indiana on May 5.
The decision was based on the positive business relationship Titan has with Leslie Tire, Mr. Taylor said, and the fact that in the past two years the dealership had become a major distributor of Titan's agricultural, OTR and construction tires. He also acknowledged his decision was to some extent personal as he had met Billy on previous occasions and respected the Leslie family.
“They are the all-American family, so we thought it would be a good thing to sponsor them,” Mr. Taylor told Tire Business.
Sponsoring an “all-American family” in races held in the heartland is consistent with Titan Tire's commitment to manufacturing its products in the U.S. and its “Buy American” advertising campaign. The decals on Mr. Leslie's 2006 Ford Fusion race car prominently display the Titan Tire logo with the phrase “American made, American owned.”
As many U.S. companies have chosen to make their products offshore to reduce costs, Titan Tire has increased its domestic output. The sponsorship will help promote the company's Goodyear North American farm tire and Continental OTR tire businesses acquired last year, Mr. Taylor said.
The news of the sponsorship came unexpectedly to Mr. Leslie and his son a week after a rocky first race at the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 at Salem Speedway in Salem, Ind., in which his race car was damaged.
“At Salem before (Titan Tire) started sponsoring us, I tore up a car pretty good, and we weren't going to go to Winchester (ARCA 200) because of financial reasons,” Billy said.
Mr. Taylor wanted to get involved in the sponsorship right away and asked Mr. Leslie when the next race was to take place. Not wanting to let him down, Mr. Leslie replied, “Less than a week away.”
Billy wanted to attend the Winchester ARCA 200 since it had been his best race last year—he started in the top 10 and finished third—however, time was of the essence.
They bought two race cars on Monday and it took the crew the entire week to turn them into viable Titan Tire-decaled vehicles. Mr. Leslie said they had planned to leave Friday morning for the racetrack to have the rest of the day to relax. Unfortunately, the cars weren't finished until Friday night. They drove all night and signed in at the racetrack Saturday morning, an hour before it opened.
“I was thinking, 'My God it would be nice if we could win the first race Titan sponsors the car, a race we weren't even planning on coming to,'” Mr. Leslie said.
Billy qualified eighth out of 42 drivers and took the lead with 60 laps remaining. Not only did he have the drawback of a brand new race car to “break in,” but Billy also was competing against Frank Kimmel, ARCA champion eight years in a row, who used to race against Mr. Leslie. Despite continual advances from Mr. Kimmel and veteran racer Brian Keselowski during the final laps, Billy ended up winning the race.
This is Titan Tire's first racing sponsorship, and Mr. Taylor said he is pleased with the results, adding it is probable the company will continue to sponsor Billy next year.
“We were looking at it from a dollar-and-cents standpoint versus a company like Titan that looks at it from a sponsorship standpoint,” Mr. Leslie said. “It was a win-win situation for both of us.”