Like millions of other racing fans across the nation, Sherri Garner Brumbaugh loves the thrill of a NASCAR event. However, unlike the majority of those fans, the president, CEO and owner of Garner Trucking, Inc., wasn’t content to just take it in from the stands or infield on race weekend.
That’s why the Ohio-based company entered into a sponsorship deal last season as a way to engage Garner’s 130 employees with a sport that many of them, like their boss, actively follow.
“We’re a relatively small carrier that thinks big, and so we’re on a large national stage,” she said. “We work hard. I think you should play hard. Truck drivers and NASCAR are peas in a pod — or like peas and carrots. It’s been very fun and interesting seeing our #7 car branded in a Cup Series.”
While much of that seems like pretty standard sentiment, Garner Trucking took things a step further to share the benefits of the NASCAR sponsorship with employees at all levels of the company. The sponsorship deal includes several VIP race day experiences, items that many companies might use to reward high-dollar clients or entice sales prospects.
Brumbaugh and her team had a different idea.
“My interest was getting my employees involved in a VIP experience,” she said. “NASCAR is one of the few sports that you can have such close contact with the professional athletes. You meet them, talk with them, they spend time with you, and you get a really close and personal touch.”
Using the VIP ducats to treat its employees instead of as bait for new business is just one of the ways Garner is leveraging the sponsorship differently than most. The company also donated two trucks to Spire Motorsports, which owns the car — another way of building pride and fanship among employees.
The sponsorship has helped company leadership to build on its relationships with employees.
“One of the interesting things we found through this is, several of our drivers said, ‘If I wasn’t driving for Garner, I would drive a NASCAR hauler. That would be a dream job for me.’ So, we came up with another twist with our sponsorship that engaged our drivers,” Brumbaugh said.
“(Spire) had aging trucks, and they really didn’t have the time or expertise to spec a new truck because they were hard to get,” she explained. “So, we just took that on for them and it was really something Spire Motorsports Group appreciated, and something that really connected with our employees.”
The partnership is appreciated on all sides.
“Sherri is the queen of the highway — everything she touches is gold,” said TJ Puchyr, co-owner of Spire Sports+Entertainment. “She’s always paying attention to detail. When you’re around her, you see how she affects her employees and customers. She just does a great job.
“She’s doing stuff for us that she doesn’t need to be doing. She always over-delivers, like with these two beautiful, brand-new Freightliner Cascadias,” he continued. “Because of the sponsorship, it helps with the morale at the trucking company. It’s something everybody there can get behind, rally around, galvanize with each other and have that pride. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
The Garner-sponsored car — a Next-Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE — is piloted by third-generation racer Corey LaJoie, who says he appreciates the relationship not just because of the monetary aspect, but also for the way Garner Trucking conducts its business and takes care of its employees.
“You try to look for (sponsor) companies with similar values and ethos as yours — of just working hard and treating people right,” LaJoie said. “Garner Trucking, and their whole family, are the epitome of that. They treat their drivers great. They are stand-up people.
“It’s been a lot of fun meeting those folks and going to a couple shows with the family,” he continued. _Garner is a super tight-knit, family-run business. They’ve definitely helped us out by making our fleet look strong with those two brand new Freightliners. They make us proud to roll into the racetrack every week.”
Success on the racetrack has been slow in coming, but the company is nonetheless maximizing the benefits of its sponsorship. Tim Chrulski, COO of Garner Trucking, says the relationship feels less like a business arrangement and more like family.
“We had an opportunity to have dinner with the two (truck) drivers here in Findlay, Ohio, and it was an absolute pleasure to have dinner with them. Very much salt of the earth. Very much like our drivers,” Chrulski said.
“We’re going to work with Spire to get their truck drivers through the shop here when they’re at Michigan,” he added. “As much as our employees like Corey, they actually get starstruck over the racing team’s truck drivers too. It’s pretty cool to see that interaction.”
Photos courtesy of the Truckload Carriers Association and Spire Motorsports
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.