Fans, experts react to Indianapolis 500 presenting sponsorship deal

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Indianapolis 500 now has a presenting sponsor for the first time ever. Thursday, Hulman and Company announced the deal, valued for PennGrade Motor Oil, a subsidiary of a Lebanon, Indiana based company, at roughly $5 million over the next three years.

The race this year will now be called “The Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.” But for some a sponsor’s name tacked onto the title is a bit of a surprise.

Traditionalists consider the Indianapolis 500 a holy grail of sorts. Motorsports is dominated by corporate partnerships and sponsorships, but the Indianapolis 500 never had one on its name until now.

“In a way, yes, I’m surprised, because it’s an iconic brand,” said Dr. Jay Gladden, Dean of the IUPUI School of Physical Education and Tourism Management.

Gladden is an expert in sports marketing. He said corporate engagement and dollars in sports and especially racing is nothing new.

But this is the Indianapolis 500, an institution that stayed away from sponsorship in its name and now could have racing traditionalists crying foul.

“Motorsports is highly dependent on corporate dollars to exist. The race teams don’t exist without corporate dollars, yet, you have something people feel a strong connection to, the Indianapolis 500, which has never had this kind of visible corporate exposure, and it creates consternation.”

Gladden said he expects corporate influence to extend to major pro sports in the very near future.

Lifelong Hoosiers we talked to Friday said the sponsor’s name on the iconic race did give them pause but really didn’t bother them too much.

“Now, it seems like everything that’s sacred has a sponsor on it,” said Daniel Rexing, “About ten years ago, maybe you’d think people were selling out, but it’s become so common anymore.”

“It was kind of interesting news. I don’t know if I’m disturbed by it,” said Brent Harris.

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, May 29th.

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