For Alex Laughlin it’s a toss-up; the battle to remain competitive in the cutthroat Pro Stock class, or the battle to stay on track in the midst of a global pandemic. Both tasks are extremely challenging, and both require undivided attention, yet Laughlin is managing to get along just fine for now. Over the past few seasons, Laughlin’s Elite-powered Camaro has become the chameleon of the Pro Stock class, changing its appearance often to suit the needs of a particular sponsor. At most events, Lauglin highlights the Havoline brand, and he gets additional support from Tige boats, Speed Society, and Hot Wheels. More recently, Laughlin announced a deal with Eagle Marine for the upcoming Dallas race, his home event.
“I spend a lot of time chasing sponsors, but it’s not just putting deals together, it’s making sure they get the value that we’ve agreed upon,” said Laughlin. “It’s tough but the good part is being able to meet and develop relationships with a lot of cool people and brands. I get a lot of satisfaction out of being part of these programs. The bad part is that this sport is expensive and it’s difficult to come up with the money.”
Laughlin also figures this is a good team to clear up the common misconception that wealthy and doesn’t need a sponsor. While it’s true that Laughlin’s father, Kenny, helped launch his career, the bulk of the financial burden currently falls squarely in Alex’s lap, which helps explain why he devotes countless hours to phone calls, social media, or in person meetings designed to seal the next deal.
“Look, a lot of racers, especially in Pro Stock, are self-funded or use the car to promote a business that they operate,” Laughlin said. “That’s not me. I’ve been fortunate in that my family was able to provide me with everything I needed to get going, like my Top Dragster, but Pro Stock is well above our pay grade. In my first year, we had the Gas Monkey deal for seven races. The next season, they launched their energy drink and they allocated a good amount of resources to get me to 24 races. Since then, I haven’t been to 24 in a season. Our Pro Stock schedule dropped to 18.
“The bottom line is that I have to rely on these companies to keep me out here and so far, everyone that I’ve aligned myself with has developed into a strong relationship both on and off the track. There are people that I talk to weekly, if not more often, and they’ve become like family to me.”
When it comes to delivering results, Laughlin understands, perhaps as well as anyone, that sponsors want a return on their investment that can’t be measured by win lights. To that end, Laughlin structures most of his deals to leverage his ever-growing social media presence. Currently, he’s got nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram and a successful YouTube channel.
“NHRA has a great TV package and it’s getting better but oddly enough, I’ve never had a sponsor tell me they were on my car because of TV time, Laughlin said. “As crazy as it seems, these deals are with me personally as far as my brand and social media following. Now recently, I listened to what [Camping World CEO] Marcus Lemonis, had to say about NHRA and he was just so positive. He’s invested here now, not just financially. I can tell he wants to grow NHRA as much as he wants to grow his own brands.”
Oftentimes, Laughlin has to get creative in order to keep racing and one of those times was last week’s Last week in St. Louis. Without a sponsor for the weekend, he turned to his fanbase for support and they responded in kind. For a $100 donation, fans had the chance to have their names plastered on the side of Laughlin’s 210-mph Camaro and there were 300 takers. That’s $30,000, not exactly a windfall measured in Pro Stock terms but certainly enough to pay the bills and keep the team on track.
“At first, I felt like I was shaking a cup looking for loose change but as that program developed we saw it’s true value,” Laughlin said. “Yes, it was a desperation move, and I didn’t know if I’d get three people or 300, but we had so many people come by our pit area to see their names on the car. It was amazing. And, we had some people buy a spot for a friend or relative and didn’t tell them because they wanted it to be a surprise. We had several people break into tears. I was amazed at how supportive people were. It was a much bigger deal than I thought. I get ridiculed for a lot of things; people think I have a silver spoon or that I’m begging for money, or whatever, but that deal was really cool.”
Lately, Laughlin has delivered results on track as well. After a slow start to the season, he caught fire in Gainesville and won his fourth career Wally in Pro Stock. Currenly, Laughlin is ranked No. 4 in the Pro Stock standings. He more than 150-points out of first place so he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the championship, but he’s fulfilled his primary goal of winning at least one race.
“Of course I want to win every week but ultimately, I just want to win one race a year; I’m totally fine with that,” Laughlin said. “I did win [Pro Mod] at the Doorslammer race in Orlando to start the season and that was a huge deal, but it’s not a Wally and that is my main goal. This year, I didn’t know how many races we’d have with all these COVID issues so I’m grateful to have a win right now. As challenging as it is to race Pro Stock, and to keep our car out there, I can promise you one thing; it keeps you humble. At the end of the day, I remember where I came from and I know where I am and where I want to be.”