Ain’t Nothing Free

June 28th, 2010

Ain’t Nothing Free

By Chris Neprasch

I don’t care if you’re building a show truck, drag truck, puller or a twin-turbo toilet bowl go-kart, I’m about to share with you golden rule numero uno, the sacred mean of project vehicles: Nothing, I don’t care if it’s a $5 oil filter, not a single thing you might get “sponsored” or “hooked-up” on, is free. Sure, it might not cost you money upfront, but there are stings attached. Sometimes those strings are a 7-pound test fishing line and others are inch-thick link tugboat chains. Regardless, they still exist.

What do I know about this? Considering I’ve gotten everything from a $3 quart of oil to a $4,000 turbo system “comped” for projects I’ve worked on in the past, I’d say I’m a legitimate source. And you can’t use the “Magazine editors get everything for free” excuse because these were all private vehicles I did with no remote ties to any publication. Now what would bring on this latest tirade? You’re about to find out.

Recently, and it’s something I blame partially on tough economic times, there have been a lot of diesel truck owners jumping onboard the scam train and it’s getting old. Every now and then, I’ll meet an owner at an event on Saturday, and set up a later shoot down the road. By the time I get back to the office on Monday, there are four or five emails from manufacturers asking if I’m going to shoot a particular truck because the owner called them with hands out asking for freebies. It happens more than you think, and I’ve even come up with a canned response, that nicely put, tells the manufacturers to relay the message to Captain Freeloader to piss off.

There’s a certain thing you may or may not have heard of called ROI, which stands for “return on investment.” Even the worst marketing manager in the world knows that if they want to keep their job, anything they give out or sponsor must have some sort of ROI. That means if they’re giving out a $1,300 set of tires, they’re expecting at least $1,300 of exposure in return. If you can over-deliver, you’re a hero. If you don’t produce anything, don’t expect to be able to go back to that watering hole again.

From the motorsports standpoint, NASCAR is a perfect example. Do you think for one second that if Jimmie Johnson strings together a couple of bad year, Lowe’s isn’t going back to the drawing board to reconsider the millions of dollars they spend with Hendrick Motorsports each season? If you’re a good driver, every inch of the car is potential money. If you’re a bad driver, every inch of that car not filled is costing you money. The Catch 22 is that to get sponsored as a driver, you need to be successful. Depending on what series you’re running, building a successful team to get sponsored is going to cost you out of pocket until you’ve made a name for yourself.

Another thing in racing is, whether it’s a title sponsor or not, they expect certain things. Assuming you can get your foot in the door based on previous accomplishments, all of a sudden you have an obligation to race a full national schedule with at least one sanctioning body, and travel isn’t free. It’s a business and if you don’t produce, there are hundreds of other drivers lined up to take your sponsorship dollars.

When it comes to building a show truck, oddly enough, sponsors want you to actually SHOW your truck. And if you show your truck, most of the time they want the logo displayed somewhere. That means traveling to different events, usually taking an extra vehicle so that after Friday night’s roll-in, you have a way to get back to the hotel. Then you get to spend the morning detailing the truck, sit there all day waiting for the judges to go by and then wait in a line at night after everyone else has left to drive away from the venue. If it’s a two-day show, not only do you lose a weekend, you lose Friday and Monday for transit time. Not to mention that now with the dollar so tight, a lot of manufacturers are going to have you enter a contract with a list of events you’re required to attend.

Having the UPS truck come to your office and drop off boxes of product, it’s a pretty cool experience. But before you pick up the phone, I strongly suggest you ask yourself if a $3,000, high-buck, custom-ordered turbocharger setup is worth selling your weekends to a manufacturer to get them the ROI they are expecting. A lot of the time, you’re better off just paying for it because there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

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