For sale: Danica Patrick

With GoDaddy leaving her number 10 Chevrolet, how hard will it be to find a replacement?

Don’t expect to see this ad in the classified section of Advertising Age, but it might not be a bad idea:

“For sale: 200 mph billboard. Proven results since 2006. Guaranteed exposure, reliable location, typically in the middle of the pack of NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Price negotiable – $2 million to $20 million, depending on how much advertising you want to do. Available February, 2016. Multi-year contract preferred. Contact Tony at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

It was, best as I can recall, February of 2010 when Bob Parsons finally called me back. He was the founder and CEO of GoDaddy.com. He was on a lengthy motorcycle trip. On his way to Daytona, I asked, to see first-hand his company’s sponsorship of newly minted NASCAR driver Danica Patrick run the ARCA and Nationwide race?

No, he said, out west. Not that interested in Daytona. (Very interested in motorcycles in general, Harley-Davidsons in particular: Last year he said he planned to build the world’s largest Harley dealership.) Loved Danica, she’d do fine, as she had as company spokesperson since 2006 in IndyCar, but he had no real reason to be there. Gotta go: People waiting on me. So long, Bob.

Rare relationship

And that was the sort of relationship Danica Patrick had with the top decision-maker at GoDaddy, a mercurial self-made ex-Marine who came from nothing, made and lost a fortune or two, and doesn’t much care what anybody thought about him or his semi-sexist marketing program. At least that was the relationship until last June, when he stepped down from the position of GoDaddy’s executive chairman. He is still on the board, and is still a major stockholder, but others were making the central decisions.

Such as whether to keep sponsoring Danica Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Today they announced that at the end of 2015, they wouldn’t. This announcement was quickly followed by laudatory press releases from GoDaddy’s current CEO, Blake Irving, pronouncing Patrick “a superstar,” and Tony Stewart pronouncing GoDaddy “a great partner for us and the sport overall.”

It was like one of those happy Hollywood divorces when both spouses insist they still love and respect each other so much, you wonder: Then why are you breaking up?

The reasons Patrick and GoDaddy are splitting (by the way, who gets custody of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.?) could be entirely innocent: The company has simply and legitimately decided to take their marketing in another direction. Or it could be more performance-based. Had she won a race or two, or made the Chase, would we be having this conversation?

How hard?

Bottom line, GoDaddy is gone, and the number 10 team needs a backer. It could come with six or eight $2 million deals, it could come with one big all-year-long deal that seem to be getting more and more rare.

This brings us to one of the aspects of motor racing that has puzzled me for decades: Why has it been so hard for so many women racers to get sponsors? When I was in advertising and public relations – a mercifully brief tenure for all involved, including my employer, a division of a Fortune 500 company – I looked for a marketable angle: Something or somebody that would stand out, would get attention on its own, would be appealing in a pitch to a newspaper, TV, magazine or radio reporter.

In other words, something or somebody that was substantially different from the others. Line up all the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, and who would that be? Danica Patrick.

Years ago in IndyCar, it was Sarah Fisher, who constantly struggled for sponsorship. Even earlier in NHRA drag racing, it was Shirley Muldowney. Even now in drag racing, the winningest female driver of all time, Angelle Sampey, has 41 wins but no solid sponsor. Pro Stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens may well be on her way to becoming maybe the best Pro Stock racer ever. And she can’t find a solid, season-long sponsor.

I don’t get it. Line up a bunch of 25-year-old white guys, almost all with the same story and many with similar statistics, and I’d have trouble convincing a corporate board of directors how they could sell more widgets if we sponsored one of them.

But give me somebody different – a woman, an African-American, a four-foot-tall Chili Bowl winner named Rico Abreu – and I’ve got a story to sell to the media. Nothing against 25-year-old white guys; I used to be one, a long time ago, but all my marketing instincts tell me to look for a driver with a story to sell. As a writer and an editor, I get bored by the same crap. I assume readers do too.

Logic isn't that logical

So I would think Danica Patrick should have little trouble finding a new sponsor. But I’d probably be as wrong as I was when I thought some company would see Sarah Fisher as a sure-fire way to reach a new market in IndyCar, and stick with her as she matured as a driver and spokesperson.

And in 2000, Fisher’s rookie year, it seemed at that way. This from Wikipedia: “With sponsorship from Kroger and associates, Gain, Olay, Always, Pantene, Mead, Lexmark, Iams, Bounty, Folgers and Crest, Walker Racing earned an Advertising Age Marketing 100 award for its Sarah Fisher Kroger sponsorship campaign which generated over $44 million in off-track media surrounding the Indy 500, and produced over 195 million off-track impressions in 45 days according to Joyce Julius and Associates.” And that was the last year Fisher really had a firm extended commitment.

This doesn’t mean Danica Patrick will have the same problem, but let’s face it: She was lucky to hook up with GoDaddy and Bob Parsons, and her value really hasn’t been tested on the open market for nearly a decade. She’s pretty, far more polished than she once was, and she’s having a decent season so far; one win, and maybe everything changes.

Or maybe not. It will be interesting to see what’s on the side of the number 10 car at the 2016 Daytona 500 – and the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami, and every race in-between. 

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Danica Patrick
Article type Analysis
Tags chevrolet, daytona, godaddy, stewart-haas, tony stewart