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Little E - This Bud's for You
Marketing 101 Into Overdrive
May 27, 1999 -- By Glen Grissom

The Dale Earnhardt Jr. marketing juggernaut is just getting up to speed. While not quite on par with the Second Coming, Little E's qualifying attempt and potential debut in this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 is receiving promotional muscle heretofore unseen in NASCAR. Apparently, the

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Budweiser's Jim Sprick (L) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. introduce the first Budweiser can to have a race car on it at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

marketing guys have learned something since Jeff Gordon (quietly) started his first Winston Cup race and aren't going to let such an opportunity for star-making to go unchecked.

Today Jim Sprick, brand manager, Budweiser marketing announced at Lowe's Motor Speedway that Budweiser has released a commemorative 16-oz can of the "King of Beers" featuring Earnhardt Jr.'s #8 Monte Carlo on it. Sprick noted, "I can't tell you the first time that Budweiser ever appeared on a race car, but I can tell you this is the first time a race car has appeared on a can of Budweiser." Earnhardt Jr. deadpanned, "It must be such a big deal, they had to put it on a 16 oz. [can]."

The can will be available nationwide through the end of the NASCAR season in November. There are currently 100,000,000 of these special cans in the production pipeline. "Anheuser-Busch wholesalers' interest in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Budweiser can has been phenomenal, with more than 80 percent ordering the package," specified Dan Hoffmann, director of Budweiser marketing, in a prepared release. One is left to question the business judgment of the wholesalers who passed up on this.

The commemorative can is one of several marketing tactics to support Earnhardt Jr.'s five-race Winston Cup plan in '99 and full-schedule run in 2000. He'll be attempting to qualify and race the #8 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 11, Michigan Speedway August 22, Richmond International Speedway September 11, and November 21 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Anheuser-Busch are also airing a new installment of its "Victory Lane" television commercial featuring the young Earnhardt and his Bud car. The spot, promoting using designated drivers, focuses on "anyone can be a member of the Budweiser Racing team by being a designated driver, and the designated driver always ends up in Victory Lane."

In a related consumer promotion, a mobile display called the "Budweiser Brew Crew Challenge" gives fans the chance to take part in a simulated pit stop on the #8 Bud car. Participants hop over a pit wall and race against the clock and each other in a tire-changing competition. All participants receive a free poster of Earnhardt Jr., and the fans with the top three times at each appearance win more prizes -- from race tickets to Bud Racing gear.

First, Little E has to qualify for the 600, and that will be no small accomplishment with about 50 cars expected to try to make the race. But Jr. "tested so well, that set aside any curiosity about how well I'd do [in qualifying]." Making the race is one hurdle but lasting 600 miles on a track that changes personality hourly is an even higher one. Is Earnhardt Jr. concerned about lasting that long when all the races he's run in BGN are substantially shorter? "I don't work out; I eat a lot of pizza, but I got in condition as the season went on last year. I think I am going to be fine; the temperature will be cooler. If the car drives good, you can wheel it all night long."

He's also confident that he'll be able to adapt to the multipersonality Lowe's Motor Speedway because he'll be able to draw on the brain trust assembled at Dale Earnhardt, Inc.-- driver Steve Park, his crewchief Paul Andrews, Steve Hmeil, his own crewchief Tony Eury Sr., and if all else fails, his dad. "I have a lot of respect for this track and how it can change in an hour. I've seen it in BGN and have had to adjust."

The track will be the easiest condition he'll have to adjust to as his career progresses and the marketing engine hits the rev limiter.

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