One of the realities of NASCAR racing is sponsors come and go, some changing teams or official status and remaining within the sport, others disappearing, never to be seen again at the track.
Philadelphia-based Axalta Coating Systems, which had revenues of $4.3 billion last year and employs more than 12,000 people in 130 countries, is not your typical sponsor.
Tuesday afternoon at the expansive Hendrick Motorsports campus in Concord, North Carolina, Axalta did something that might be unprecedented in NASCAR history: It broke ground on the 45,000-square-foot Axalta Customer Experience Center, which is scheduled to open next year.
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Clearly, Axalta is not a sponsor that's going away anytime soon. In fact, Axalta and its predecessor have been with Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jeff Gordon since his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the season-ending 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
For most of Gordon's career, DuPont Performance Coatings was one of the many DuPont divisions that supported the No. 24. Axalta acquired that DuPont subsidiary in February 2013, after which Axalta replaced DuPont as one of Gordon's primary sponsors.
Still, the thought of a sponsor -- any sponsor -- spending millions of dollars to build its own state-of-the-art center on a race team's land is a bold move, signifying that the relationship will last well beyond the next couple of years.
"We think it's a great launching pad for us," said Axalta chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver of the new facility. "It will be another step for us. Our relationship takes its next twist and the next step next year as Jeff (Gordon) retires and as Chase (Elliott) comes aboard."
"I think this is a tremendous tribute to NASCAR and the race teams to have a sponsor as big as Axalta that is willing to put a center like this in the middle of your complex," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "It says a lot about the way they use the sport and the success they've had on and off the track."
"To be able to do hit here at Hendrick Motorsports I think speaks volumes about their partnership, their relationship here at Hendrick at NASCAR," said Gordon, who will continue as a spokesperson for Axalta after he retires from driving.
What also makes this arrangement unique is that it extends both ways. Hendrick's new car empire, the Hendrick Automotive Group, has 95 dealerships and 29 collision centers in 13 states, representing 29 different automotive nameplates. This year, the group is on track to sell more than 200,000 cars. According to Hendrick himself, his dealerships and collision centers will paint 100,000 cars this year, using Axalta products exclusively.
"When you're painting BMWs and Mercedes and Chevrolets, the quality of the work has to be pristine and it has to be perfect," said Hendrick. "This training center will have people from all over the country visit Charlotte and our campus, and they will see the race shops. But they'll also get the state-of-the-art training center. I can't tell you how thrilled I am."
And, yes, Axalta will be one of the Hendrick Motorsports sponsors for next year, although Hendrick and Shaver each declined to comment about which driver or drivers Axalta will support in 2016.