DOVER, Del. - Sunday is race day and in June, 85,000 people packed into the Dover International Speedway for a NASCAR race.
And though the famed Monster Mile is a long way from Minnesota, a walk through the speedway's infield garages might make you feel right at home. There, among the dozens of teams preparing for the Sprint Cup race are the brands of some of the state's biggest companies, all of them major sponsors spending up to $25 million each year to be here.
Millions of race fans see the companies' logos as the cars they sponsor race around the track. But that exposure is just one way Minnesota companies say NASCAR is growing their brands fast.
3M is one of them. It first partnered with NASCAR in the late 1990s, and now sponsors a car driven by Greg Biffle, saying fans of the car often become fans of the company.
"They associate 3M immediately with post it notes and scotch tape, but we're so much more than that," said Randy Taylor, 3M's NASCAR program manager. "So this gives us a tremendous forum to show all our products and what they do."
That forum includes a fan base of more than 50 million people and an average of about 8 million television viewers each week. High profile teams get their logos on air dozens of times in a single broadcast, exposure some say is better than traditional ads.
"A lot of people think it's about seeing their advertising on the car during the races," said Kevin Thomas of Roush Fenway Racing. "That's really just the start of it."
"We're able to showcase the products every single lap," added Jeff Burton, a 19 year NASCAR veteran sponsored by General Mills. Burton says fans now link him closely with the Wheaties car he drives.
"I can be in a restaurant and someone will say, 'Did you have your Wheaties today?'"
Especially since drivers like Burton are the face of their sponsor for promotions and public appearances. Add in print, billboard, Internet, and other platforms and the drivers quickly become corporate celebrities.
"If you work with a football player, he has the team's jersey on," Burton said. "He doesn't have the brand's jersey on. And that's what separates NASCAR from other sports."
Companies also say going to a race is unlike any other sport, which the opportunity for an up close visit with cars and drivers is like visiting a football locker room before a big game. And that access makes fans very loyal to the sport and, in turn, to the sponsors.
"People come to a NASCAR race, customers come to a NASCAR race, companies bring their consumers to NASCAR races," Thomas said, "And they have a once in a lifetime experience that they'll never forget."
And maybe not the brands they see, either. At the race in Dover, none of the Minnesota cars placed in the top ten. But with all the fans there and at home fueling brand recognition, local companies say they're winners nonetheless.
"NASCAR is the sport for us," Taylor said. "It's the sport of business."
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