Senior Dan Kunath grew up around stock-car racing. Back in his hometown in Raleigh, North Carolina, locals would build their own stock cars and race them on small quarter-mile tracks. Being able to go to an actual NASCAR race with professional stock cars was a treat, Kunath said.
Kunath would sometimes make the three-hour drive from Raleigh to Charlotte, North Carolina, where most of the NASCAR races closest to him would occur. Now that he is in Richmond and closer to a national track, Kunath says it is much easier to attend NASCAR races.
“Here, since we’re close, a bunch of my friends make a big thing of it,” he said.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, Kunath worked at one of the concession stands at Richmond Raceway’s 2019 Federated Auto Parts 400, a part of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, where the University of Richmond had its own sponsored car driven by Landon Cassill of StarCom Racing.
UR’s media and public relations team announced in a press release on Sept. 16 that it would have a car with its name and emblems sponsored in the Sept. 21 race .
Despite being around stock cars his whole life, Kunath was not familiar with university-sponsored cars. Kunath, like many other UR students, was left wondering: Why would the university participate in a NASCAR race this year?
As it turns out, the process behind having the branded NASCAR car was much simpler than one may think.
As stated in UR’s press release, the car was designed by Chad Devers, a senior web designer and front-end developer for University Communications. As someone who used to work for a company as a vehicle graphics specialist, he was a good fit to aide in the designing of the car, Devers said.
Devers said that over the past few years, UR as a whole had gone through rebranding of its logos. Therefore, a unique design for the car was a way to exemplify the changes and get creative with UR’s brand.
“We laid out several options before we refined it to the final one,” Devers said. After creating dozens of models, University Communications went with the design they thought was best to showcase UR’s brand, he said.
Devers was selected by University Communications to design the car after Superior Essex, a partner of StarCom Racing, asked whether UR wanted to sponsor it, said Sunni Brown, assistant director of media and public relations for University Communications.
Superior Essex has provided many telecommunications services to UR over the years, according to the press release, and therefore works closely with the Information Services team.
It was because of the good relationship Information Services had developed with Superior Essex that they asked whether UR wanted to sponsor a car at no cost, Brown said. The design and media projects for the car were then passed to University Communications.
The opportunity to sponsor a NASCAR car without cost might come as a shock to some students, such as Kunath, who beforehand thought the sponsorship was a large investment made by UR. But both Brown and Devers said it had been UR that had been approached to sponsor the car, courtesy of Superior Essex. University Communications was then put in charge of its promotion and design.
UR also had a replica car on campus the day before the race. Brown said a replica car was needed because the real car was still being used in practice the day before and it would be disadvantageous for Cassill and his team to not have it before the race. Devers added that the design for the replica car was pretty much the same as that for the actual car used in the race.
“It's pretty standard for NASCAR events that the actual car that is being raced is not going to be at an event somewhere,” Brown said. Rather, this car was used to generate enthusiasm and show off its design, she added.
UR was not the only university to sponsor a car for the race. Brown and Devers said Liberty University and Colorado State University also had designed cars for the race in Richmond. Devers said having those two universities with decaled cars helped in the design process for UR's car because he had other university-sponsored cars to compare to.
“In the spirit of any research we do for a car or a website, I look at what the competition does,” Devers said. “A lot of universities have had similar opportunities. I looked at what they did and I looked at the paint schemes of other 2019 Monster Energy Series cars. We want to stand out.”
Senior Emery Sereno was a spectator at the NASCAR race where Richmond’s car was that day. She said she had bought the ticket before she had been aware of UR’s car and thought it would be an exciting experience.
“I didn't realize how big of a deal it was until everyone was talking about it,” Sereno said. “[Spectators] drove hours to come and see [the race]. People had license plates from all over and lots of people were from out of state.”
Sereno said she and her friends had met a couple of UR alumni at the race.
“They were pretty pumped that there was a Richmond NASCAR car, but they would have gone to the race regardless,” Sereno said.
Brown said the race was a great way to get UR’s name out on a national scale without cost, and Sereno said it might have done the trick. But Kunath said further progress was required.
Kunath said that although UR’s marketing effort had good intentions, he thought it still wouldn’t draw NASCAR fans in to the university.
“It’s a good starting point to show that Richmond can be a fun school, but at least at this point, it’s not changing how people are going to act,” he said.
Contact contributor Lena Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org.