Ask a NASCAR fan or even industry executive about Darlington Raceway, and chances are that their first words will be the track’s slogan, “Too Tough to Tame.”
Darlington, which has also been called the “The Lady in Black,” has partnered with Bojangles’ since 2012. This year, the track will put on its fourth Throwback Weekend over Labor Day as drivers’ paint schemes in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 pay homage to schemes over the past seven decades of NASCAR.
The Bojangles’ and Darlington partnership pairs up a legendary track with an iconic brand in the Carolinas. Although Bojangles’ has been the entitlement sponsor for the Southern 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington since 2012, the company’s history in the sport extends back to the early 1990s.
“I came to work for Bojangles’ in 1990,” said Randy Poindexter, senior vice president of marketing for Bojangles’. “At the time, we had no affiliation with NASCAR, so I started going to Charlotte Motor Speedway to look for a team that qualified for the race but didn’t have sponsorship.”
In 1993, Bojangles’ managed to secure a sponsorship with Cale Yarborough Motorsports and driver Derrike Cope for the full season, but since then, the company has been primarily involved with trackside sponsorship, something that Poindexter believes is a unique niche for the Southern company.
However, for the 2018 Southern 500, Bojangles’ will not only sponsor the race, but the company’s branding will be featured on Cope’s No. 99 StarCom Racing Chevrolet, 25 years after the chain sponsored him during the 1993 season. And you’ll most likely find Poindexter wearing his 1993 vintage race uniform on pit road. The uniform is a hit with the fans and gets them talking about Bojangles’ involvement in the sport.
“Sponsorships with tracks have been great for Bojangles’,” Poindexter said. “We can have our concessions stands and mobile kitchen at multiple tracks, and we’re able to get food into the hands of fans. At first, I didn’t think the sponsorship was within our reach from a financial standpoint, but in addition to the entitlement sponsorship at Darlington, we have operated concession stands and mobile kitchens at tracks like Martinsville, Richmond and Talladega, which has been great marketing for the company.”
At the time, Bojangles’ began its sponsorship with Darlington, the brand was opening its 100th store in South Carolina. The partnership gave the chain a chance to not only increase its presence in the southeast, but also gain national exposure through a partnership with Darlington.
“For us, it was a huge bonus that Darlington is in South Carolina,” said Poindexter. “In addition to more local exposure centered around our South Carolina initiative and the opening of the state’s 100th store, it gave Bojangles’ national exposure with entitlement sponsorship and TV coverage. We were excited about the chance to reach out beyond South Carolina and increase brand awareness.”
For Bojangles’, the marketing efforts involving Darlington start in the stores, and the materials are specifically retro themed. “We designed in-store merchandising materials to promote the event and help the speedway sell tickets. The designs are retro themed for the years that the track is trying to highlight and this year, everything highlights Darlington’s theme of seven decades of racing.”
Bojangles’ has been able to increase its presence at the track each year, bringing about more brand awareness and getting its product in the hands of more consumers.
“Each year we seem to add on to what we’ve been doing,” Poindexter said. “Our interactive area started as a small pop up tent doing things with fans and has now grown to three displays and a mobile kitchen. We give away coupons to drive fans into our stores and have our team members and Bojangles’ mascot ‘Big Bo’ going through the infield and engaging with fans.”
At the displays, fans have a chance to win Bojangles’ “swag” ranging from a koozie with a Bojangles’ Southern 500 logo, to a headband or even foam finger. And, the engagement extends beyond the fans to the NASCAR team members, something that has been a hit on social media.
When it came to interacting with crew members, the Bojangles’ public relations and digital team wanted to embrace the idea behind Darlington’s throwback weekends.
In 2017, Darlington’s throwback weekend honored the 1970s, and the Bojangles’ team designed “survival kits,” given to the crew members for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams. The kits contained everything from sunglasses and headbands to ear plugs, and was packaged in a retro style lunch box complete with Bojangles’ and Darlington branding.
“We had a lot of great feedback around the kits on social media,” Poindexter said. “The crew members loved the headbands and sunglasses that we put in the lunch boxes and took pictures wearing them for their social media channels. The activation was great for Bojangles’ brand awareness but also gave the crews something to remember.”
While Bojangles’ has been able to successfully engage with ticket holders and teams alike during Darlington’s Labor Day race weekend, the brand has also gained national exposure. With two years left on the current agreement, Poindexter and his team understand the value of the partnership for Bojangles’.
“It’s been a great partnership that has given us a national presence outside of our core markets in North and South Carolina,” Poindexter said. “The advertising, along with the national exposure for a regional chain is priceless. You add the bonus of being able to engage with the fans in interactive areas and driving customers into our stores, and it’s great. We treat it as going beyond a business relationship. It’s a family relationship. Darlington Raceway and International Speedway Corporation have been fantastic to work with. Race weekend is a big celebration with the local Darlington, Florence and Myrtle Beach communities, and our plan is to continue it for a long time.”
To witness the seventh Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the fourth annual Darlington Raceway throwback weekend, tune in to NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, September 2.