HAMPTON, Ga. – Auto racing never has balked at straddling the line between business and good taste. Drivers are walking billboards. Race names are used to hawk everything from motor oil to popcorn to video games.
Still, plenty of eyebrows were raised when Atlanta Motor Speedway signed up the National Pork Board to sponsor Saturday's ARCA race, a preliminary to the NAPA 500 Winston Cup event.
It's time for a little swine. Gentlemen, start your pigs ... er, engines for the "Pork The Other White Meat 400.''
"That's kind of a mouthful,'' said Jim Andrews of International Events Group, a Chicago-based organization that tracks the commingling of business and entertainment. "It doesn't roll off the tongue.''
Actually, it makes the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl sound downright dignified. What's next? Bounty The Quicker Picker Upper 500? Like A Good Neighbor State Farm Is There Grand Prix?
"Most sponsors really strive to keep those things simple,'' said Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report. "While they want visibility, they don't want to stand out and be awkward.''
That's not the case with the pork industry, which credits the ``Other White Meat'' campaign with helping the industry bounce back from a devastating price slump three years ago.
Let people laugh - as long as they're talking pork.
"At first, I chuckled at it,'' admitted three-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel, whose team is sponsored by the pork industry. "But it does what you want. People remember it. It's like a stupid commercial on television. People will be talking about it around the water cooler on Monday morning.''
Kimmel's car and uniform are adorned with the pork slogan. He's always mindful to get in a plug for "the other white meat'' when celebrating in victory lane. The team pigs out on barbecue in the garage and hands out gold pins shaped like - you guessed it - a hog.
Now that they've branched out to sponsor a race, the pork board has unveiled billboards and newspaper ads with the mantra, "Gentlemen, start your porkchops.''
Andrews can see the benefits of an outrageous marketing campaign.
"By having such a ridiculous name, people are talking about it,'' he said. "I'm sure they're thinking about the old adage that any publicity is good publicity.''
Then again, Andrews can't help but wonder if this is a pig in a poke.
"You want people to say your name. You like announcers and broadcasters to actually use it,'' he said. "When you create a name that awkward, it's shooting yourself in the foot.''
Also, Andrews questions the public's acceptance in a world where everything from ballparks to bowl games has been consumed by corporate monikers
"Overall, I think people are going to look at this and kind of grimace,'' he said. "Here's another corporate sponsor taking over an event and making it sound ridiculous.''
John Hagerla, assistant vice president of marketing for the pork board, said the group considered a shorter name for Saturday's race.
"We could call it the Pork 400, or the American Pork Producers 400,'' Hagerla said. "Ultimately, we decided it should be Pork The Other White Meat 400. You've got to understand, that's one of the most recognized product names in the world. People know what it is.''
Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, has no reservations about the name of the race.
"Because of the cleverness of their campaign, I thought it was the perfect name,'' he said. "People may laugh a little bit about it, but they're talking about it and they're writing about it.''
For that matter, the track's March Winston Cup race is officially known as the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 - also five words - but it's usually shortened to Cracker Barrel 500.
If slogans become accepted in the business of sports, is it possible that political campaigns and special interest groups would jump on the bandwagon?
With a struggling economy that doesn't have nearly as many corporate dollars to spread around, it's not all that hard to imagine the "Re-Elect Bush In 2004 400.''
"That would depend entirely on what it is,'' Clark said. "Is it a fit for motorsports and our company's philosophy? You've got to draw the line at some point.
"When it comes to political campaigns,'' he added, "I would never say never, but I don't see that being something we would do.''
While sports fans have learned to live with everything from Lowe's Motor Speedway to the Insight.com Bowl, Andrews predicts this latest marketing tool will go to the hogs.
"The pork producers may get a bump because they're the first to do it,'' he said. "But consumers and fans are not that easily swayed. You have to make it easy on them to accept those kind of things.''