As Danica Patrick prepares to announce her entry into NASCAR today, there will be a familiar face leading the parade. At least it will be familiar to just about any sports marketer and the world’s most famous NFL quarterback.
Last year, Patrick enlisted IMG to help rev her career, and now the sports business and marketing powerhouse is taking the steering wheel of the entire Danica enterprise.
Alan Zucker, who represents Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, is heading up the Danica initiative. And those close to IMG said Zucker is pulling out all the stops to make the race car driver a worldwide household name.
Dave Moroknek, president of locally based MainGate, expects the new wave of Danica-mania to be massive once she gets behind the wheel of a fendered car on the NASCAR circuit.
Already, Moroknek said, Patrick’s licensed merchandise line out-sells all other Indy Racing League drivers combined. Moroknek should know. His company is in charge of making, distributing and selling (online and at the track) all of Patrick’s IRL-centric licensed wares.
Now, Moroknek is negotiating with IMG to get a piece of Patrick’s NASCAR business.
“From every indication, the demand for Danica goods when she signs with NASCAR is going to be absolutely huge,” Moroknek said.
And Moroknek thinks the crossover will be good for the IRL as well.
“She has a real shot at being the first successful female driver in NASCAR history,” Moroknek said. “And if that happens, watch out. I think you’ll find people that follow Danica, will follow her in all the series she participates in.”
But Patrick might want to strap in for a bumpy ride in NASCAR. The number of open-wheel drivers that have tried and failed at NASCAR is well chronicled. In addition, the team that Patrick will join, JR Motorsports, is undergoing changes.
JR was founded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick. The team is currently restructuring, with Earnhardt's sister, Kelley Earnhardt, who manages its day-to-day operations, taking an ownership stake along with Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt Jr.'s cousin and former crew chief.
Some motorsports insiders have questioned the direction the team is heading. The hiring of Patrick will be our first signal of their ability to evaluate talent. As for Zucker and Moroknek, they're already betting this combination will be a winner.