Beer – The “Unofficial Fuel” Of NASCAR

Charlotte, NC (January 23, 2012) – Since 1959, several petroleum companies have served as the “Official Fuel of NASCAR.”

If there ever were an “Unofficial Fuel” of the sport, it would be beer.

Beer has played an integral part of auto racing since the first competitions at the turn of the 20th century. While there were no beer sponsorships back there, plenty of the product was consumed by the daredevil hell-raising types that populated the sport.

It’s a tradition that still exists today. If you don’t believe it, check out the pit area at any short-track across the country after a race. You’ll see plenty of drivers, crewmembers and fans celebrate the time-honored tradition of popping a cold one as they bench race the evening’s events.

While beer has always been a competitor and fan beverage of choice, the frosty malt, barley and hops liquid didn’t make its way to the corporate side of the sport until the late 1960’s. That’s when the cost of racing started to escalate and having a sponsorship became as much of a priority as was having a helmet.

Racing – especially NASCAR – was a perfect fit for marketing beer. Ironically, it wasn’t the big beer companies like Budweiser and Miller to lead the way, but rather smaller brewers like Falls City and Carling who were among the first to sponsor cars in NASCAR.

Larry Smith was one of the first drivers to have a full-time beer sponsor when he carried Carling to the then NASCAR Grand National Rookie of the Year title in 1972. And while there is no official record, it is thought Carling was also one of the first beer companies to go to Victory Lane in a NASCAR race when Earl Ross won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway on September 29, 1974.

It was the only win of Ross’ career in NASCAR’s top division.

Later that year, Cale Yarborough, Ross’ teammate at Junior Johnson Racing, took the Carling brand to Victory Lane at Bristol, Nashville, Darlington and North Wikesboro Speedways.

Meanwhile, others like West Coast NASCAR racers Hershel McGriff (Olympia Beer) and Bill Schmitt (Old Milwaukee) also carried beer sponsorships to the sport in the 1970’s.

Yarborough and Johnson however continued to be the mainstay of beer sponsorship at NASCAR’s top level teaming with Busch Beer for the 1979 and 1980 Winston Cup seasons. Ironically, the appropriately named Tim Brewer was the crew chief for Yarborough back then.

The 1979 season also marked the debut of beer event sponsorships with the Busch Clash, a 50-mile sprint at Daytona featuring pole winners from the previous season. The inaugural 1979 race – which today still exists as the Bud Shootout – was won by Buddy Baker in a Harry Ranier-owned Oldsmobile.

If there was a watershed mark for beer sponsorship in NASCAR, it had to be the 1982 and 1983 seasons.

In 1982, Busch Beer lent its name to the new NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. Sponsoring the former NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series proved to be a viable marketing vehicle as Busch continued as the division’s title sponsor through the 2007 season.

The success of Busch’s NASCAR marketing efforts in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led to a flood of team beer-related sponsorships for the 1983 season. That year, Terry Labonte’s Billy Hagan’s Chevrolet came to Daytona with Budweiser beer logos on the hood and quarter panels while Miller High Life joined the fray on Bobby Allison’s DiGard Chevy.

By the end of the decade, both brands became identified with NASCAR sponsoring the likes of top stars Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett and Rusty Wallace.

Beer companies also jumped heavily into NASCAR race title sponsorships in the 1980’s as Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser, Old Milwaukee, Busch, Coors, Coors Light and others all lent their names to NASCAR events over the next 20 years.

The team, race and “Official Beer of NASCAR” sponsorships poured untold millions of dollars into the sport. In 2008, a single deal saw Coors Light ink a five-year, $20 million agreement giving the brand exclusive access to NASCAR logos in its beer advertising, packaging and promotion. The deal also gave longtime Pole Award sponsor Budweiser the boot as the entitlement company of the award presented at each and every NASCAR touring division event.

In addition to the money it has spent, support by the beer industry of NASCAR has helped create unequalled recognition of the sport with the masses thanks to television and radio commercials, in-store point of purchase displays, and contest giveaways.

That kind of exposure has helped grow the number of companies participating in NASCAR-related marketing projects today to more than 400. It is estimated they spend a combined $2.5-3 billion annually.

The association of beer and NASCAR has also created party culture that has turned races into a bacchanal of brew. NASCAR events today are ‘happenings” – full-tilt, brew-fueled intimate gatherings of a few hundred thousand speed seekers. Only Germany’s annual Oktoberfest gatherings draw more beer-drinking patrons than NASCAR events.

Throughout history, beer has been credited with everything from building the pyramids to getting mankind through the Dark Ages. Even the first settlements in America are attributed to the Pilgrims having to stop at Plymouth, Mass. Instead of going on to the original destination point in Virginia because they ran out of beer.

If you believe Henry Ford invented mass production, you’re wrong – the beer industry did a decade earlier with the first automated bottling assembly line. The refrigerator in your house – and all the cold or frozen products in it – have roots in the beer brewing industry as it was the first to create modern cold storage units for its products.

So it should come as no surprise that beer has been and today is more than ever a driving force of NASCAR. It is the “Unofficial Fuel Of NASCAR. One look at the history of sport, and the number of empty beer cans in the stands after a NASCAR race, is proof enough of that.

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