IRL: Firestone in Sponsor Spotlight

Firestone excels in development, marketing with Indy Racing. INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, March 23, 2000 - With the backing of a century-old legacy, tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone is making the most of its involvement with the Indy Racing...

Firestone excels in development, marketing with Indy Racing.

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, March 23, 2000 - With the backing of a century-old legacy, tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone is making the most of its involvement with the Indy Racing Northern Light Series in 2000. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., the company that develops and builds the Firestone brand of tires, is among the sponsors most heavily involved with the Northern Light Series, both on and off the track. The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., is the sole tire supplier of the Northern Light Series, providing hundreds of racing tires to series teams each race weekend. Bridgestone/Firestone is also sponsor of the Firestone "First at 100" Award, a $10,000 bonus presented to the leader of each Northern Light Series race at the 100-lap mark. The company is also a Promotional Partner of the Northern Light Series. The number "100" has significant meaning to Bridgestone/Firestone employees, for 2000 marks the 100th anniversary of the Firestone Tire Company's founding by Harvey Firestone in Akron, Ohio. For most of that 100 years, the Firestone brand has built an unparalleled resume in Indy-style racing, particularly at the Indianapolis 500, the largest single-day sporting event in the world and the Northern Light Series ' premier event. Firestone has 50 wins at Indy, more than all other tire manufacturers combined, including 43 consecutive victories.

Firestone's legacy began, appropriately enough, at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, when Ray Harroun took the Marmon Wasp to the checkered flag. Firestone won its 50th and most recent Indianapolis 500 in 1997 with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. But there was a period when Firestone was not involved with open-wheel racing. 1974 was the first year that Firestone did not compete at the Indianapolis 500, and the company remained on the sidelines of Indy-style racing until its return to full-time competition in 1995. According to Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Company President John Lampe, the company's philosophy about Indy-style racing hasn't changed since its tires first hit the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the early 1900s. "Early on it was the same goals as we have now, to showcase our product and our technology, and show people that you can take what you learn on the track back to the marketplace and use the technology that you develop," said Lampe. "I think that's what Harvey Firestone had in mind when he started. He was an avid racing fan." Firestone has found benefits from its Northern Light Series involvement in all aspects of the company's business, from sales of farm tractor tires to passenger car tires, Lampe said. "If you listen to some of our consumer marketing folks, they say the whole benefit is with consumers, with more brand awareness," said Lampe. "That's all true, but all of us realize the excitement in racing is not only a consumer brand-enhancement tool but a boost for employees, associates, dealers, mass merchandisers and our original equipment customers as well. "Everybody got excited about the success of Firestone. To me, that did more to sell our product than just consumer brand awareness. Our people are excited, our dealers are excited. They want to sell." Thanks in part to its involvement in the Northern Light Series, Bridgestone/Firestone's business has boomed in recent years, in particular since the company announced at Indianapolis in May 1993 that it would return to Indy-style racing in 1995. Looking back on the success on and off the track in the 1990s, the decision to return to open-wheel racing was the one of the smartest moves made by the company, Lampe said. "You never know if you can give full credit to racing for the success we've had, but it's been unbelievable," said Lampe. "Our performance has improved each year since 1994 in both market share, sales and profits, with 90 percent of those years showing double-digit improvement. "For example, we sold in 1999 a little more than twice the tires in the replacement market that we sold in 1993. A lot of it I attribute to the racing, not only from brand awareness, but employee morale and dealer spirit." Firestone has fared equally well on the track in Northern Light Series competition. From 1996 to 1999, the years Firestone competed head-to-head with Goodyear, Firestone won 17 of 34 races, or 50 percent. Bridgestone/Firestone officials consider this an impressive achievement, considering the series re-entered open wheel racing via the CART series only one year before the Indy Racing Northern Light Series came into being. Lampe and Al Speyer, Bridgestone/Firestone motorsports director, emphasize that the company uses its racing program for much more than just image building. A great deal of the technology applied and perfected on the track is used to build better consumer tires. "One of the key technologies to a racing tire's success is traction, or grip," said Lampe. "We learn a lot on the racetrack about grip and handling. (Racing technology) really is transferable, maybe even more so for tires than for other motorsports manufacturers." Speyer cited Bridgestone/Firestone's LL carbon formula, a part of the company's UNI-T technology, as a specific example of racing technology used in passenger cars. "(It) is a stronger, longer wearing ingredient in our tread," he said. "It allows the tire to have longer wear and higher grip than conventional tire technology once had. We've used it a lot in our racing tire - that's why they are stronger at the end of a race - and now we're using it very heavily in our consumer products." Bridgestone/Firestone has carried forth with ambitious promotions and hospitality efforts since its return to Indy-style racing, and despite the lack of a tire competitor, the 2000 Northern Light Series season is no different. "We have hospitality functions at many of the races, and have as many as 300 or 400 people attending," said Lampe. "We have utilized the excitement building up to the race for on-site purposes, as much as we have for media or television exposure." As part of its 100th anniversary publicity campaign, Bridgestone/Firestone created the company's first mascot, the Firestone Firehawk. The character wears an outfit similar to a racing firesuit, and was created specifically to interact with the public, particularly children. One advantage Firestone has with providing tires to the entire field is a working relationship with every driver in the series. Northern Light Series drivers such as defending series champion Greg Ray and 2000 Delphi Indy 200 winner Robbie Buhl have both participated in media and VIP events recently, Lampe said. But the lack of a competitor does hurt media exposure somewhat, and Bridgestone/Firestone can't wait for the day a competitor returns to the series, Lampe said. "We got a lot of good publicity because of the success we had against our competitor, and that will be less of a story when you're running by yourself," said Lampe. "I know people think we're just saying this, but we would love to have competition. It's a lot more exciting and a lot more fun and it pushes you more. "We haven't heard anything credible about anyone saying they are coming back, but I think it's a good sign that Michelin is returning to Formula One next year. We hope that will carry over in the United States, or even spur Goodyear to reconsider." A great deal of Bridgestone/Firestone's promotional moxie will be on display to spectators, business associates and media at Indianapolis this year. Firestone products will star in the Indianapolis 500, while the Bridgestone brand will carry the entire field at the inaugural Formula One United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis set for Sept. 24, a mere 119 days after the Indianapolis 500. Like Firestone's position in the Northern Light Series, Bridgestone is the sole tire supplier for Formula One this year. Bridgestone/Firestone has positioned its tire brands carefully, and having each brand play a large role in two of the world's most-anticipated motorsports events at the same facility is an incredible opportunity, Speyer said. "The programs in the open-wheel series we participate in are purposefully designed to reflect the marketing position of our brands," said Speyer. "Bridgestone, being in F1, is our worldwide, European, exotic flavor. And with Firestone being the all-American tire, racing in the heartland of the U.S.A. at Indianapolis perfectly compliments the brand positioning we've got for those tires in the marketplace." Given the dedication and success of the Firestone brand since the birth of open-wheel racing nearly a century ago, one could argue that it's only appropriate that Firestone and its corporate family take the spotlight at the dawn of a new century. "Fifty years from now, Firestone hopes to be putting up its 75th or 100th win at the Indy 500," said Speyer. We're very fortunate to be here at the 100th anniversary of Firestone with a great Firestone racing program. And it 's great that the first Formula One race at Indy will be run on Bridgestone tires. That's going to start another great new tradition."

-IRL/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Robbie Buhl , Arie Luyendyk