There was a lot of noise - not all of it from the cars - emanating from Daytona Beach, Fla., prior to the running of the 500.
It centered around how Fox TV handled the showing of sponsorship logos during the initial telecast of the Budweiser Shoot-out, a short race of 18 polesitters from the 2000 season that preceded the Daytona 500 program. Fox showed the logos of sponsors that bought TV commercials for the NASCAR race but digitized out those of companies that didn't buy spots.
Fox later relented and agreed to show all logos. But it caused quite a stir - even among automakers who had bought TV time and were not affected.
As Jim Julow, head of Dodge, puts it: 'I think Fox made the right decision by showing all logos. A lot of people put a lot of money in this sport.
'We were a fairly significant advertiser, but there should be a role for both on-site and TV sponsors. I don't think there should be a hurdle for people to be on-site.'
It's an interesting dilemma that probably is just the tip of the iceberg. How will TV handle the upsurge in TV-related sponsorships as auto marketers and other advertisers look for unique ways to reach consumers?
Automakers spend $12 million to $15 million per team to put their names on race cars, knowing that the brand name will get hours of consumer eyeballs as the cars circle the track. So why pony up $60,000 to $70,000 for a 30-second commercial?
Fox, NBC and Turner Sports, on the other hand, spent $2.8 billion for a six-year NASCAR contract and need advertisers to make a profit.
Lou Patane, vice president of motorsports operations at DaimlerChrysler, says Fox was not entirely wrong in digitalizing the logos because they need to make money, too. Even though Dodge bought lots of commercial time this year, Patane says that may not always be the case.
'If advertisers like Dodge spend on a team, why buy commercials?' he asks. 'If you've got a good car in there, you're talking about two hours of commercial time, vs. 30 seconds of commercials.'
Patane says the day may come when TV stations will change the way they sell spots for large sponsored events such as NASCAR: 'It could be they will look at the number of times a logo shows up and then send a billing.'
Patane may be right, particularly as automakers seek more big events to sponsor. According to Golf World magazine, sponsorship investment in sports, individual athletes and teams is well over $600 million for all sports. This does not include naming rights for stadiums.
And if sponsorships on TV prove to work better than the TV commercials themselves, where will that leave the networks? What rights do they have?
Patane sums it up this way: 'You know the viewers are looking at the event but not necessarily at commercials. It's much better to be inside the event, than outside looking in with commercials.'
Speaking of racing, kudos to Dodge for its new diversity program to help people of color get more involved in the business of NASCAR racing.
The program includes the sponsorship of black race car driver Willy T. Ribbs, scholarships for minorities who want to learn how to become part of a race team, such as working in the pit area, and possibly a program to help minorities own teams.
Ribbs, one of only a handful of black race car drivers, describes the Dodge program as a first.
'Every driver's dream is to get a call from a great corporate sponsor,' he says. 'DaimlerChrysler in 2001 is being responsible for changing the image and face, and making sports car racing look like other sports in this country.'
When Ford Motor Co.'s Jan Klug was named Automotive Marketer's marketer of the year in December, she said Bud Liebler, then head of global marketing for DaimlerChrysler, was the automotive marketer she most admired. Maybe her former boss, Jim Schroer, saw something in that.
Less than two months later, Schroer joined DaimlerChrysler as executive vice president of sales and marketing, Liebler resigned, and Klug was named to replace Schroer.
Both Schroer and Klug have their hands full. They both have global titles, but it's difficult to determine exactly what they do and how to measure if they're doing a good job.
Is it based on global sales, better global brand presence, or both of the above and more? Few brands, except for the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar or Jeep, have a clear brand identity around the world.
What is clear, however, is that companies need some longevity from their top marketers and brand people if they are to have vision and make that vision work.
Schroer, who came to Ford from RJR Nabisco, spent only a little more than four years with the No. 2 automaker. If that trend continues, it could bode poorly for automakers looking for ways to enhance their brand images.
Art Redmond, Ford executive director of global consumer insight and global marketing, says it best. Redmond, who came to Ford in 1999 from Citibank and, before that, PepsiCo, says: 'I don't think the packaged-goods people know their business nearly as well as the automakers, and I attribute that to longevity.
'Try to get a packaged-goods guy to have that knowledge. At Pepsi, the average longevity for a brand guy is four to five years.'