Society

RHS grad makes racing even more fan friendly

Car Stars
By MARIE BAKKEN Reporter Staff Writer

Upset that some of the best drivers in the sport of NASCAR were having to "start and park," Matt Ferguson, an 1995 Rockdale High School graduate, decided he was going to do something about it.

Matt Ferguson, a 1995 RHS graduate, wants race fans to become even closer to the sport with a multi-active web site. Matt Ferguson, a 1995 RHS graduate, wants race fans to become even closer to the sport with a multi-active web site. A "start and park" is when a driver starts the race, just to park the car after making enough money for a pay day. The last-place driver in a NASCAR race will get a paycheck.

"My wife Cortney and I were watching a race earlier this season and I had an idea," Ferguson said. "I told her its riduclous that these great drivers don't have sponsors. There are some guys losing their shirts out there racing with blank cars."

Expensive business

Some racing teams have struggled to find sponsorships, mostly due to the struggling economic climate.

"As the economy falls, so do sponsorhips," Ferguson said.

His idea was to make the fans the sponsor, so he started FanCar.com. With 75 million NASCAR fans, the idea is sure to take off.

On the website, fans can pay $20 to become a sponsor of the FanCar vehicle during a specified race. Once a sponsor, fans can vote on the paint scheme and overall message of the car and they get their name on the car's hood.

"Get your name in lights at 100 miles an hour," Ferguson said.

Plans are to put all the names on the hood, but if they get too many, Ferguson said they would go elsewhere on the car.

All names are the same font size and same color and name can go on as many times as they like, just $20 each time. The FanCar online sponsorship is for one car, one race.

You can also do the sponsorship as a gift to someone.

Don't try to put a business, pet name or website on the car. Each sponsorship transaction is monitored and either approved or rejected by Ferguson himself.

"We will stay true to our website's contract for just names," Ferguson said. "It won't be a freak show."

For the team

He hired an agent to pitch the idea to racing teams and a marketing firm who have also helped in promoting FanCar. com

All the money for that race will go directly to the racing team who contracted with the FanCar for that race.

"It is the first 100 percent fansponsored race car," Ferguson said. "The money goes directly to the team." FanCar.com takes no money off the top either.

"The way that FanCar is going to make its money is off the sidline things. Other sponsorships, other advertisements, I don't know what else, those things are coming up."

In August, driver Kenny Wallace tried a similar program, separate from FanCar, that asked fans to pay $20 to sponsor his participation in Montreal's Nationwide race. More than 5,000 donated to have their name on Wallace's race car.

Ferguson's FanCar.com is a little bit different where nothing is taken off the top and all the money goes to the sponsored team.

"Others are taking things off the top," Ferguson said.

Also, the FanCar contract guarantees there will be no "start and park."

If something happens (the driver pulls out, or other problem) and the car doesn't race, fans who paid money can get money back or chose to give it to one of four charities listed on the website.

Racing season

NASCAR's season is coming to a close, but FanCar will be at the last race of the season in Homestead, Florida, just southwest of Miami.

FanCar will sponsor two-time NASCAR Spring Cup champion Terry Labonte and Carter/Simo Racing at the Ford 400 on Sunday, Nov. 22 at the Homestead- Miami Speedway. Labonte, who is semi-retired, won the Cup championship in 1984, driving for Hagan Racing and again in 1996 for Hendrick Motorsports. That was the first championship for the now-booming Hendrick team.

"We started FanCar to support drivers like Terry Labonte, a former Cup champion and an old-school, no-nonsense competitor," Ferguson said.

Born in Corpus Christi, Labonte was named as one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. He will drive the No. 08 Toyota Camry at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Voting and sponsorship on FanCar.com has closed for the Nov. 22 race. Fans will soon get a chance to sponsor what Ferguson hopes to be the next race for FanCar — next season's opener at the Daytona 500, on Feb. 14. FanCar and Ferguson are working to find a driver of their vehicle for that race.

"We're not locked into one certain owner," Ferguson said.

Accidental fan

Ferguson became a racing fan in 2000 by accident.

"A group of co-workers had a fantasy NASCAR league. I joined and was hooked," Ferguson said.

He plans for the whole family, including his two young children, to make the trip to Miami for the race.

"We will be down on the track and hopefully will have some pit passes," he said. Ferguson lives in College Station but has a business in the Rockdale area. He is part owner with his dad, Will, of Viceroy Petroleum. Will and Betty Margaret Ferguson live near the business, along with Matt's grandparents Bob and Marjorie Orr.

Ferguson said the overall goal of FanCar.com is to get the fans more involved and the fans are what racing is all about.

"NASCAR has the most loyal fans," he said. "I think once we validate the idea that is when it will really grow."


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