One NASCAR driver who remains without a ride for 2024 is Natalie Decker. She was asked on social media why her sponsor, N29, was on a Cup Series car while she is without a ride, and she responded by claiming that her sponsorship was “Stolen”. N29 sponsored Kaz Grala and Rick Ware Racing in the Clash at the LA Coliseum last weekend.
With such an intense accusation, what actually happened to Natalie Decker’s sponsor, N29?
- N29 previously sponsored Decker in the Craftsman Truck Series. They were the primary sponsor for 23 races between 2019 and 2020, and an associate sponsor more recently. However, they have not been a primary sponsor on her ride since 2020.
- Rick Ware Racing carried N29’s colors for the first time at the Clash at the LA Coliseum with Kaz Grala in the #15 car. RWR has yet to announce any more races for N29 on the #15 car, but, Grala will compete in 24 more races for the team in 2024.
- Fans were a bit split on Decker’s tweet. Some gave her encouragement that she would find another sponsor, but, others criticized her poor performance.
Why Would Natalie Decker Accuse RWR of “Stealing” Her Sponsor?
This is an example of quite a grey area in the business side of motorsports. Generally speaking, it is frowned upon by other race teams to steal someone else’s sponsor, but, it’s not illegal.
Sponsors are vital to any race team. Motorsports are an expensive endeavor, and without major funding, it’s impossible to make it very far. This is why drivers who bring sponsorship get rides before drivers who do not bring such sponsorship. If a driver brings funding behind them, that gives the company a safety net to survive.
If a race team were to go behind another’s back and poach a sponsor, that would make the race team whose sponsor was poached very upset. The reason is that one of the ways race teams can hit the bottom line is sponsorship, and taking away sponsorship takes money from a race team.
It’s not illegal because motorsports is a business at the end of the day. Business is a cutthroat world, and if a company finds a better deal elsewhere, it will pack up and leave if the avenue presents itself.
Even this past offseason in the Cup Series, sponsors like Busch Beer and Gearwrench left Stewart-Haas Racing for other race teams. We kept track of sponsors, team switches below. Now, many of these sponsors switched hands because of other factors such as drivers leaving or a lack of inventory, so, not every sponsor switches because a team went behind another’s back.
In the instance of Decker, we don’t know exactly what happened aside from her tweet.
What Value Are NASCAR Sponsors Looking For?
Now that we understand why Decker was so upset, let’s take a look at this from N29’s perspective. What types of things are sponsors looking for?
Are they looking for drivers who are Uber-talented and will consistently finish up front? Sure, finishing up front is a nice bonus, but, that’s not everything to a sponsor. Again, this is a business, and sponsoring a NASCAR team has to bring value to a sponsor.
There are plenty of reasons that sponsors attach themselves to drivers and teams. One is for promotion, and that often comes through the social media channels of drivers. Decker, for example, has 189,000 followers on Instagram to Kaz Grala of Rick Ware Racing’s 19,900. In that sense, it would seem that Decker would bring more value to a sponsor because she has a larger reach on social media, so, what complicates it further?
Look at what N29 is as a company. Their mission statement on their website reads as follows, “N29 Capital Partners financially supports early-stage startup companies that have created products or services that are disruptive in their industry.”
N29 is not looking to sell a product. They are looking to find other businesses to invest in. Now, take a look at Rick Ware Racing.
Rick Ware Racing has multiple race teams across multiple motorsports such as NASCAR, IndyCar, and IMSA. If N29 partners with RWR, they have an avenue to find other businesses to invest in across multiple forms of motorsports. While Decker offers a large social media following, N29 does not necessarily have a product to sell for her to promote via brand deals.
N29 already works with another NASCAR sponsor, Gener8tor, who sponsors Front Row Motorsports and Todd Gilliland. If making business-to-business connections is what N29 is looking for, it’s easy to see potentially why they looked towards Rick Ware Racing.
Regardless of what happened behind the scenes, RWR gave N29 a larger potential playground to make connections for potential investments. What N29 will get out of this partnership ultimately remains to be seen.
Ultimately, we do not know exactly what happened with Natalie Decker’s sponsor. However, we can guess based on external clues what N29 is looking for, and why they may have seen more value at Rick Ware Racing.