ALAN TITCHALL looks at the relationship between an up-and-coming civil contractor and a young racing car driver with an eye on Bathurst.
MARK NEILSON, managing director of MWN Civil, says it’s one of the best business moves he has made since setting up his contracting company a decade ago and it has nothing to do with shifting dirt.
“I know nothing about motorsport, but I do know something about starting companies, running teams and having support from family and friends.
“When the opportunity came up to help Brad Lathrope and his racing team, I saw a connection; my team and his team just slotted in together and the relationship has been great for both of us.”
MWN Civil is not the first contractor to step outside the industry and have a public profile in motorsports. The names Peter Ward, Blair McDonald, Mitchell Cunningham, Andrew Porter, Nick Ross, Lance Hughes, Dave West and others are legendary in performance Australasian racing circles.
Mark’s sponsorship of an up-and-coming V8 racing driver started modestly.
“My brother is involved with racing and through him I found myself helping out Brad and we had a little sticker on his V8 racing car. That has evolved to becoming a major, naming rights sponsor with the car and racing team in our company colours.”
A racing legend in the making
Brad Lathrope looks surprisingly light in frame for someone who wrestles a 430 horsepower V8 racing car around the track with such skill that in the last BNT NZ Touring V8 (Class 2) Championship season he was second overall in points. He came third in his rookie season before that.
“Hopefully I will win the championship in my third season coming up,” he says.
Just as important is the fact that Brad’s car won the ‘Team of the Season’ Award for the ‘Best Presented Car and Overall Presentation’ of his team. He also won the prestigious Ashley Stichbury Memorial Trophy, which is presented each year to a driver in the NZ V8 Championship who has shown a sportsmanlike attitude to fellow competitors and a natural driving ability during the season.
“As the driver I am the face but just a very small part of a team where everyone is important in achieving a result. That includes our sponsors of course.”
Experiencing a podium finish at six of the seven rounds in the past season gave him a great sense of pride he says.
“To get to stand on that podium and proudly represent my team, sponsors and supporters for giving me the best car to go out there and drive is amazing!”
The BNT NZ Touring Car (V8 class 2) grid is a popular event for young Kiwi drivers cutting their teeth in top level touring car racing.
Twenty-six year old Brad Lathrope is one of those young drivers gradually making his way up the leadership ladder, having started at club level racing a MK1 Escort at the age of 19. Before that he was inspired by his father’s involvement in the organisational side of motorsport, but the expense of racing meant it was a late start on the actual race track for Brad.
Although you can run a class two car for $30,000 to $50,000, which is considered ‘very affordable’ in motor racing, the sponsorship market is the hard part of racing, says Brad. The drivers and their teams race simply for the glory of winning championships at this level. There is no cash reward.
“Everyone is in the same boat with sponsorship. If you follow major international race classes you can see sponsors jumping from team to team as they may have a better deal on offer or be able to promise more consistent results.
“Thankfully we have been lucky enough to have our season fully funded due to sponsors such as MWN, but to continue to move up into Class One of BNT NZ Touring cars or into the Aussie V8 supercars Development Series is going to take a lot more sponsorship and effort on my part.”
Brad tells me that he will always appreciate his past sponsors on the way to Bathurst where the budgets are huge.
“There will always be a MWN Civil sticker somewhere on the car.”
A family affair
“It’s not just about providing funds to Brad’s racing team,” says Mark. “It is also about support. Support from our staff and families at racing events.
“On family and sponsor days we take the staff and suppliers such as the accountant and bank manager and make it a networking event.
“On these days, the drivers are allowed to take passengers on ‘hot’ laps. It’s a heck of a thrill.”
‘Hot’ is the racing term for when the track is open to actual racing, so the passengers get to experience fast, competitive driving.
At the last family day earlier this year Mark organised for Gone Fishin’ host Graeme Sinclair to ride in Brad’s V8. A hot lap ride had been on Graeme’s bucket list for a long time.
Some years ago Graeme had taken V8 racing driver Greg Murphy out heli-fishing and, in return, Greg offered to take him on a hot lap around the Pukekohe track. On the day, however, officials decided it was too dangerous for the wheelchair-bound Sinclair who lives with multiple sclerosis.
Mark Neilson thought otherwise, so on a MWN-organised family day at Pukekohe this year they got Graeme into Brad’s V8.
Graeme is quoted on the NZV8touringcars website as saying that loading him into the passenger seat was “a bit of an act”.
“Bloody uncomfortable was my first thought, but that was totally erased when the accelerator hit the floor.
“It took a lap to get in the groove but my first alarm went off on the first corner. I thought, there is no way this car is going around there!
“I found that I had a stupid grin glued to my face. It stayed there for ages, in fact it was stuck there until my jaw ached a couple of hours later!”
In exchange for the hot lap ride Graeme has invited Brad (a keen fisherman) and his father Gary on a Gone Fishin’ episode.
“As they say, good things are worth waiting for! That was a hell of a blast and now it’s my turn to stick a smile on the faces of Brad and Gary, not shredding rubber but peeling line!”
A sponsor’s rewards
Mark says the relationship between his own team and Brad’s team is not only a great way to get exposure for his civil contracting company, but it is a great way to reach out into the community and do something positive.
“I recommend other contractors to look at such sponsorship and get their staff involved.
“The MWN family day this year put smiles on a lot of people’s faces and we are very proud of that.
“I can’t wait to do it again.
“Plus we get to support a very worthy young man in the pursuit of his dreams. How much is all that worth in the end?”