Here is what it takes to be a sponsor in the two largest racing series

Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby in the 2006 film Talladega Nights

A couple of years ago, the podcast I cohost had the opportunity to sponsor a Micra Cup race entry by way of an 8-by-11-inch sticker. It would be displayed on either side of the rear bumper of the nearly stock Nissan racer that serves as the backbone of the single-make series.

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It was a single-race deal that later expanded into a second weekend, and it was a novel experience. Dipping my financial toes into the most affordable tier of professional racing sponsorship got me thinking: What would it have cost to place the same-size sticker advertising my podcast—the Unnamed Automotive Podcast—on a car in a series with a much higher profile? The answer wasn’t exactly easy to pin down, but it was a whole lot more than the $250 I’d paid.

“I’d say $125,000 to $200,000 for the season, depending on how competitive the car and team are,” says a longtime sponsor representative in NASCAR. “The problem is that some categories of product bring more money than others, and if that product is used in the car or by the team and driver, it greatly affects the cost-value equation. It’s hard to generalize, because sponsorship today is much more than a decal.” In fact, in modern racing, sponsors are often just as happy to provide hospitality and then brand that aspect of a race weekend as they would be to secure a spot on the car itself.

Dale Coyne, principal at IndyCar’s Dale Coyne Racing, agrees there’s no hard-and-fast answer. “It depends on your underlying sponsorship,” he says. If your primary sponsor wants a clean car, there might not be room for a small sticker. But there’s usually plenty of real estate.” In IndyCar, Coyne says a $20,000 sticker would be small and likely placed behind the front wheel, a spot not all that visible. “For $250,000, now you’re talking the end of the front wing. Sometimes, you’ll have a local company come in for a single race, and for $50,000, it’ll snag a spot that might otherwise have cost a quarter million for the entire year.” Regardless of the series or the teams running in them, visibility of the sponsor’s logo and the relationship between a sponsor and team are vital.

“The position of the decal is, of course, huge for us,” says Bob Lawson of the NHRA’s Kalitta Motorsports, which runs Top Fuel dragsters and nitro Funny Cars. “One location might not show well on TV, but every time the car is photographed, it’s front and center, for example. That’s a huge consideration for us, and it can be the difference between a $50,000 season and a $250,000 season. Sometimes, though, branding the VIP area or doing meet and greets with drivers is more than enough.”

In retrospect, it looks like I got a pretty good deal. Although it lacks the prestige of NASCAR or IndyCar racing, the Micra Cup is broadcast by Nissan around the world. That means 7.7 billion people could potentially have subscribed to my podcast. The reality, of course, is far different. But it was an interesting and inexpensive way to be a part of a race team for a couple of weekends.