The NASCAR impact: Branding lessons for small businesses

The roaring crowd. The revving engines. The photo finish. NASCAR, synonymous with US auto racing, has grown from its early days of bootlegging and showboating into one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. At the same time, it’s also developed an ultra-commercialized culture on and off the track. Indeed, NASCAR has become a bastion of branding, a modern marketing mecca, as anyone who’s ever watched a race (or seen the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) can attest.

Everything at and around NASCAR events is branded and sponsored, from the largest targets — billboards, track signage, and the stock cars themselves — down to the smallest squares of fabric on a driver’s uniform. And this advertising has an impact, no matter the size of the sponsor’s logo.



In today’s modern environment advertising budgets are flexible, creativity and messaging are nimble, and an omnichannel approach is essential. With this in mind, small business owners and even ambitious solopreneurs can boost their brand with NASCAR-level sponsorship. This article discusses the value of event advertising, how smaller companies can get in on the sponsorship action, and some ways that NASCAR’s approach to branding can inspire your own creative execution.

Truth in numbers

Partly because advertising is woven so deeply into the sport, NASCAR fans are exceptionally brand-conscious and brand-loyal. In fact, Sports Business Journal reports that NASCAR’s official partnerships with Coca-Cola and Goodyear are the two most recognizable sponsorships in sports today. With this level of fan devotion in mind, NASCAR is ready when marketers’ and sales teams’ needs change, providing a variety of entry points — even for brands that aren’t huge global companies — to get businesses involved and take advantage of the massive marketing opportunities available.

Despite shifts in media consumption habits and consumer behavior, NASCAR remains fertile ground for marketing because it still delivers results. Serious results. With a giant fan base and robust outreach options, NASCAR’s popularity continues to provide great possibilities for consumer and brand connections. Consider:

  1. 73% of NASCAR fans consider themselves a hardcore fan. With the majority of supporters self-identifying as passionate, NASCAR fans are a powerful, influential group of consumers for brands to consider.
  2. NASCAR fans are 3x as likely to purchase sponsored products and services. Drivers and teams offer many opportunities on and off the track for NASCAR sponsors to get their brand messages heard and the biggest bang for their sponsorship buck.
  3. In 2022, NASCAR had 1.8 billion total social media impressions. While Facebook has seen the bulk of NASCAR’s social media impressions, this latest stat shows a sizable uptick in Instagram engagement as its largest source of year-over-year follower growth and consumer potential.
  4. 81% of NASCAR fans appreciate what a sponsor provides to their experience. With a large and devoted fan base — and evolving, increasingly diverse customer profiles — NASCAR arguably offers the best dollar-to-impression ratio in all of professional sports.
  5. NASCAR digital media boasts two-thirds of all racing page views online. NASCAR claims to be the “#1 site for digital consumption vs. all major sports leagues," providing brands with unparalleled digital media advertising options and opportunities.

In addition to impressive marketing stats, NASCAR’s demographic breakdowns also say a lot about its sponsorship potential.


(Brand) size doesn’t matter as much anymore

While there’s no question that NASCAR has been associated with the biggest names in global branding (think Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Lowe’s, and Subway to name a few), smaller companies are grabbing an increasing share of the sponsorship pie. Some of this change comes from a decline in full-season sponsorship of top drivers. As companies seek the flexibility of a partial-season deal, NASCAR has made it happen, simultaneously opening the door for newer brands to enter the competition and seize a new level of exposure.

In 2005, nearly 60% of primary NASCAR sponsors were Fortune 500 names, but by last year, that number had fallen to around 20%. At the same time, newer B2C companies and some B2B challenger brands have entered the competition to help racing teams make their numbers work and turn a profit.

Consider these sponsorship patchwork examples of both B2B and B2C opportunities:

  1. In 2023, Joe Gibbs Racing lost its annual $25 million deal with M&M’s on driver Kyle Busch’s car. Busch joined Richard Childress Racing and now has a lineup of sponsors with big and not-so-big names, such as Alsco, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Lenovo, Lucas Oil, and McLaren Custom Grills. Meanwhile, Busch’s old team replaced him with Ty Gibbs, whose current sponsors have included Monster Energy and SportsClips.
  2. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott lost Mountain Dew’s sponsorship and replaced it with A-Shoc Energy Drink, which left him two years later. Elliott has since been picked up by Coca-Cola.
  3. Trackhouse Racing, whose co-owner Justin Marks says NASCAR is becoming better suited for challenger brands that are still scaling, mixes high-profile sponsors such as Busch Beer and Quaker State with lesser-known companies like Freeway Insurance, Tootsies (a Nashville honky tonk), and Worldwide Express.
  4. Kroger’s full-season sponsorship with JTG Daugherty Racing includes a B2C model that works with vendors to sell products in Kroger grocery stores and delivers measurable results, thanks to owners who understand the consumer-packaged goods market.

NASCAR continues to reach out to a varied audience thanks to varied brand sponsorships. The opportunity for smaller names to sit next to Fortune 500 giants makes NASCAR’s unique, agile, and constantly innovative branding approach fundamental to attracting newcomers to its diverse and faithful fanbase.

Leaning into creativity

As it has embraced a revolving-door approach to sponsorship, NASCAR has also embraced the creativity that has made it such a branding phenomenon. NASCAR teams rely on sponsors for 65%–80% of their annual revenue. And while a full-season sponsorship with a top team could bring in $25–$30 million a decade ago, today’s sponsors want flexibility with their marketing dollars.

This is why creativity remains vital to making NASCAR a unique and innovative model of marketing opportunities for brands of all sizes. NASCAR Chief Innovation Officer Craig Neeb talked about why creativity matters to both the sport and the business:

“It’s [about] always looking at our business through a different lens, other than just purely NASCAR racing,” Neeb told InnoLead. “How do we take advantage of all these wonderful assets — and the assets are just not the properties and the [race track] real estate, it’s the people and the creativity that we have — to do more with what we have, and expand our revenue opportunities in the broader spectrums.”

Let’s look at some of the inventive ways NASCAR makes it possible for sponsors to get involved at different levels of commitment, possibility, and exposure.

Partial season sponsorship

No longer are the opportunities limited to giant corporations shelling out millions to be a team’s primary sponsor or have a sign on the track wall. Now, brands can buy advertising space on a small part of the car or a patch on a driver’s jersey, they can sponsor just part of a season or individual races, or they can even buy single social media ads. This sponsorship flexibility offers smaller brands a more financially viable entrance into NASCAR participation.

Logo placement options

The NASCAR car body is famous for sponsor logos with the coveted hood space price tag starting at $35 million per year. However, because NASCAR offers many business logo placement opportunities, sponsors can find a less-expensive option that also affords sky’s-the-limit creativity.


Varied points of entry

While advertising on a speeding race car seems the most obvious tactic, there are actually five types of sponsorship brands can pick from to partner with NASCAR:

  1. League: Sponsoring NASCAR itself
  2. Team: Official team sponsorship and rights to use team logo
  3. Driver: Paying a driver to be a spokesperson for your brand
  4. Track: Race naming rights, signage, midway engagement
  5. Media: Advertising on social channels or race broadcasts on TV and radio

Clearly delineating and agreeing upon goals and objectives helps brands determine which strategy is best for their needs and offers the best ROI.

Attainable sponsorship packages

Marketing and development team Race Day Sponsor Motorsports Marketing has partnered with mid-level and underfunded teams to make NASCAR sponsorship a reality for "everyday Americans" and small business owners. RDS has created micro and fan sponsorship packages that provide on-car logo opportunities at single races in a price range that makes sense for the budgets of small, local, and home-grown brands. As a small business, you can name your price range, and companies like RDS will help you understand your sponsorship options.

The need for brand speed

Whatever your brand size, NASCAR’s marketing can inspire your own creative approach and execution. Whether you’re trying certain advertising types or considering complete brand reinvention, here are five ways NASCAR can be a model for your next marketing strategy.

1. Use data

NASCAR knows its numbers inside out. For example, the brand is aware of every detail about where fans are watching, how fans are watching, how often fans are watching, and when new fans are watching. This information gives the brand powerful information it can use in an incredible number of ways. In a world with an endless supply of data, you need to take advantage of all the ways that information about your business breaks down in order to illuminate every aspect of it — even the parts you haven’t considered.

2. Test different methods

Maybe your business is excellent at social media, but you still aren’t seeing the engagement numbers you’d like. As a brand, NASCAR has tried everything and isn’t afraid to scrap it all and start fresh, and it might be a good idea for you to follow suit. Although it may seem like NASCAR’s built for certain kinds of marketing approaches, things like sponsorships can benefit any company — big or small — by increasing awareness, expanding reach, providing ongoing exposure, and strengthening brand loyalty.

3. Know your audience

There’s no question NASCAR has a large and loyal fan base, which means it knows a thing or two about giving an audience what it wants. Understanding your target demographic in detail allows you to plan and develop events, products, and content that will keep your customers captivated and encourage new ones to join your brand journey. From services to pricing to promotions, knowing your audience’s wants and needs ensures you’re constantly making the right engagements happen the right way.

4. Develop a story

Storytelling is an important part of connecting with your audience. Your story creates a bond between your customers and your brand, and it’s strengthened every time you add to it. NASCAR develops entire campaigns around the power of stories to make emotional connections between fans and every aspect of their brand and the racing industry. A behind-the-scenes look at how your brand works or a personal spotlight on the people who make things happen are the golden nuggets of marketing strategy that keep customers coming back for more.

5. Create community

NASCAR isn’t just a business; it’s a way of life, and it’s developed trusted relationships with fans by making them part of the brand itself. NASCAR engages with its fans both on screen and in real life with virtual and in-person events that reflect the racing experience and build community. It also developed the Official NASCAR Fan Council in 2008, giving fans direct communication with the organization to provide feedback and a sense of ownership about what matters most about the sport. Asking your audience for help and rewarding them for engagement encourages customer loyalty by making them feel seen and heard.

Take a victory lap

NASCAR is nirvana for brands and offers immense value to companies big and small looking to reach a large, loyal audience. No matter your business or objective, take a page from NASCAR’s playbook to pursue the kind of success your brand hopes to achieve. Whether you’re trying out sponsorships, taking advantage of your data, fostering customer community, or putting creativity in the driver’s seat, NASCAR makes the case for a marketing strategy that’s both time-tested and innovative.

Start producing great branding and event marketing materials today, even if you don’t have a NASCAR-sized budget. With Adobe Express you can create professional-looking marketing content, social media posts, well-designed logos, and advertisements that will help your business achieve NASCAR-level quality and results. From templates to videos, business cards to flyers, Adobe Express makes it easy to collaborate and stay on brand so you can envision and execute your marketing strategy with roaring success.

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