Appearance can make a difference

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

Is it amusing or saddening that so much of human interaction is based on appearances? I can't decide. At the same time, I also can't help but notice how much of a difference presentation makes.

Last May I entered two NHRA events in New Jersey, one at Englishtown and the other at Atco. A few days after the events I was browsing through the photos from the events on the major Web sites that cover these competitions and I was struck by a realization. I noticed that the cars that got the most photos were not necessarily the fastest cars, they were the ones with the most stickers and/or vinyl decals.

At the time, my car was relatively naked as I was only sporting a 15-year-old factory paint job and nothing resembling a sticker. Regardless of that fact, I actually found two photos of my car on these Web sites. Although that was exciting, it paled in comparison to the numerous shots of some of my competitors.

So I decided to try a little experiment. I stuck a bunch of vinyl on my car for the next event to see what would happen. The result was an overwhelming seven photographs of my car on those sites from that single event. Lesson learned.

Needless to say, the stickers and vinyl have remained, resulting in more and more coverage for me and my sponsors. It's almost funny how easy that was.

Last year I just drove my car to the track, no fancy trailers or any of that jazz. I simply drove up, entered the event and drove home. I distinctly recall a rather unfriendly conversation with a track official that was trying to get me to park a 1/4-mile away with the bracket racers even though I was racing in the heads-up classes. It was tiring trying to explain to this control freak that I was parked in the correct place among my competitors.

It's not that I have anything against the bracket racers, I just did not want to be where they were. They are given the pit spaces in the farthest corner of the track. You have to dial a "1" just to get there.

There are no concessions out there. You have to walk a 1/4-mile just to get to food and water. After you return to your car and realize that you now have to relieve some of the fluids you just took in, it is another 1/4-mile walk back to the main facilities to do your business. Who would want to be parked that far away?

I have been concerned that my old engine will eventually give up on me, so I decided to buy a trailer to avoid getting stuck at a track with a broken car. I was fortunate enough to locate an affordable, pre-owned enclosed trailer.

It was rather shocking how differently I was treated at the first event this year when I showed up in a truck with an enclosed trailer in tow. The entire entry experience to the facility was significantly less of a hassle than in years past and I was even given preferential parking next to the Pro racers. Last year I would have had to fight for a spot that I could at least see a Pro car, much less be parked next to one.

As a third bit of proof to my theorem that appearance matters, I offer a another piece of evidence. Another "appearance" change I did for this year were pit crew shirts for my friends. I thought it would be cool to have shirts for my friends to wear at the track and figured it would be a good way to advertise my car. Little did I know the difference it would make.

Just by wearing the shirts and looking like a race team, my friends were getting all kinds of little perks and one really big one. The small perks were basically getting easier access to different parts of the facilities and a bit of attention for themselves. The really nice bonus the shirts offered was it allowed them access to park their own cars in the pits.

I couldn't believe it. Last year I was incredibly frustrated at an event because they would not let my girlfriend's car into the pits. She had all of my tools and spare tires in her car. I ended up having to drive my car outside the pits to her car in the spectator area to change my tires.

Flash-forward a year later to find myself at the same event at the same track and two of my friends were able to drive right into the pits with their crew shirts on. Remarkable.

All of this has been rather educational and I am left wondering what I can do next to pump up the appearance factor to get more of these fringe benefits. Maybe a police escort into the track? How about a red carpet for the car to sit on? I'm open to suggestions.