Lucas Oil American Off-Road Series &
Myrl Akerman, PR & Marketing Director:
A Brief Conversation
"Finally"--In a world where '09 budgets are often set before August of '08 and 2010 car models are released in the first quarter of '09, the word "finally" is the one word Myrl Akerman has heard most since releasing the '09 schedule for the new minted Lucas Oil American Off-Road Series...
As the lead PR and marketing director over at LOAORS (I'm pronouncing it "lores" until someone tell me otherwise), Myrl admits next time he may not put out a press release on a Friday as the response that the 1/9 announcement generated has eaten up a majority of his weekend with a ever-ringing cell phone. That being said, Myrl (a busy man with team ownership duties for Team 71 Racing, the General Tire Trophy/Trick Truck driven by Rick D. Johnson), is thrilled by the response he has received from racers, sponsors and fans alike in these early stages of what could be the "next big thing".
To be honest, I don't think Akerman's phone would be ringing very much at all if it weren't for the late season implosion of CORR in '08 and its subsequent inability to release an '09 schedule or infuse its public with a sense of confidence about its future. CORR's prospects going forward can be debated ad infinitum at this point but the indisputable fact is that LOAORS has announced things CORR hasn't to this point, including a schedule with dates and locations, HD TV coverage on SPEED TV (and the Outdoor Network) and three BIG sponsors in title sponsor Lucas Oil and associate sponsors General Tire and Bully Dog. Bully Dog in fact could be said to have defected from CORR to LOAORS with Bully Dog marketing director Mike DeFord saying "...a number of weeks ago we had announced that we would be back with CORR in 2009. Since making that announcement things have not progressed at a level or a rate with CORR that we liked".
Regardless of how well the stars appear to be aligning for LOAORS, there are many serious questions, given the current economic environment, if it is a good idea for any motorsport series to be starting up, no matter how deep its management or sponsors may be. Trying to get answers to a couple of these questions I gave a call to Mr. Akerman this past Saturday. Giving my name and that I was calling from the nismoblogspot.com website I expected either to be hung up on or to have the response be something along the lines of "Huh? yoou're calling from where?" and instead got an "Oh, yeah, I've been there..."
After getting over my initial shock I was able to talk briefly with Mr. Akerman and discover that he and LOAORS founder Tony Vanillo (former competition director for CORR) are not unaware of the opportunity they now have and are determined not to squander it. With over 40 combined years in motorsports of one kind or another, Vanillo and Akerman believe they have the experience to found and maintain a top tier short course series. More than anything in recent years, Akerman says that they have "...learned not necessarily what TO do but what NOT to do...If you are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul it will come back to bite you..." Take that how you will but Akerman believes "consistency" is the key to creating a successful series. Consistency when it comes to sponsors, consistency when it comes to fans, consistency when it comes to racers. "A positive, strong, adrenaline filled event--every time" is what Akerman says LOAORS will provide in '09.
Certainly Lucas Oil believes it...One of the most dedicated of short course sponsors, having been a major force behind the mid-west based WSORR for years, Akerman calls Lucas Oil "...a class act...devoted to the people who use their product and those who support them..." and believe that Lucas Oil does not sign on to be the title sponsor of a series lightly. With Lucas Oil's long standing support of the WSORR and with the opening of the new Lucas Oil stadium in Indianapolis, it is obvious that they have put their chips down on the right horses in the past and Akerman believes they have done so again with the LOAORS. What this means for WSORR's future and if with the largest mid-west and largest west-coast sort course series now running under the same title sponsor we will se some sort of merged schedule or combined series (assuming LOAORS is successful and Lucas continues to see short course racign as a wise investment) somewhere down the line can only be guessed at...
Beyond LOAORS title sponsor, Akerman is working on the holy grail of short course racing success--non-endemic sponsorship. While both CORR and the WSORR had made recent inroads in developing relationships with non-endemic sponsors (Traxxas being a recent notable example) neither has been able to reach such companies on a wide scale. If Akerman is to be believed, that may change with LOAORS. Though unable to release any specific information, when asked directly about the possibility of bringing such relationships on board, he states that despite the downturn in the economy, companies are "...hungry for something different", something which short-course racing provides in spades and are "ready with open arms...but have to believe that the series they are working with is not going to have financial problems in the future". Whether LOAORS is able to convince such non-endemics to come on board or not has yet to be seen though Akerman hinted at some major announcements for the series in the near future and I can't imagine Akerman talking up the importance of non-endemic sponsorship as much as he did without there being something fairly far along in terms of that as well.
Regardless of what may be in the works behind the scenes at LOAORS at this point, Akerman assures me that if there is one thing that will be a hallmark of this new series it will be its honesty. "If we're not honest with people we have nothing" says Akerman, calling series founder Tony Vanillo "...one of the straightest shooting individuals I've ever been associated with" and firmly believes that Vanillo is "in it for the right reasons", not only to make money (no one starts a business to LOSE money) but to give back to an industry and fan base that has been able to provide employment and personal success to both Vanillo and Akerman throughout their professional lives.
If CORR can be said to have tried to run before it could walk, perhaps one can look at the LOAORS as being in the crawling stage of development. No, there is no live TV coverage on NBC nor any immediate plans to run a race at a NASCAR track, but the groundwork that Vanillo and Akerman are laying today just might lead to a well run, long term, fan/racer driven short course series in the Western U.S.--FINALLY
**As a final note--The author has received no benefit, monetary or otherwise from any person or corporation for the above article**