An Old Friend Returns
STP teaming up with Petty, NASCAR once again
By: Matt Taliaferro | 4/15/11, 4:41 PM EDT
by Mike Neff
Scientifically Treated Petroleum has been a staple of shade tree mechanics since 1953, but the product is perhaps best known for its involvement in motorsports. STP teamed up with Richard Petty in 1971, beginning a 29-year relationship that is the second longest in the history of motorsports. And after a decade’s hiatus, the iconic brand is coming back to NASCAR in a big way, encompassing more than just car sponsorship beginning in June.
In an era when many companies are reigning in motorsports budgets, it is refreshing to see a major commitment coming from a corporation that has been so identifiable with NASCAR through the years.
STP was started in 1954 by Charles “Doc” Liggett, Jim Hill and Robert DeHart with $3,000, a garage and a dream. The three men packaged their oil treatment product during the evenings and then loaded it into their trunks to sell during vacations and business trips. The initial product was designed to keep oil from thinning when operating at high temperatures, which made it an ideal aid for race teams. The success of their efforts — the product’s reputation spread primarily by word of mouth in the racing industry — allowed them to expand their business into gasoline treatment in 1960.
The company was so successful, in fact, that Studebaker bought it in 1961 and hired Andy Granatelli to be the CEO. Granatelli’s gregarious personality was infectious and made him a fan favorite when the company started sponsoring cars in open wheel racing, where Mario Andretti carried the colors to an Indianapolis 500 win in 1969.
The company’s involvement in stock car racing coincided nicely with NASCAR’s evolution into its modern era. STP first appeared on Richard Petty’s hood at Riverside Raceway in 1971, then adorned the now-iconic No. 43 for an eight-win ’72 campaign.
The partnership between STP and Petty Enterprises was as recognizable a marriage of driver and sponsor as there has ever been in the history of the sport. The combination of the Petty Blue and the STP Day-Glo Red made the No. 43 one of the most instantly distinguishable cars on the track and off. Petty scored 60 of his record 200 career wins and three championships flying the STP banner until his retirement in 1992.
The path to STP’s departure from the sport began in 1998, when the Clorox Company purchased First Brands, which at the time was the parent company of STP. Marketing decisions made in a boardroom — where bottom-line numbers outweigh emotional ties — ruled the day, and by the mid-point of the 2000 season, the No. 43 was without a big red oval on the hood.
Ten years later, in 2010, Avista Capital Partners acquired ArmorAll and STP from Clorox and renamed the business arm the Armored AutoGroup. The divestiture away from Clorox once again opened the door for STP to return to racing — and the brand is jumping back in with both feet.
STP’s renewed involvement will again revolve around one of the best-known slogans in the history of motorsports: “STP — The Racer’s Edge.” It will kick off its new campaign by sponsoring the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at Kansas Speedway on its June 4-5 race weekend, as well as Chicagoland Speedway’s races — which includes the first Chase date — in September. Capitalizing on the popularity (and familiarity) of Petty’s affiliation with the brand, the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford will sport the classic 1972 paint scheme.
STP is also partnering with International Speedway, Corp. as a track sponsor at Daytona, Talladega, Chicago, Michigan, Kansas, Richmond and Darlington. In addition, the company has inked a deal with Speedway Motorsports, Inc., as a track sponsor at Infineon Raceway, which includes title sponsorship of its Wednesday night drag racing events.
Outside of NASCAR, the company will sponsor Tony Pedregon’s Nitro Funny Car NHRA entry at Las Vegas, Houston and Infineon and will serve as an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season. Lastly, STP will continue to sponsor Tony Stewart’s World of Outlaw Sprint Car with Donny Schatz behind the wheel, as well as providing additional sponsorship in the series.
In a time when NASCAR — and North American motorsports in general — is losing more sponsors than it’s gaining, STP’s renewed, aggressive re-entry into the sport is, hopefully, a sign of things to come. With NASCAR’s hardcore fan base eroding over the last decade due to a perceived interest in attracting newer fans (at the expense of the loyalists) having such an identifiable sponsor from “the good ol’ days” is the perfect way to kick-start the old school fan’s love affair with the sport.
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