Walmart races to sponsorship with Bill Elliott

By Tom Knox (Daytona Beach News Journal, July 7, 2012).

DAYTONA BEACH — Walmart and NASCAR’s fan bases are a perfect match, yet the retail behemoth has never sponsored a race car in NASCAR’s high-profile Sprint Cup Series.

That’s going to change with today’s Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, where NASCAR legend Bill Elliott will drive a Walmart-adorned car.

“Walmart has been a strong leader in the retail market for a number of years, and to have them in the sport and the capacity that they are, it’s a big deal,” the semiretired NASCAR driver said from the Speedway on Thursday as he prepared for his third Sprint Cup race of the year.

Elliott visited several area Walmart stores this week as part of the promotion.

Walmart is sponsoring the car as a one-time gesture specifically to celebrate the retailer’s 50th anniversary — Elliott’s car is No. 50.

The chain has no plans to sponsor a car after this, Walmart spokeswoman Sarah Spencer said.

The sponsorship highlights Walmart’s recent specialized partnership with stock-car racing’s top governing body.

Walmart and Daytona Beach-based NASCAR are in the second year of an exclusive partnership called Race Time. Walmart says it’s the largest retail promotion in NASCAR history, and it was one of the first agreements NASCAR entered into after forming a licensing group called NASCAR Team Properties in early 2010, said Blake Davidson, vice president of licensing and consumer products for NASCAR.

Under the agreement, NASCAR and a large number of race teams consolidated licensing rights around the biggest product categories, ending the fragmented process of individual teams working with stores and product-makers themselves.

Walmart soon after reached its Race Time deal with NASCAR, which allows Walmart to sell merchandise and host NASCAR-related fan events at Walmart stores in cities where Sprint Cup Series races are held. Walmart also offers discounted family-ticket packages in those markets.

NASCAR even has an office across the street from Walmart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. But still, it never sponsored a car until today.

That isn’t too odd, said Tyson Webber, a senior vice president at GMR Marketing who has worked with NASCAR and sponsorships. There are different routes companies can take to connect with NASCAR and sponsoring a car can be “a little bit narrow,” he said.

“And for a retailer like Walmart that has as large and diverse of a population as you can get — I think they’re well-suited to stay an official partner and doing a lot with their licensing,” Webber said.

Elliott, who has won four times at the Speedway, was chosen partly because of his popularity with fans, Spencer said. Elliott is racing with Turner Motorsports, a team that typically fields cars in NASCAR’S lower-rung circuits. But he’s hopeful that his past success at Daytona will carry on to today’s race in the Walmart car.

“If we can finish in the top 10 of this field, we’ll have a heck of a night,” said Elliott, a 16-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award. “The main thing is survival.”

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