Here is your chance to receive advice on sponsorship and marketing from an expert in the field as Townsend Bell assumes the role of Online Marketing Instructor for SAFEisFAST.com. Not only has Bell raised over $10 million for his own racing efforts, he has helped countless drivers maximize their sponsorship efforts through his coaching programs, and seminars at conferences, clinics and driving schools around the country.
It’s been fun responding to all the great questions. Thank you for reading and I hope it might help your quest. If you want it bad enough, I’m confident you’ll find the way.
Online Marketing Instructor and Driver for Lotus-Alex Job Racing
Townsend Bell brings a wealth of knowledge to SAFEisFAST.com as Online Marketing Instructor. Powered by determination and a knack for putting deals in place, the California native graduated from driving school to the cockpit of a Formula 1 chassis in a scant seven years, winning the 2001 Indy Lights Championship along the way. He became the first American to earn an F3000 podium, has competed at the highest levels of U.S. open-wheel racing (finishing fourth in the 2009 Indianapolis 500), and made his professional sports car debut this year, driving for Lotus-Alex Job Racing, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring (GTC) at his first attempt. He has also received accolades as a color commentator for his work in Formula One coverage and, most recently, of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Bell was an industry expert presenter in the original series of SAFEisFAST workshops and a lecturer at numerous conferences to help young drivers maximize their personal sponsorship portfolios. In 2009, he launched Townsend Bell Sponsorship Coaching to bring his expertise of the sponsorship world to drivers, teams and sponsors.
Townsend Bell answers your questions!
Are there any books you would recommend on procuring and maintaining sponsors and have you ever thought about writing a book on the subject?
‘Sponsorship’ by Guy Edwards. Not sure if you can find it but it was an eye-opener for me 17 years ago.
What advice would you give to parents on helping to secure sponsorship? I have a 17-year-old son who is doing quite well but obviously, at this level, the budget requirements get bigger with every step. Thank you.
Put your 17-year-old in charge of the process. Let him pursue opportunities with your support and network access.
Is it better to target sponsors that are already involved in the sport?
You know at least that they like racing but you had better match up pretty well against their existing programs. Key here is building relationships whether they are in the sport already or not.
Hi, my 10-year-old son wants to some day race in F1. I am looking into karting for him to start on now. What resources are available to help guide me as to how to groom him for a life in motorsports? If this is what he wants, I would like to at least know how one could go about doing this. Thanks for your time.
Karting is clearly the place to start. This will give you some sense of his natural ability for racing. He should show some pretty early ‘wow’ factor to be on the F1 path.
I would recommend the Jim Hall Karting School in California to start, a terrific fundamental baseline to work from. SAFEisFAST and the RRDC community will be full of helpful advice from there. Best of luck.
A lot of successful young drivers are tempted to have a manager/agent handle their careers. It seems to me that this is a mistake. The agents make their money, despite how the career goes. What is your take?
Trust your instincts.
I am a 5-year club racer that has done well with two national titles. Since I only get to drive once a month, I find myself getting up to speed slowly which is a bit frustrating, and often being out qualified for the first race. But by the next day and the second qualifying session and race, I am up to speed and have been setting the fastest laps over everyone for the whole weekend. Is this normal? Short of testing the day before which is usually not an option, how can I get up to speed more quickly? This goes for tracks that I know and tracks that I visit for the first time. Thanks for your input. This is a very cool site. I will be spending more time on it in the future after hearing about it on the F1 broadcasts.
Getting up to speed quickly can be tricky – a fine line between pushing yourself and not making a big mistake that ends your weekend. Best way is to practice, of course, but to literally practice getting up to speed. Try doing this at your next practice day. Have a friend time you from a standing start in pit lane, full effort out lap and then full effort in lap, and then stop the watch when you come into pit lane and come to a complete stop again. Use that ET as your new baseline to work on. That forces you to ‘get after it right away’ on cold tires and no warmup. Make sure to check your helmet’s buckled!
From your experience, what are the biggest mistakes drivers make when approaching potential sponsors? Thanks.
Not understanding that the approach should be about their (the company’s) needs, not yours.
Is it worth employing a marketing agency or better to do it yourself? Also, how much do you ask for in return for your services? Finally, are there particular industries outside motorsports that you have found are more inclined to get involved and support motorsports? Thanks!
I learned early on that I was always going to be the quarterback of the business side of my racing. Nobody will be more effective at selling you than….YOU. The process requires tremendous determination and focus. Don’t rely on someone else to take on the biggest challenge of your career. It’s OK to delegate some responsibility like PR and hospitality tasks, but you want to have your hand firmly on the sales process.
Regarding industries that like motorsports, remember that companies don’t make sponsorship decisions…people do. Therefore you are looking for people who generally like the idea of motorsports, regardless of industry. Find the ‘car guys’.
I can discuss my Sponsorship Coaching program with you off-line.
What advice would you give a young aspiring racer trying to make his way up through the ranks, which currently is in karts?
Win. And win often. Plus, meet everyone you can – at the track, at school, at your parent’s place of work. Get comfortable engaging strangers with conversation. Good luck!
Hello Mr. Bell, I am 16 and just got my SCCA license this summer. I have only gotten to do one Chumpcar race and a couple time trials this season. So my question is, is it too early to try to approach companies about some form of sponsorship, or would you recommend getting a solid year of results before doing so? Thank you.
I would start now. I got my first real sponsor after five races…(but started working on it before my first race). If I didn’t then my racing career was effectively over.
How long were you racing for before you got sponsorship and how did you get sponsorship?
I secured my first sponsorship deal during my first year of racing simply because I had to; there was no other option. When your back is against the wall it’s amazing how focused you can become. I was successful at meeting people that were in a position to sponsor and convinced them of the benefits they would receive.
How do you break the ice in getting sponsorship money? Do you need to visit each business/corporation in person? Some say that anything short of appearing in person is a sure way to be ignored or rejected. But it’s not possible to visit corporate headquarters for major companies all over the country and world when you have a very tiny kart racing budget. We aren’t looking for a million dollars – just something to improve our equipment. The talent is already there and documented. Do we need to hire a company to do this?
Face to face is always the best way. That way they can’t ignore you so easily. You don’t need to go coast-to-coast, just focus on your region of the country. There’s more opportunity then you will ever have time to pursue.
You do not need to hire someone to do this for you. This process requires you to harness your passion and desire and channel it towards the sponsorship process.
Could you share some tips on safely pushing the edge. I recently started “Track Days” on a Honda CBR600. It seemed like there was a lot of peer pressure in every session (seven sessions) to go faster both from my instructors and fellow riders. I felt confident and I know the bike is capable of more than I was doing. So, can you help?
I started going to Willow Springs Raceway when I was 19 on my GSXR 750. I was pretty quick but also pretty quick to realize that I was going to fall a lot learning the limits. I recently went to Superbike school through Skip Barber and learned so much that I wish I would have known at 19. Maybe I’d be in Superbike today???
Advice: Invest in the best modern racing education you can find. That will save you a lot of money and pain. BTW, meeting with Nicky Hayden before the Indy 500 a few years back is one of my special racing memories. Worship those guys…Love anything with two wheels…wrote a Christmas list for my wife the other day with one item… Ducati 1199.
Hi. Currently I have experience karting at a local indoor karting club. I would really like to take my karting further, like buying my own kart and participating in competitive karting at a track like New Jersey Motorsports Park. Anyway, my issue is my budget, which is very small. By very small I mean VERY SMALL. Is it possible to receive sponsorship without having any outdoor karting experience? If so what would be the best way to go about it and what type of businesses should I be looking at for potential sponsors? Thank you for your time.
Racing is cruel in that you can’t just buy a basketball and go to the park. Sometimes we forget that the basic entry level costs are still waaayy higher than any other sport. When I was in your shoes, I decided that I would focus on making as much money as I could to get my racing started – that ended up being a telemarketing job (largely illegal these days) where I could make upwards of $50 per hour when I was 16. A brutal occupational existence but was a means to an end (and legal at the time!). Working a job (consider something in sales) is a better route to getting your foot in the door. If you’re good at the outdoor kart racing then you’ll have a platform to pitch to your sponsor prospects. Go get ’em.
What is the best thing to offer sponsors in return for their financial support in your opinion?
More money than they are making today. How can your program show them increased revenue or decreased expense? Study their business. Understand how it really works and then give them some ideas that fit with what you’ve learned.
Hi Townsend, I am over here in England racing in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands – my first time racing in Europe. Any advice on competing here, and what is your favorite track and why? Thanks, Tristan
The British community for racing represents the pinnacle of motorsports because it’s the home to Formula 1 – the undisputed top level of racing in the world. Often times you are reminded by members of that community, in subtle ways, that you are a foreigner – not just by foreign citizenship but by foreign racing community. That is the vibe from the European racing community. They are proud of the system they have created because it works in shaping World Champions. Best advice is to embrace the mindset and lifestyle wholeheartedly and then get on with the job of beating them.
I loved my time racing in Europe. Everything is very well developed and refined from a sporting standpoint. The drivers are putting it all on the line and it’s fiercely competitive. I felt that made me stronger as a driver and person. Just flow with it, learn the game over there and master the challenge.
I loved Silverstone because it was so fast but because it’s also so flat (like all of the other ex-WWII airbase/tracks), I almost went off BIG my first flying lap… turned down an old taxiway, just before Maggots, thinking it was the track!
My question is, is there any way of getting a sponsorship to attend a racing school? If so what steps should I take? If there is not, what is the best way I could get on the way to starting in the motorsport world?
Like most opportunities, there is an investment period. A racing school can be considered an investment (much like college!). However, if you’re willing to work for it then literally do just that. Work for it. Any part time job will get you to racing school in no time.
Luis Alberto Pirela
What is the best advice you can give to young man like me, with no experience but a immense amount of drive and ambition, who wants to take the same path as you to make it in the professional world of motorsport?
You are trying to climb one of the most difficult mountains in the world. Shed everything in your life that could weigh you down and focus on the summit. If you want it bad enough, you will get there with disciplined improvement in your skills and technique (on and off the track). Don’t forget to send me a picture when you make it!
While selling yourself as a driver and spokesperson for a sponsoring company is a tough journey, I find it difficult to even get to that point of getting my message to the right person. I’ve found that networking is vital in sponsorship efforts, but who should I be trying to reach to discuss sponsorship possibilities, and how do I reach them? Thanks!
You can make 100 phone calls and never speak to someone or you can go to an event (trade show, party, car show, etc.) with 100 attendees and speak to every single one of them. Get out behind the computer and go meet people where they are. You are looking for people that like cars and have some business connections…that’s where the path starts. Be Fearless.
Dear Mr. Bell, I have been searching for sponsorship and so far have not had any luck. I have been karting for quite a while now (a total of around eight years) and do not have enough money to do any sort of car racing that I can put on my resume, and don’t even have enough money for karting. What can I do to market myself and where should I be searching for sponsorship? How should I go about asking for funding from these people/companies? Thank you sir, and I appreciate your time.
See answer above. You will only be limited by the strength of your desire to ‘make it happen’.
What is the best way to contact companies seeking sponsorship? I am 14, club racing in Spec Miata and trying to make it a career, but I won’t be able to do it without sponsors.
See answers above. Plus, make sure you have a clear sense of your platform: ‘Who You Are’ and ‘Where You’re Going’. Remember that you’re not really selling them just Spec Miata. You’re selling them the winner’s circle at Le Mans or the Indy 500 or Monaco. You are inviting them to join you in the very difficult climb to the top.
Townsend, Thank you for taking the time to read and answer the many questions you are undoubtedly receiving! I’m currently a 22- (almost 23) year-old law student in Indianapolis. I have grown up here in Indy and my first memories are of my dad taking me to IMS to watch practice and qualifying. I haven’t missed a “500” since 1997, I never miss a Formula 1 race, and I can’t remember a time I missed a 24 Hours of Daytona. My point is that I am extremely passionate about racing. Steve McQueen said it best: “Racing is life.” My goal as an undergrad at Butler University was to earn a business degree and do something racing related (never had a chance to prove myself as a driver and I think I’m too old to start sadly enough). However, I have found that trying to get into the business is insanely difficult, and I’ve discovered that it’s more who you know rather than what you know and what you can bring to the table (which is why I’m in law school now). I like what I’m doing in law school, however my itch to make my career from racing as never gone away, and I don’t want to live with any regrets as to what could have been. I was curious as to where to even start in trying to become involved in a racing series or team on the business, PR, etc. side of things? What would a team or series look for in someone with a business degree and experience in marketing? As of right now, I’d just like to build experience and prove myself. Heck, even just an interview or a meet and greet would be nice! Any advice you may have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!
Glad to hear your passion for working in the industry. I would suggest that you attend an IndyCar race next season, buy a paddock pass, and literally walk the paddock and introduce yourself to team management. Their contact information can generally be sourced online. Have business cards and make your focus about a quick hello and an suggestion to meet them outside of the race weekend to discuss opportunities in more detail. The best way to a team executive’s heart is through his (or her) pocketbook, so be prepared to explore the business development aspects of the team and where/how you might contribute. Good luck!!
What are the keywords that companies want to hear when being asked to sponsor a team?
ROI – Return on Investment. How is your proposal going to ‘make them money’ or ‘save them money’?
What career path (for example, Formula Ford to Formula 2000, etc.) and racing schools should I take if I want to get a college degree and want to end up in Formula One? I am 11 years of age driving in KPV Junior 1 & Junior 1 Comer karting championships in California.
Get to Europe as soon as possible and commit to the F1 junior development system. Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly would be good examples to follow. College degrees have little to do with racing in Formula 1 (or NASCAR/INDYCAR for that matter). Given the immense challenge of making it to F1, you would be best served putting 100% of your effort into that climb.
Tucker Garcia (University of Texas San Antonio Society of Auto Engineers)
Hi Mr. Bell, I am in the Society of Automotive Engineers at my school. We are currently working on the development of a formula style car. The purpose is basically to build a car for a fictitious company that passes a range of static and dynamic events. My team is trying to work out how to get the money to meet the budget for our car. However, we don’t have much experience gaining sponsors. My question is as follows: what are basic guidelines to getting a sponsor to want to donate, not make them feel like they have to. Also I was wondering if you had any advice as to how to write and build a relationship with a sponsor. Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated by my team and it would be wonderful to start a line of communication with someone of your expertise and skill set. Thanks for your time.
Eliminate the term ‘donation’ from your strategy. That implies that you are a charity and that you don’t return any value (outside of emotional) to your donor. Focus on connecting what you do with the operation of your prospect’s business. Study what they do and how they make money, then appeal to both their emotional and BUSINESS desires. Good luck!!
Mr. Bell, How did you transition from taking a three-day Skip Barber course to being a funded/sponsored racer? Thank you, J.R.
Sweat, tears, but very little blood… (thankfully!!). I was fueled by an incredibly strong desire that I had very little control over. I started out sleeping on floors and tap dancing with credit cards but I had to become a deal maker to ultimately make it work.
Hello Townsend ! What was the hardest thing that you had to learn to be able to get better and move up the racing ladder? Thanks, Tristan
From a driving standpoint, I did not need to take nearly the level of risks (over-driving) that I thought was necessary. From a sponsorship perspective, putting my fears and ego aside to reach out to people I did not know but had the power to give me what I needed. P.S. Congrats!! Awesome job!