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From Valvoline to Viagra
by Steve Wingate
So, Mark Martin has a new sponsor for 2001.... Viagra. It'll be strange to see the Valvoline colors on Johnny Benson next year, but stranger still to see Mark without them. Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good move for Mark and the chance of a lifetime for Johnny, but the idea of a potency drug sponsorship splashed all over a high profile Winston Cup ride poses some daunting questions.
I wasn't really surprised when Viagra teamed up with Eel River Racing for the 2000 season. It's not uncommon for small or upstart teams to wind up with some odd sponsorship deals while the well-financed multi-car teams take all the big ones. My only thought on this subject was that whatever driver took the ride would be the subject of countless wisecracks in the garage area. Probably even more than Jerry Nadeau had to endure when he drove the violently pink PowerPuff Girls /Cartoon Network sponsored car. Or even more than when Sterlin Marlin drove a car with "Underalls" on the decklid. (Be sure to check out the images at the end of this article.) Much to my surprise, however, the Viagra deal turned out to be anything but odd or smalltime as evidenced by the move to the famous Jack Roush team.
One question was actually brought up by one of my coworkers. Her entire family, including her two children, are huge Mark Martin fans. I have already heard her say that she will remain a Mark Martin fan, but will not purchase any more t-shirts or other memorabilia, simply because of the Viagra logo. She also wonders how she will explain Mark's new sponsor to her children. Is this an isolated case, or do many of Mark's fans feel this way? I personally think that people shouldn't be so uptight about this, but not everybody feels the way I do. Let's face it folks, brushing off a driver you've followed for years because he changes sponsors is just plain silly. Although you may use the old sponsor's product religiously, as a NASCAR fan, your loyalty is to the driver, not their sponsor. If you don't feel this way, then you're not a true NASCAR fan, you're just someone who likes pretty colors on race cars.
So far as explaining the new sponsor to children, I believe the best way to handle it is to tell them something along the lines of "it's a special medicine for grown-ups." Or perhaps just "medicine" will do. I plan to use one of these explanations myself when my own children ask me. My five year old son will accept this, whereas my eight year old daughter, who is far more inquisitive (by which I mean "nosey") will require more details. At this point I will resort to "it's a special medicine for grown-ups that increases blood circulation." It's not an untruthful explanation, just an intentionally vague one.
And what about the sportscasters? Will they be able to resist making on-air wisecracks whenever Mark Martin is mentioned? How many times will we hear things like: "Mark Martin has stuck it in the wall in turn four." or "Here comes Martin in for his pit stop. They're going to put on fresh rubber and stiffen the suspension." We might find things like this amusing at first, but it will get old very quickly.
And I'm sure if any other drivers get angry at Mark during a race, his sponsor will be an easy target. After all, I heard more than one driver do this back when Jimmy Spencer was driving for Junior Johnson with McDonald's as the sponsor. I forget now which driver said it, but I remember Jimmy being accused of "eatin' a Big Mac" rather than watching what he was doing. So if Mark tangles with another driver sometime next year, we'll likely hear something like: "If Mark would quit giving free samples to his spotter....." Well, you get the idea.
As I said before, this is a good move for Mark Martin, so let's all be supportive and not give Mark a hard time.
Jerry Nadeau's "violently pink" ride. Photo courtesy of Jayski
Sterlin Marlin in the Piedmont / Underalls car (circa '87)
2001 Car Guy of Benchfield