For as long as most of us can remember, there's been a Valvoline-sponsored stock car in NASCAR's top divisions.
Unlike any of today's racing sponsors, however, Valvoline can trace its racing lineage back to the first automobile race in the United States, which took place in Chicago back in 1895.
Now, 110 years later, Valvoline is still at it, not only sponsoring a team in Nextel Cup competition but sharing in its ownership as well.
Just because Valvoline -- first patented in 1866 as "cylinder oil" -- has been in racing since it started in this country does not mean the company has not changed with the times, as evidenced by the unveiling of the Valvoline Race Shop at Daytona.
At-track displays are common among the major sponsors and suppliers in NASCAR. The midway runs a close second to the grandstands as the place most race fans visit during a race weekend, and the idea behind the Race Shop is to make Valvoline's huge array of products more available to racing fans and gearheads the world over.
The kickoff of the Valvoline Race Shop represents the centerpiece of a season-long brand awareness campaign for the company, based in Lexington, Ky.
The exhibit features a Dodge Viper mounted on a chassis dyno, and it runs live demos. Bob Newberry's fire-breathing funny car is also there, and it too is cranked over every so often to show off for the gathered fans. Kasey Kahne's sprint car is on display there -- you can't fire it up unless you want to take it for a spin around the midway because it doesn't have a starter on it. Fans can even jump into a Valvoline Dodge very much like the one Scott Riggs drives and crank it up.
Interactivity aside, the exhibit also serves as the home base for Evernham Motorsports personnel. Team owner Ray Evernham visited the Race Shop during Speedweeks, as did chief engine builder Mark McArdle and drivers Kahne, Riggs, Jeremy Mayfield, Erin Crocker and A.J. Foyt IV.
While the interactive display -- which will appear at both Bristol races and again at Daytona in July--is designed to communicate directly with consumers, Valvoline is also spending money on advertising, especially on NASCAR programming on the SPEED Channel. The goal is to focus on Valvoline's amazing history by driving home the point that Valvoline is not only on the car, it's in it.
Motor oil, like nearly every other component on today's high-tech racing machines, has undergone extensive development since that long-ago Thanksgiving Day race in Chicago.
The first lubricating oil patented in 1866 bore the name Valvoline, and in 1939 came X-18, the first all-season, all-purpose gear oil. All-climate motor oil was introduced in 1954, and 11 years later, Valvoline introduced its first racing oil, which quickly became the best-selling racing oil of all time.
In 1972, A.J. Foyt, perhaps the most versatile racer of his or any era, won the Daytona 500 with Valvoline oil in the Wood Brothers' Mercury. Cale Yarborough used Valvoline to win three straight series titles from 1976-78, and in '78, Mario Andretti won the World Driving Championship (Formula One) using Valvoline. Darrell Waltrip won a NASCAR title in 1982 with Valvoline.
Jeff Gordon won his first NASCAR championship using Valvoline in 1995, and Al Unser Jr. won an open-wheel title and the Indy 500 with it.
Valvoline pioneered the use of motorsports to support business relationships through product development and testing and team sponsorship. There's been a Valvoline-sponsored car at Indy, in NASCAR and in many other series since 1959, including the NHRA.
The company also pioneered the use of one-off sponsorships for special events, beginning with its Eagle One appearance products on Mark Martin's NASCAR stockers.
You have seen other Valvoline products on racecars across the country and around the world. Some of those products include Car Brite car restoration products, Zerex Antifreeze (most famously by the late Alan Kulwicki), SynPower performance products and Pyroil automotive chemicals.
From 1990 to 2000, Valvoline was not only a key supplier to many teams, it was one of the best-known sponsors in motorsports. Mark Martin drove the Valvoline Ford for Jack Roush during that time and won 31 races in it. The signature paint scheme became as much a trademark as the big "V" on the hood, along with Martin's stylized No. 6.
In 2001, Valvoline took the unusual step of buying an interest in MB2 Motorsports for the purpose of fielding its own car in NASCAR. Late in 2002, Johnny Benson won at Rockingham at the wheel of the Valvoline Pontiac.
Also in 2002, Valvoline became the Official Motor Oil of Daytona International Speedway and two years later added Bristol Motor Speedway to the bargain.
Ashland Inc. (NYSE:ASH), parent company of Valvoline, is a Fortune 500 chemical and transportation construction company providing products, services and customer solutions throughout the world.