Tracy hunts for sponsors for full-time 2012 farewell tour
When it comes to pitching drivers to possible sponsors, there's no such thing as an easy sell.
Brian Marks should know. Marks, the agent for Canadian IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, says he learned working with NASCAR star Kyle Busch just how difficult it is to find sponsors willing to fund a driver.
"You would think Kyle would be an easy sell, and I thought the same with Paul, but it's been a difficult market out there," said Marks.
Six months into his partnership with Tracy, Marks, the president and CEO of Top Speed Management, is doing his best to sell a driver in the twilight of his career. Tracy, who was promoting his support for Make A Wish Canada and the Honda Indy Toronto on Tuesday, is competing in just six races this season.
After finishing 16th at Long Beach, Calif., in April with Dragon Racing, Tracy moves to the upcoming Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold. He'll return to Dragon for four more races at Texas, Toronto, Edmonton and Sonoma, Calif.
The pair also hope to compete in races at Milwaukee, Iowa and the season finale in Las Vegas, but finding the necessary cash is easier said than done. Drivers need roughly US$250,000 in sponsorship to get a car on the track.
But selling a driver isn't just about how visible a logo is on the car. Marks said sponsors now want to see on-track results attached to their brand.
"We're starting to see performance be more and more of a factor," he said. "I would tell you with Paul, it's a selling point. You know he's going to be top 10 just about every time he goes out."
Not every time. Despite sitting seventh overall in IndyCar wins with 31, Tracy had only one top 10 finish in five races last year -- not a bad percentage, but also not the kind of recent resume that would thrill sponsors.
So the pair are planning a different strategy for what is likely Tracy's final year as an IndyCar driver in 2012. Marks said finding sponsors in Canada is just as difficult as it is in the United States, but he plans to pitch Tracy as the nation's driver and possibly bring out Canadian celebrities -- he mentioned Wayne Gretzky and Michael J. Fox as examples -- to make Tracy's farewell season a national event.
"Our focus is to fill up the entire schedule next year," said Marks. "So we want to ... basically challenge all of corporate Canada to get behind Paul, and kind of to the point of saying you're not Canadian if you're not supporting this guy and here's a great opportunity."
That's fine with Tracy, who appears ready to leave the sport behind after 20 years behind the wheel.
"I'm just getting to the age," said Tracy. "I'll be 43 next year, and you know if we can do a full season then I'd like to make that my farewell year to my fans and the people that have supported me. So that's what we're kind of pushing toward the sponsors is Paul's final ride and farewell year."
Tracy added he isn't interested in owning or working with a team after he retires. Instead, "The Thrill From West Hill" has an eye on broadcasting.
"It'd be nice to be in a car full-time. I think I could perform better than what we're doing, but hey, I think it's time for me to do some other stuff. I've been dabbling my toe in some TV, and doing other things.
"You know, you can't race these cars forever. I'd still like to do some other forms of racing, but I think for IndyCars I'll be pretty up there in age."
Notes: Tracy raised $112,000 for Make A Wish Canada during his stops in Toronto and Edmonton last year. ... He was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Toronto Blue Jays game against Boston Tuesday. Sportsnet.ca