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NHRA’s Biggest Sponsor Coca-Cola Bails: So NHRA Is Suing Them

The National Hot Rod Association is the largest professional drag racing sanctioning body. It has relied on Coca-Cola as its biggest race sponsor since 2002. But it’s 2020 so anything can happen and will. In a stunning turn of events, Coca-Cola has dropped NHRA drag racing sponsorship. So, NHRA is now suing them.

NHRA’s sponsorship deal was for six years at $5.72 million a year

Top Fuel drivers Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher qualifying | Getty

The contract was supposed to run through 2023. The lawsuit alleges that Coca-Cola didn’t make a $2.86 million payment in May. NHRA’s sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola was for six years at $5.72 million a year. But in a statement from NHRA President Glen Cromwell, the NHRA and Coca-Cola had been working together “and all systems were go for their sponsorship to continue, as contracted, through the end of 2023.”

The statement goes on to say that Coca-Cola “had a change of heart.” It told the NHRA it was walking away from continued sponsorship of the NHRA’s pro series right now. “We’re deeply disappointed that they’ve taken this position.” 

“Coca-Cola has seized on global tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic, as a pretext to claim a “breach” and “terminate” the sponsorship agreement early to save money. But neither the Agreement nor the law allows Coca-Cola to do so. This action seeks to hold Coca-Cola to its contractual promises.” 

Coca-Cola’s Mello Yello brand is currently the title sponsor for the series

Frank Pedragon is in action during the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada | Jon Ferrey /Allsport

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Coca-Cola’s Mello Yello brand is currently the NHRA title sponsor for the series. Before that Coca-Cola’s Powerade brand had been the sponsor. It is currently called the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Well, maybe not anymore…

Cromwell’s statement also gives context. It says that the NHRA has never sued a sponsor before. “We never expected to be forced to take action against such a longstanding partner and we value relationships with our sponsors. We do not take this action lightly. But we are unwavering in our belief that we have no other option to protect our rights and the interests of our racing community, especially the racers whose purse was funded in large part by this agreement.”

NHRA slashed winning prize money across the board in 2020 for the professional series

Antron Brown NHRA Top Fuel Dragster at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada | Getty

It was only earlier this month that the NHRA slashed winning prize money across the board in the professional series. In Top Fuel classes the purse went from $50,000 for a victory down to $15,000. Many racers are already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. This just made it even more difficult to cover all of the expenses a team usually pays. So with the purse substantially reduced and now this sponsorship limbo it is placing the NHRA in a position of defending its viability. Cromwell does say, “Our overall financial health remains strong and we are excited to gear up for our 70th anniversary in 2021.”

There are two sides to these things and we hope to hear back from Coca-Cola to get their take. Last year the Coca-Cola company had a net income of almost $9 billion. It spends almost $1 billion on advertising alone. It would seem that it has the horsepower to withstand anything that the NHRA brings to it. We’ll follow up as we get more information.