AT AN inner-city pub not far from the Adelaide Street circuit, a very large man ringing a bell – much in the same way a town Cryer would centuries ago – brought the several hundred diners and drinkers to attention.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,” the man – his name was Jason, we would later learn – boomed at the top of his voice. “You are in the presence of racing royalty tonight! This is V8 Supercars driver Andre Heimgartner who races the NED Australian Whiskey Ford Mustang..”
Andre, who is quiet and reserved and most certainly not the type to ring a bell in a bar full of people, smiled and waved.
“Because we’re excited about being in Supercars and racing this year.. Andre is here to shout the bar!”
There was much cheering and applause and, soon thereafter, much of Australia’s only locally-owned and distilled Whiskey was being poured to all and sundry. I am here to report that it was, indeed, very tasty.
It was in this fashion that we were introduced to Supercars’ latest team sponsor; an Aussie-made success story founded to take on the major international corporates and beat them at their own game.
Jason, it turned out, was one of the founders of the brand and later told us of his brands plans to get into the marketplace and use Supercars to do it. Their alliance with Kelly Racing is for the long-term and according to most people I’ve spoken to, is the real-deal in terms of dollars, too.
The NED crew told us later that night that they plan to do similar events like the one in Adelaide; slowly but surely, town by town introducing their key demographic to their brand and hopefully turning them from Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s because the Aussie alternative has to be better.
Personally, I think by the time they get to the iconic Oxford Hotel in Bathurst and do the same thing their bar tab is going to be enormous.
Of course, there are several positives out of all of this. Kelly Racing get a great sponsor, clearly keen to activate on their investment and use the money they’re spending to push their brand. Andre Heimgartner, for several years now regarded as one of the best talents on the grid without having had the car to deliver truly outstanding results, gets the backing he needs to make sure he can win races.
And Supercars has a new, active sponsor within its ranks keen to promote and involve themselves within the sport and do it loudly as well.
NED Australian Whiskey may be sponsoring Kelly Racing, but their involvement in the series realty is a win for everyone – and it’s a win the series could use right now.
The Holden news – if you’re reading this website by know you know what has occurred – sent a shockwave through the sport and in an instant turned up the intensity on discussions surrounding the next-generation of Supercar and what form it may take.
After an offseason that delivered much intrigue, and an updated rules package designed to remove all of the politics that made last year so horrible, there was hope that 2020 would be a year of steadying the ship for Supercars but instead it got whacked in the face, by elements they couldn’t control, before they even got to round one.
Perhaps, then, there’s something Supercars can learn from Kelly Racing’s newest backer.
In typical Supercars style, little of real substance has been said of the sport’s future since the Holden announcement which is fine. It’s early days.
There have been a few comforting words and lines like ‘business as usual’ trotted out to the media and all that is good – but most can read through it and will revert to the negative quickly enough.
I think Supercars need to ‘do a NED’ and get on the front foot. They need to get out and ring the bell as loud as they can to shape the narrative away from potential disaster to something positive.
I reckon they’ve got until Tasmania, in April, to be out there positively spruiking the future even if that future isn’t written yet.
There are conflicting opinions on the Tony Cochrane-era of Supercars but the one thing he did do well was back his series. When times were tough he was on the front foot – ringing the bell hard and talking up what was being done to get things right, to grow and to evolve.
Did it always work? Of course, not and there were plenty of mistakes made. But in these times, it’s the kind of bombast that the series’ needs.
Supercars isn’t going to go away. It will continue without Holden. But, like how NED are launching their brand into the local market, Supercars need to get out there, ring the bell and tell people that the future is going to be as tasty as the whisky.