NASCAR Driver Michael McDowell Climbs Virtual Standings to Land Real Sponsor

    • Virtual races are providing drivers a way to bring on new and potential partners with lower hard costs.
    • Fitness drink brand Celsius is using virtual car sponsorship as one way to reach consumers in its pivot away from live events.

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While he’s out racing on a virtual track, NASCAR driver Michael McDowell is still bringing on real sponsors.

“[The virtual races] presents a new opportunity because the hard costs are down substantially,” McDowell said. “It’s allowed us to have an opportunity to bring [potential partners] in a little closer and give them an opportunity with people tuning in and engaged on social media.” 

McDowell and Front Row Motorsports have signed Celsius, a fitness drink, to be the primary sponsor of his virtual No. 34 Ford Mustang. The car made its debut in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series on April 5 at the virtual Bristol Motor Speedway. 

The partnership with Celsius had been developing for several months, even before the coronavirus outbreak. Celsius Holdings CEO John Fieldly said the company has been supporters of McDowell for the past several years and saw this as the time to move forward. 

“He’s a top-performing athlete, and we felt this time is a great opportunity to deepen the relationship,” Fieldly said.

McDowell said the process with Celsius is similar to that they’ve had with five to six other brands, as race teams always are actively pursuing future partners. He said it’s also a delicate balance – especially with a new entity like eNASCAR – to ensure current partners still receive value. 

“We’re constantly working on new partnerships and growing existing relationships,” McDowell said. “You have to take time to cultivate these partnerships and understand their business and make the most of the platforms and exposure we have. It’s not a fast process.”

“This is a great entry-level to draw some attention and generate exposure and sales for when we get back to racing,” he said.

Real-life sponsors are also taking the eNASCAR events seriously, as pain relief brand Blue Emu revealed this weekend by dropping driver Bubba Wallace after he quit mid-race.

Existing partners all are in different situations, McDowell said. His real-life primary car sponsor, Love’s Travel Stops, which provides fuel for truckers across the country, is likely in a good financial position, McDowell said. Other sponsors are small businesses that might be shut down or unable to produce income during the outbreak, potentially leaving them in a tough spot. 

READ MORE: NASCAR Virtual Races Pave Way for Esports Expansion

“The part for us with these virtual races is we have a platform and opportunity to provide exposure for partners who have been on board and are coming on board,” he said.

McDowell has seen his finishes improve each week, coming in 15th the first week, 13th the next and 10th this past weekend. This past weekend’s race drew nearly 1.2 million viewers across FS1 and FOX.

“I would prefer to be on the track, but at the same time, I’m thankful we have an outlet to go and race and put on a show for partners and keep a little momentum going,” McDowell said. “It’s not a real replacement, there’s a lot of eyeballs watching, but still nowhere near the numbers real cars on race tracks get, but we’re all working together to make the most of a tough situation.”

Celsius has also made a pivot from mostly reaching fans at live events, like Tough Mudder, to a social media campaign. With the #SweatwithCelsius, the company is using fitness influencers for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Instagram livestreamed workout classes.

“With all the live events shut down, we’re looking at other ways of getting creative and finding new ways to get in front of consumers,” Fieldly said. “We’re all at home, working from home, and need to live a healthier lifestyle

“Tying in with Michael, we’ve been able to broaden our reach, and it’s worked out well so far.”