From Detroit Free Press
Here’s a pairing that may seem, at first blush, a little odd.
The Dearborn-based Auto Club Group, a confederation of AAA clubs with affiliates including AAA Michigan and the Auto Club Insurance Association, is sponsoring a Roush Racing NASCAR vehicle.
AAA, the state’s largest auto insurer, is in the safety business. Roush Racing, part of Livonia, Mich.-based automotive engineering, design and racing company Roush Industries, is one of the biggest names in motor sports.
So even someone who isn’t into NASCAR has to wonder: Why would an insurance company pair up with an inherently dangerous sport? After all, more than one of the sport’s legends — including Dale Earnhardt, who is memorialized with the No. 3 on countless numbers of cars and trucks nationwide — have died in wrecks on the track.
But AAA says that by sponsoring a professional racing team for the first time, it’s really returning to its roots. Back when the auto industry was just a baby, AAA sponsored road races, rallies and long-distance drives promoting vehicle safety and reliability.
Professional racing has also been a safety innovator.
“It may not be readily apparent to all of us,” says Chuck Podowski, president and chief executive officer of the Auto Club Group, but many advances now on everyday vehicles “have been pioneered by racing.”
Examples, according to AAA:
–The first rearview mirror was used by a driver in the Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
–Seat belts owe much of their early credit to auto racing, where they were required for Daytona 500 drivers in the late 1940s — more than a decade before they were required to be included in passenger cars. New designs of seat belts being tested in racing could be used in future passenger cars.
–Antilock brakes were first used in a race car in the 1960s.
AAA says racing has also been involved in improvements from better tires to stability and traction control, air bags and “crumple zones” — points on a car’s body designed to absorb crash force and protect the vehicle’s occupants.
Financial terms of the deal are proprietary, but AAA’s level of contribution appears to be at the lower end of corporate sponsorships, which can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year. As any NASCAR fan knows, racing is an expensive sport that requires corporate sponsorships for no small chunk of its support.
What does AAA get? A potential marketing bonanza through exposure to NASCAR’s tens of millions of passionate fans nationwide, at the tracks and on televised races.
So what the deal will mean is that NASCAR fans will be hearing more about AAA and its products. Meanwhile, many in southeast Michigan will be hearing more about up-and-coming driver Carl Edwards, a 25-year-old whose trademark is celebratory back flips when he wins.
He’ll be behind the wheel of the No. 99 Ford Taurus with the blue-and-red AAA logo during four races this summer: two at the Michigan International Speedway and one each at the Chicagoland Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A replica of the car was on display Wednesday at a news conference at AAA Michigan headquarters in Dearborn, where the company and Roush announced the partnership. AAA will sponsor events where the public can meet Edwards, see the replica and test a simulator that approximates the experience of racing at 175 m.p.h.
Copyright 2005 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. All Rights Reserved.
Click here to view the rest of today’s headlines.