On Motorcycle Racing Sponsorships, With Eric Wood From Woodcraft

I want to start off this series by saying thanks to TJ Kastning for contacting Woodcraft about getting involved with R6blog.com.  I always appreciate the opportunity to give back, as the motorcycle industry has been very good to me throughout the years.  Through a number of conversations TJ & I came up with an idea to produce a series of articles that discuss the design process for producing the products that many of you have on your motorcycles.  We will discuss what each product does, the primary design considerations and how these changes affect the bike.

My name is Eric Wood and I am a mechanical engineer, a 20 year road racing veteran, and  the President of Woodcraft Technologies Inc.  I am also the lead instructor for the Penguin Racing School, the oldest motorcycle racing school in the nation.  During my racing career I was fortunate to have ridden for several factory supported teams at the AMA level and was able to gain insight from some of the brightest minds in motorcycle racing.  I also spent several years racing the national circuit as a privateer, working on my own equipment and building motorcycles from the ground up.  During this time, I got to see the best (and worst) of both worlds, and that experience has been extremely valuable to me as I began to develop parts on my own.

We will spend a lot of time talking about function when it comes to the parts we will be breaking down in this series.  Aesthetics are a concern for everyone  (manufacturers and consumers alike), but in the end it is what the product does that really matters to me, and that really matters to most riders who hit the racetrack (both literally and figuratively).  In my opinion, if a product doesn’t do it’s job or it if falls apart the first time you crash, it’s worthless.

The primary design considerations that Woodcraft puts into every part are (1) function – does it do the job it is intended for, (2) durability – will this part hold up in a crash, and (3) repair-ability – making the part so that it requires less labor and is less expensive to replace.  We will talk about these factors with every product we discuss.  Especially today, riders cannot afford to replace expensive parts every time they fall down.

The other equally important consideration that we put into every part is marketability.  For many companies, this process consists of establishing if the a demand for the product and then making sure that they produce a part that is within the expected price range for that particular product.  If they build a decent part and advertise it well, then the product should sell.  At Woodcraft, we like to take this one step further.  The philosophy we adopted here is one that has been used by the very best companies in virtually every industry in the world.  If we can’t give you a logical and persuasive reason why you should buy our product over someone else’s, then we shouldn’t build it. There is no reason to build something unless you can improve on what is already available in the marketplace. Function, ingenuity (coupled with customer service) always win in the long run.

OK, enough about us for this installment.  Our goal in these features is provide both interesting insights into the design process but to also impart valuable information that the readers of R6blog can use.  For this month, we will discuss something that is on a lot of racer’s minds this time of year – sponsorship.

Sponsorship is an interesting topic that is treated differently by many companies.  The original concept, which is lost on many riders, is one of a partnership.  In exchange for a product discount (or free product for some top riders) the sponsored rider needs to take his/her belief in the company products (this is very important) and impart that belief in other riders.  In the end, the relationship should be one in which the rider provides a value that is in excess of the investment (discount or otherwise) made by the company.

There is no doubt that a portion of sponsorship is given out of pure benevolence and a love for the sport.  Many of us who make products intended for the track are current or former racers and we know what the costs are to run a successful program.  However, having stickers on the side of most bikes does not produce the couple thousand dollars in sales that it takes to pay for free product.  This type of sponsorship really makes sense on a team or rider that finishes up front at the highest levels of racing, or for an individual who has the ability to send someone a regular stream of customers.  Woodcraft was fortunate enough to have our products on several different winners of AMA races this season, and we will be using those results in our advertising next season.

For the club racer there are definitely still opportunities available.  Woodcraft, like most companies, has several different tiers of sponsorship.  The discount level is proportionate to both the results on the track (credibility), reputation and character (this is really important in this small community), and the ability to create sales.  I am a strong proponent of building long term relationships as this builds trust and a valuable identity with the companies you work with.  How credible is the endorsement of a rider who is with his 3rd helmet company in 5 years?  I only represent companies I believe in and many of my personal sponsors have been with me for 10 years or more.

It doesn’t matter if you have an outstanding resume or not, any proposal should always be framed in terms of what you can do for the company.  If there are no winning race results yet, then think of what else you can do.  I had one rider years back who was a mid pack guy, but I was continually impressed by his ability to send us customers our way every month.  It doesn’t take too many “John Smith told me to call you up and order this” calls to impress a sponsor.  Other ideas involve handing out flyers, writing up product reviews on forums, and watching out for posts & such that you think a company would want to know about.

For any company worth it’s salt, constructive criticism is often even more valued than lavish praise.  We all need testimonials, but I also really appreciate a rider who gives me real feedback on how to make my products better.  I work hard to get it right the first time, but no one is perfect.  You can quickly get in the good graces of a company if you are willing to help offer useful feedback that improves a product.

If you are sending out resumes for the first time, remember that you have about 15 seconds to make an impression.  Resumes do not need to be 30 pages long.  It’s better to be clear and right to the point.  Take a few minutes to make your presentation look great.  Focus on what you can do for the company and make your proposal one that makes sense fiscally.  Many great sponsorship deals start out as an entry level discount that grows to something substantial as you prove yourself.  If the company is one that you truly believe in (if it’s not, then pass on it), take whatever you get offered to start.  You’ll then have opportunity to prove that you are a valuable asset who exceeds their expectations (a rare person indeed) and build a better program for the future.

Until next time, enjoy the holiday season…..

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