If you attended Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) last month in Las Vegas, there’s a pretty good chance you saw it.
Bright red and sitting front and center at Wednesday’s all-industry reception and Tuesday’s Meritor event, Doug Winters’ hot rod is a can’t miss automobile.
And while there’s no doubt the car’s carbon fiber chassis and intricately designed interior is a sight to behold, the first thing that grabbed most about Winters’ car is the logos.
When Doug Winters pulls his car up to the start line on March 12 for the first race of the 2015 NHRA Pro-Modified season, he’ll be driving the car of the aftermarket.
Which is funny, Winters says, because he comes from a trucking family.
“My dad was a long-haul truck driver for many years,” he says. “I remember lots of trips on the road with him and now we’re in that industry again [with our sponsors] … I guess it’s all coming back around.”
Winters says his re-association with the trucking industry began a little more than a year ago during a conversation with his next-door neighbor – Meritor’s Keith Evans.
“We’ve been neighbors for 12 years so I’ve known about the Winters Racing team for a long time,” says Evans, senior manager, field sales for Meritor Aftermarket. “When [Meritor] started looking to grow our racing team I approached Doug to see if he would be interested.”
“Keith knew we did drag racing and over time we’ve talked about the team,” says Winters. “Finally we were able to get him out to a few races and let him see how we did things.”
Evans says Meritor entered the North American racing circuit in earlier this decade after a long-standing history in Europe. The company was successful from the outset, and when they began looking for additional cars Evans felt the Winters Team was the perfect partner.
“Doug’s family has been doing this for 20 years and he is so well respected in that industry,” Evans says. “When you see someone who works as hard as he does and is as professional as Doug is, that’s a team you want to work with.”
Meritor committed to Winters Racing a month before the 2014 season. He says it didn’t take long for the company to quickly recommit and enhance their sponsorship for 2015.
“[Winters Racing] does a great job promoting our products,” Evans says. “Doug was very strict with his team last year that everyone would know who Meritor is and what we do.”
He adds, “By the end of the race season last year other teams were coming to our pit asking ‘Where is Keith?’ I’m having trouble with my truck, can he help me out?’”
And as Meritor’s success with the car has grown, so has its efforts to find other companies who would be willing to sign up and provide more support.
That’s how 2013 Truck Parts & Service Distributor of the Year Truck Supply Co. of South Carolina’s logo made its way onto the car, says President Ed Neeley.
“Meritor was looking for a conduit to work with the car,” he says. “They wanted someone who could be there and help represent their products with the car at events.”
And with Winters’ team based in North Carolina and the NHRA racing circuit focused in the Southeastern half of the United States, Neeley says he was quick to raise his hand.
Truck Supply’s first race also was last spring, and Neeley says he felt it was evident from the start that the partnership would be a success. The marketing opportunities were overwhelming.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of return on investment,” he says. “We’ve met customers, we’ve sold products, we’ve even picked up new customers that are still doing business with us now that we met last season. Even other [Meritor] distributors picked up real business by coming out and seeing the car.”
The race day experience is huge draw, says Craig Kruckeberg, CEO and Chief Visionary at Minimizer, who has joined the team for 2015.
Kruckeberg says he heard about the race team last year through Neeley and Meritor. Both parties raved about the up-close-and-personal experience at the track.
A NASCAR pit pass might get you to the infield, but an NHRA pass puts you on the track.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Kruckeberg says. “You can touch the cars, you can talk to the drivers.”
And with the trucking industry filled with racing fans, that’s a pretty spectacular marketing card to play.
“It allows us to give our customers the same emotional feeling and connection of cool that I had when I was standing on the starting line getting hit by rubber chunks coming off the tires,” Kruckeberg says.
“The fan that goes to that race is our customer. And the accessibility for them, to get into the pits and walk by the car and have that interaction with the team and the racer, is really great,” says Richard Moss, national accounts manager, heavy-duty aftermarket at Timken.
Like Minimizer, Timken is one of three aftermarket operations (HDA Truck Pride) joining Winters’ team this year thanks colleague and customer testimonials.
Moss says Timken has never sponsored a hot rod before, but felt this chance was too good to pass up.
“We’ve never had this opportunity to have this interaction with our customer base,” he says.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” adds Tina Alread, director of sales and marketing at HDA Truck Pride. “We [plan] to hype it through our members, and whenever [the NHRA] is closest to them we will let them know and let them take advantage of it.”
There’s also something to be said for the uniqueness of the program, says Corneliu Bogdan, OES and heavy-duty aftermarket sales manager at Firestone — who joined the Winters’ team last year.
In an industry as competitive and insular as the aftermarket, partnering with the Winters’ team allows Firestone to interact with its customers in a wholly original and exciting way, he says.
“When customers go [to a race] and experience it, word spreads,” says Marty Hetherington, Meritor brand manager, marketing. “It’s a bit viral in that customers enjoy it and want to talk about it.”
The team’s personal touch is another great benefit, Kruckeberg adds.
“When we went down there to visit them, they treated us like we were part of the team,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I was at a corporate event, I felt like a member of the team who came down to visit for the weekend.”
“The Winters Team does a great job with the race day experience,” adds Evans.
Winters’ says his team just tries to show everyone a good time.
“In the pro ranks we are probably one of the most open pit areas there is,” he says. “Some guys don’t want people in there and they’ll rope off the pits. We’ve never done anything like it … I don’t even own a rope.”
Winters says that comes from the family atmosphere of the team.
“We keep sponsors forever,” he says. “Once they are part of our team we work really hard to provide them value and an experience greater than they expect.”
In addition to their aftermarket partners, the Winters Racing Team also has sponsorship agreements with Lucas Oil, Waterloo Industries, Optima Batteries, NGK Spark Plugs, Motor Medic (RSC Brands), Richmond Gear (Midwest Trucks), Hedman Hedders and Mickey Thompson Tires for 2015. This year’s car will be among the most heavily decaled they’ve ever had.
And Winters says his goal is to bring them success.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements this year,” he says. “We have a new car; we’ve had a new engine built.
“I expect to qualify at every event and hopefully we can win a race or two.”
But even if the car of the aftermarket doesn’t come out on top when the season ends in October, its sponsors are still thrilled to be along for the ride.
Simply participating makes the endeavor worthwhile, Neeley says.
“Our industry doesn’t have much representation in the drag racing world or the NASCAR world,” he says, “but once we can get the heavy-duty guys out there, and once they see the people who are coming to these races and are looking for [heavy-duty suppliers], it’s a no brainer.”
For more information about the Winters Racing team and its aftermarket race car, please CLICK HERE.