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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- "It's Bristol baby!"
Those three words uttered Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, just before the start of the 2014 Irwin Tools Night Race, sent more than 100,000 fans erupting into thunderous cheers and among them -- taking in all the action from the legendary track's pit road -- was Convenience Store News.
CSNews Editor-in-Chief Linda Lisanti got an immersive look at the world of NASCAR sponsorship courtesy of Hunt Brothers Pizza, the Nashville, Tenn.-based supplier of the largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry with 7,300-plus locations in 28 states.
This year marks Hunt Brothers' seventh year of NASCAR sponsorship. For the 2014 racing season, the brand is the primary sponsor of driver Kevin Harvick for four Nationwide Series races and an associate sponsor of Harvick and the No. 4 team of Stewart-Hass Racing in the Sprint Cup Series.
Harvick is a two-time Nationwide Series champion and winner of 76 NASCAR-sanctioned races overall. Within the Sprint Cup series, he holds 23 career victories and 100 top-five finishes.
In addition to being treated to a meet-and-greet with Harvick (who's refreshingly down to earth despite being a huge NASCAR star), CSNews got a behind-the-scenes race day tour from Keith Solsvig, vice president of marketing for Hunt Brothers Pizza. Highlights of the tour included an all-access pass to the garage area; signing the start/finish line; checking out the fanfare in the "activation area" surrounding the track; and enjoying the race from the pit box, seated right behind Harvick's crew chief.
As Solsvig told CSNews, sponsoring a top-tier driver like Harvick draws the highest number of fans/followers and also translates into the most television air time. "We're trying to grow our brand recognition and the best way to do that is to be with a top-tier driver," he explained.
Hunt Brothers Pizza and NASCAR are a good match for several reasons, according to Solsvig:
- More than 90 percent of the races are held within Hunt Brothers' operating footprint;
- The core NASCAR demographic is Southerners and male-dominated; and
- NASCAR fans over-index in terms of dining at convenience stores.
"We feel like it's a great fit for our brand and our customers, and we have not been able to find any other type of venue that gives us the exponential return on investment we get from NASCAR," he said, noting that the company tracks how many times the brand is seen during race periods, as well as how many people it reaches during "activations" such as giving out samples in the merchandise area.
The NASCAR sponsorship extends far beyond race days, too. Hunt Brothers gets its convenience store owners involved with point-of-purchase materials they can display in their locations, and an annual sweepstakes that's promoted in the stores. This year's "Race to Win" sweepstakes, which ran from April 1 through May 31, awarded a grand-prize ultimate race weekend package to one lucky winner and the first-prize winner received an autographed racecar hood replica of a car sponsored by Hunt Brothers.
"It's just been a great way for us to grow our brand presence," Solsvig concluded.