A new era of NASCAR merchandising began on July 31, 2015. One year later and Fanatics has taken the fans of NASCAR by storm, introducing never before seen products, ultimately becoming part of the racing experience.
For years, fans were accustomed to the driver souvenir haulers, located around each and every race track. Many fans were sad to see their favorite drivers stand go away, but in the process adapted to Fanatics.
Chris Williams, Vice President of Trackside for Motorsports Authentic was one of the people in charge of setting up Fanatics. He had a vision of what he wanted to see at the track, and thought that this was the way of the future.
Williams has worked around for the sport for the past 30 years, and much like Fanatics celebrating it’s one year anniversary at Pocono Raceway, so is he. He once worked for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and then became the man in charge of the 30 plus souvenir haulers.
Much like the fans, getting used to the 1.5-acre tent that Fanatics is made up of has been a transition process for him over the season.
“Fanatics had a great vision of what they wanted to do with Trackside,” Williams said of the merchandise. “A lot of people don’t realize that we were digressing away from trailers because there were really only five guys that were making a profit and we were reducing trailers as they went. What was happening is we didn’t have a full assortment of drivers. We didn’t have any Truck drivers, hardly any XFINITY drivers at all and the lower tier drivers weren’t having any coverage at all from a Trackside standpoint.”
The support of the XFINITY Series drivers has said to gone up over 100 percent and the Truck Series over 150 percent, simply because prior to Fanatics, Motorsport Authentic didn’t carry much product for those two series.
Not only did the value of product increase, but so has the support from NASCAR. The way to purchase NASCAR merchandise at the race track is unlike any other sport. For that Fanatics and NASCAR have had a great relationship in year one.
“They [NASCAR] saw the numbers go down from the trailers and they knew they needed to keep the environment as part of the show,” Williams said of the support from NASCAR. “Shopping is a part of the excitement. We have the displays, interactions and hospitality, so they wanted something to be created that was going to be fan friendly. Going up to the trailers and waiting 40 minutes to be serviced was difficult.”
While shopping at Fanatics, fans will get in and out as quickly or as slowly as one wants. Each team has its own individual pod with hundreds of products for that organization. 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has five pods dedicated to him, which is upward of 100 feet of merchandising.
Over the past year brands such as Columbia, New Era and even Under Armor through Hendrick Motorsports have joined the sport. Fanatics is always trying to produce more and are hopeful that even more companies will join in the next calendar year.
Last weekend at Indianapolis was the last track that saw the new setup. Though the tent has been to every track, the company is not afraid to change.
“A year into this, we’ve gone to all the race tracks, we’ve changed them all a few times,
Williams said. “We’ve even changed in dimension a few times. We’ve changed even location from a couple of the historical places that we set with the trailers. But when they find us, the shopping has been very good. All of the transactions are doing extremely well, compared to last year. Though we might have seen a declining in some of the race attendance, our sales are pretty much flat or better, which tells us we are giving the right things to the fans.”
Going into the new process, Motorsports Authentic wasn’t sure how the process would go. Most of the people are the same from the trailers, but this is said to be a unique experience that sets NASCAR apart.
Many of the products, including die-cast cars, t-shirts and fans are all merchandise that fans can see up close and even feel. Before, fans had to ask to see the product after waiting in a long line just to be serviced.
For years, there were over 30 trailers touring the United States, going from track-to-track. Now, full-time employees are given days off in-between races, something that hasn’t been done before.
“Presentation wise, it looks very good and fans love the presentation part of it,” Williams said. “I think from an expectation standpoint everyone seems happy. I know from a process standpoint it’s really good.”
With 26 full-time employees, Fanatics goes into each region looking for help. The company hires over 100 people per region to help set up the process as well work at the track. Over the last 52 weeks, the company has hired 12 new people, but that doesn’t fill more than 60 cash registers.
“We do a deal online through our HR department, where they can go out and say that they would like to work in Fanatics,” Williams said. “We have a training deal that we do for different colleges that come out that’s kind of like an internship as well as a placement of positions. So far it’s turned out really well. Everyone that has come on board except for one is still here and they really like the job. They like being mobile and dealing with the consumer, they thrive on getting it done in a certain amount of timeframe because there is such a limited window.”
As year two is now in the making, Fanatics is trying to get bigger and better. With goals of expanding based on each race track, the company knows that there will be challenges.
Unlike other sports, the drivers are constantly changing colors due to sponsorship. It’s something that some fans enjoy and other fans despise, but it’s all part of the game.
“I think what we need to do is get a little bit thinner and deeper in product because we didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said of one of his main goals. “We probably enlarged our inventory 30 to 35 percent more than we ever had it. Our sport is a little different than any other sport, so we kind of learn through that.”
Income is based solely off the market. There will always be that die-hard fan that comes in at whatever track they go to, but the money varies by different markets.
It was announced earlier this week that Earnhardt was the top driver in merchandise sales. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was second on the list. Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was third in product sold, rookie Chase Elliott was fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Since the beginning of the 2016 season at Daytona, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. have seen their merchandise sales improve the most from last season.
Prior to flying to Iowa Speedway for the XFINITY Series race, Brad Keselowski finished final practice second the board (176.136 mph). The driver of the No. 2 car was involved in a violent crash at Watkins Glen International earlier this week. The last time he was involved in a practice crash, he went on to win at Pocono.
Kevin Harvick (176.012 mph) and June-winner, Kurt Busch (175.922 mph) were next on the board with rookie Chase Elliott fifth (175.864 mph). The No. 24 car led 51 laps in June at Pocono, the most that he's been out front in a single race this season.
Kyle Busch was outside the top five in sixth (175.864 mph), Kyle Larson finished seventh (175.761 mph), Paul Menard eighth (175.719 mph), Carl Edwards was nitnh (175.599 mph) and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10 (175.549 mph).
Richard Childress Racing, who has been fast all weekend had the next two positions outside the top 10, while drivers including Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon were 20th and below on the board.
The June-winner took 42 circuits around the Tricky Triangle, the most of all competitors with Stewart the only other driver posting at least 40 laps.
Truex led the way when it came to the best 10 consecutive laps (174.625 mph). 17 drivers made a run of at least 10 laps, Busch was last on the list.
In 21 career starts at the Tricky Triangle, Truex has one career win, coming last year when he was out front for 97 circuits. In June, the No. 78 car faced many problems, including a wreck on pit road that ended the day in 19th.
"It's exciting for us," Truex said of his pole for Furniture Row Racing. "Anytime you win anything in this series, it's a big deal. Getting a pole today is awesome. We had a game plan coming here, but we felt like we needed to qualify well for Sunday and we were able to do that."
For the second straight week, Carl Edwards will lineup alongside the pole-sitter in the second position. The No. 19 car posted a lap at 178.873 mph, which was best among the Joe Gibbs Racing organization.
After recording the fastest lap in practice, Paul Menard will start a season-best third at 178.671 mph. The No. 27 team is being led by Danny Stockman, a veteran crew chief for the first time at Pocono, hoping to turn the teams season around.
"I've worked with Danny [Stockman] for basically a year and a half now," Menard said. "It's just a different perspective from Justin [Alexander]. Justin is a smart guy. we just needed to change something up and make a spark. We threw Danny into the fire and it's worked well."
Four-time Pocono winner, Denny Hamlin will start Sunday from the fourth position (178.540 mph). Ryan Newman rounded out the top five (178.433 mph), marking the second Richard Childress Racing car in the top five.
Including Austin Dillon, who qualified 12th, it marked the first time since August of 2014 at Michigan that all three RCR cars made it to the final round of qualifying. All three cars were among the top 10 in practice Friday afternoon.
"It was a good day without a doubt for RCR and ECR engines," Newman said. "We had three of the top 10 in practice and two of the top five in qualifying. It should translate over to the race. Track position is important, horsepower, having a good qualifying effort and usually you'll have a good race day."
Tony Stewart qualified sixth at 178.394 mph, Brad Keselowski was seventh (178.359 mph), Chase Elliott eighth (177.571 mph), defending race-winner Matt Kenseth (177.413 mph) was ninth and Joey Logano (177.151 mph) rounded out the top 10.
June winner, Kurt Busch turned the 15th fastest lap, alongside his brother Kyle Busch in 16th. Ryan Blaney posted the 18th fastest time, after having the third best time in round one.
A trio of three Hendrick Motorsports cars will start outside the top 20, starting with Jimmie Johnson in 21st. 2013 winner Kasey Kahne will begin Sunday's race from 23rd and six-time Pocono winner, Jeff Gordon will start his second race back out of retirement in 24th.
Final practice is set to begin on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. ET.
Michigan is Dillon's "favorite racetrack." The last time the Cup Series sped around the 2.0-mile oval, the No. 3 car was out front for 19 laps after starting in the back and picking up a fourth-place finish.
Brad Keselowski, hometown driver, was second on the leader board in the final session at 194.013 mph. He has never recorded a victory at his home track.
Jimmie Johnson was third on the board at 193.851 mph. Trevor Bayne led Roush Fenway Racing in fourth at 193.778 mph and Pocono winner, Kurt Busch completed the top five at 193.741 mph.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr. Kyle Larson, pole-sitter Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
Ryan Blaney was the fastest rookie on Saturday, while his nemesis, Chase Elliott was 21st on speed, running 47 laps, the most of all drivers. The 20-year-old got into the wall with about 10 minutes remaining, scuffing up the right rear of the car. The No. 24 car got back out on track to complete more laps.
After posting the fastest time in opening practice Saturday morning, Carl Edwards was mired down in 17th at 192.947 mph. 3All four of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were outside the top 10 with Denny Hamlin leading the train of drivers in 11th.
38 cars took time in Happy Hour. Truex led the way on best 10 lap averages at 191.991 mph. He had a pair of third-place finishes last season at Michigan.
The 400-mile race is scheduled to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. Last year, Busch was victorious in a rain-shortened event.
On Friday, Logano swept all three rounds of qualifying. The No. 22 car pole-winning speed was 199.557 mph, almost two-tenths of a second faster than second-place.
"It just feels really good because the last couple weeks we've come in second in the final round," Logano said of his fast lap. "We've been qualifying really well with this No. 22 car, we just haven't had the pole. It's nice to finally pull through and get a pole with this new package. It really goes to show how good Team Penske is at preparing cars from the shop and really not knowing what they're coming to and we have great adjustability and a fast car."
Logano started first at Martinsville in April when he was lapped in the opening segment of the race.
Martin Truex, Jr. turned the second fastest lap at 199.016 mph. Struggling in qualifying last week in Pocono, the Furniture Row Racing team made sure they put down a hot lap for Michigan.
In his best start of 2016, Tony Stewart will start third. At 198.950 mph, it's his best start since Watkins Glen last season.
Denny Hamlin will start from fourth at 198.774 mph with rookie Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five at 198.588 mph. The No. 21 car needed two attempts to even get out of round one, but rebounded to pick up his first top-five starting spot of 2016.
Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott make up the top 10.
Pocono pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski will start from 15th at his home racetrack. The defending winner of this event, Kurt Busch, will start in the next row at 17th.
After having the fourth quickest time in the opening practice, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 27th on Friday. It's his ninth time this season that the No. 88 car had started the race from outside the top 20.
Kevin Harvick was on the track twice when the session was paused is Round One, putting three cycles on his tires by the time he complete a timed lap. The first stoppage was for Jamie McMurray leaking a piece of debris. David Ragan brought out the second caution when he spun in Turn 3 and hit the outside wall.
"The common sense was pretty low there on when to throw the caution," Harvick said of being out on track twice when the yellow flag flew during his qualifying run. "I think we were the only racecar on the racetrack and debris came up out of the groove. It is what it is. There's not much you can do about that.
The No. 4 Chevrolet will begin the 400-mile event from 29th.
There are two practice sessions on Saturday, the first beginning at 9:00 a.m. and Happy Hour starting shortly after noon.