A Web site aimed at "rednecks' still seeks entry after NASCAR bans it.
By BRANT JAMES
Published March 27, 2004
Tom Connelly wanted an affordable way to expose his new business to millions of potential customers.
Don Arnold wanted a sponsor for his start-up Nextel Cup team.
Everyone seemingly had what he wanted when redneckjunk.com met Arnold Motorsports. But in the irony of ironies in NASCAR, version 2004, the Massachusetts-based Web site has been deemed unsuitable as a sponsor.
"It's pretty simple," NASCAR CEO Brian France said. "It was detrimental to good taste and that was the decision. It was the name."
It's an issue much bigger than a Web site clearinghouse for used hunting, fishing and auto accessories. When NASCAR forced Arnold Motorsports to remove the redneckjunk.com logo from the No.50 Dodge driven by Derrike Cope before the March 14 race in Atlanta, it greater defined its intended market, and the image it hopes to banish. A sport born of T-shirts and grease was washing its hands and buttoning its collar.
"Who's kidding who?" said Connelly, the company's owner. "People who like (racing, hunting, fishing) would consider themselves rednecks. People consider me a redneck because I live in Massachusetts and listen to country music in my pickup truck."
NASCAR deems alcohol, ammunition (both of which appear on fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car) and erectile dysfunction medication (such as on veteran Mark Martin's car) within the family image it hopes to project. But even in a climate when sponsor woes have kept several veteran drivers out of work, it picks and chooses what is acceptable.
Though Connelly thinks his product has a place, he concedes companies such as Budweiser, Remington and Viagra have "names that are more functional than ours."
"It's subjective," France said. "It's our determination. Does it take away from the clean-cut environment we're after? Obviously, there is beer and alcohol and other things one might make an argument for that are legal products and marketed in an intelligent way. It can be in how somebody used or markets a trademark that sounds bad to us, how they would leverage that."
NASCAR forced Brian Conz's Busch series team to remove an advertisement for Grim Reapers cigarettes in February at Daytona. Poison Inc., the Castle Hayne, N.C., company that makes the brand, used the motto, "Someone has to finish dead last."
NASCAR recuses itself of the process after disallowing a sponsor.
"We're obviously not going to compensate someone who should have had an approval on that," France said. "If it's controversial, typically the teams will let us take a look at that and let us form an opinion. When you just show up with something like that, we will react to that."
Don Arnold, team owner of Cope's car, is carefully trying to avoid conflict with NASCAR and said he understands the decision.
"I know you have to be politically correct," he said. "The meaning of the word "redneck' has really changed. You used to be able to say it as a joke just in fun, but if one person thinks you're being serious, you can't say it anymore."
As Arnold negotiates with potential new sponsors, Connelly is hoping an altered version of his Web site will be deemed suitable. Neither Arnold nor Connelly would discuss terms of their deal.
Connelly tried to get logos for his renamed rjunk.com on Cope's car last weekend's race at Darlington but could not work out details with Arnold. Connelly hopes to try again in a few weeks and said he will not seek advance NASCAR approval, adding, "They don't return my phone calls." Connelly also plans to sponsor a car in NASCAR's Busch North weekly touring series under rjunk.com.
"(NASCAR) has not said it's bad," he said. "I almost think I have to take the chance. Maybe if they pull (the decals) off, it's good for us. When Fox mentioned us on the race Sunday, we had 100,000 hits within an hour."
Part of the issue with redneckjunk.com, France confirmed, was the caricature logo bearing a man, cap askew, standing inside the engine compartment of a car.
The logo was drawn by an artist in Taiwan and patterned off a picture of Connelly.
"I got a kick out of it that (the logo) was part of the problem," Connelly said. "When the guy first sent me the logo, it had no teeth, I told him he had to put some teeth in there because I had teeth."
Whether his argument has any teeth is a matter of opinion, but Connelly knows he will have to conform in this new era of NASCAR appropriateness.
"We want to work with them, not against them," he said. "Basically, it's NASCAR's game."