DuPont, long recognized as the leader in hospitality among NASCAR sponsors, is drastically reducing its program this year as part of its companywide cost cutting. Instead of entertaining the 17,000 guests it had at 37 races last year, DuPont will buy hospitality packages at just six races this season and will host fewer than 2,000 guests. “The economy has had a huge impact on us,” said Larry Deas, DuPont’s motorsports manager. “The current environment along with the high cost of hospitality have forced us to make significant cuts.”
Whether DuPont’s cuts signal the beginning of the end for its sponsorship of Jeff Gordon’s #24 Chevrolet remains to be seen. DuPont, which has been on the car since 1993, has been the only primary sponsor Gordon has known at Hendrick Motorsports and together they own the longest driver-sponsor-owner streak in the sport. DuPont’s current contract with Hendrick Motorsports runs through the end of the 2010 season. Deas would not speculate on how DuPont’s team deal might be affected in the future, but industry experts say it’s a bad sign that an iconic sponsor has made such deep cuts, which could represent a savings well into the seven figures, analysts say. Most high-end team sponsorships cost $20 million or more a year before activation.
DuPont’s six races this season will be the two Daytona events, two at Dover, one at Las Vegas and one at Kansas Speedway. Those venues were selected because they are among the tracks where DuPont is committed to buying tickets as part of long-term deals. DuPont’s Wilmington, Del., headquarters also make Dover a natural. DuPont entertained 225 guests for the Daytona 500 earlier this month, down from 1,000 a year ago. Charlotte-based Performance PR Plus handles DuPont’s hospitality and public relations. Deas said DuPont is evaluating how it will work with Gordon this year.