The NHRA revealed on September 21, 2020, in a conference call with its stakeholders, nearly two-decade series sponsor Coca-Cola had pulled out of its agreement citing the global pandemic as its reason. The title sponsorship with NHRA was contracted through 2023.
The 2020 season has been one of oddity and unprecedented uncertainty for both professional and sportsman drag racing teams. However, the one certain many of the teams share is they plan to move forward regardless of how NHRA’s primary sponsorship landscape appears.
NHRA has filed suit against Coca-Cola, challenging the soft drink giant used a global pandemic to breach and terminate a six-year contract.
“Coca-Cola decided it would use the pandemic as a pretext to immediately ‘release its obligations’ under the agreement and leave NHRA without the funds promised for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which NHRA managed to continue during the pandemic,” the NHRA’s retained counsel Cozen O’Connor lawyers wrote in an article published on www.law.com. “Coca-Cola makes the incredible claim that by consulting with health experts and public officials regarding how best to protect public health, NHRA committed a material breach of its obligations under the agreement.”
NHRA Funny Car racer Ron Capps chooses not to pick sides publicly and prefers to focus on moving ahead to race the remainder of this season and in 2021. He cannot help but reflect on what the series sponsorship meant to him and the NHRA racers over the years and wishes it could have been even more significant, not necessarily in terms of monetary reward.
“It reminds me of what my dad always told me growing up as a kid. It’s on a need to know basis and I don’t need to know what the details,” Capps said. “Yeah, I read, like every fan out there, the lawsuit and all that stuff, but I’m not sure everybody really understands what went on. That’ll come out eventually, but for me, I think it’s been unbelievable to have [Coke] as a series sponsor. I mean, we’ve gone through helping represent Powerade and Full Throttle and Mello Yello.
“I always wondered and constantly asked if there was a chance of getting Coca-Cola themselves more involved. I talked with Al Rondon and Ben Reiling. I’m always thinking big picture, and my NASCAR friends, I’ve always had teammates in NASCAR, and they’ve always had their Coke family, and so I really was always pushing just to get a bigger picture and help the sport get out there more on a national, or a worldwide basis for that matter, but the way I look at it right now is whatever happened, happened.
“Obviously, this year, it’s going to be fun to fight for the last Mello Yello Championship. I mean, it’s going to be the last time somebody’s going to raise a world championship, put the hat on that says Mello Yello, all that stuff, but with all that being said, and try not to sound disrespectful to what Coke has done in the past, I’m actually more excited because I think our sport. It’s going to help our sport tremendously, no doubt about it.
“There’s so much more. There were so many limitations that our series had to have. Just there’s so much that can be, signing a TV deal. It seems like as bad as 2020 is, and has been, this is going to be looked back in our sport as a turning point. It’s going to be fun to take what’s been going on here lately with our sport and it’s unbelievable what we can accomplish and how much we’ve seen sponsors come over from NASCAR and other sports and realize what kind of a gem they have with NHRA drag racing. Whoever jumps on board is going to be pleasantly surprised, obviously, but I think we really have a chance to ride this wave and I’m pumped about it.”
Chad Head is a former drag racer, grew up around the sport, and now serves as a front-line Kalitta Motorsports member. He echoes Capps’ sentiment that moving forward is the only option the teams have at this moment.
“We’re trying to focus on all the positives that we’ve got going on,” Head conveyed. “We’ve got a great staff. We’ve got a bunch of great partners. Obviously, we still believe in the sport, and we’re very fortunate that the NHRA did sign a new deal with Fox.”
Head confirmed Kalitta Motorsports sent numerous emails to their partners confirming their intentions to remain on a positive path moving forward.
“This is what we do for a living, and obviously you got to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. So we reached out to all of our partners to obviously hit this thing head-on. So we’re very proactive when things like this come out, and we hit it head-on. We sent that same letter to NHRA to just say, ‘Listen, guys, we’re behind you. What can we do?”
“And hopefully, things will continue to get brighter.”
For Tim Wilkerson, the whole scenario is difficult to stomach for as much as he tries to remain poositive.
“It’s probably above my pay grade, but I think it’s a little, I don’t know if you’d call it selfish, but it’s a little disheartening to me that a company the size of Coca-Cola, who probably pisses away more money than they give us on a golf meet in a weekend, worries about that,” Wilkerson said. “But that’s my only part that I had thought was upsetting. Whatever. I get it. Hey, everything’s business.”
Business it may be, which forces teams to make some difficult decisions down the road.
“I’ll support the sanctioning body to the best of my ability until it’s not business-wise to do it,” Wilkerson said. “They’re getting pretty close to that point, but I’ll do the best I can.”
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