The Frontstretch: The Best Ad Campaign in NASCAR History by Kurt Smith -- Friday March 14, 2008

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The Best Ad Campaign in NASCAR History

Kurt Smith · Friday March 14, 2008


Dale Jarrett picks up his helmet and steps out of the garage in his UPS firesuit. Poignant music begins to play. Dale walks slowly in front of the now iconic UPS truck and stares at it pensively.

He is seen driving the truck in front of the garage. Elliott Sadler and Martin Truex, Jr. are seen looking on, and then his buddies Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty watch the truck go by with smiles on their faces.

The truck is seen alone running on the track, and Dale's "crew chief" shouts in his headset, "Dale, you got company out there!" Other cars driven by Labonte, Truex, Petty and Sadler join in and inform Jarrett that "you ain't leavin' without a race!"

The three-time Daytona 500 winner obliges: "You want a race, you got one!"

His father Ned Jarrett, a NASCAR champion himself, cheers him on: "Go Dale Go!" Finally, after seven years, Dale Jarrett is racing in the big brown truck.

It all started when UPS signed the deal to sponsor Dale Jarrett in Robert Yates' No. 88 car before the start of the 2001 season. In one of their first commercials, UPS immediately begins to try to persuade Jarrett to race in a standard UPS delivery truck, assuring him, "If you cross the finish line in the big brown truck, there won't be a dry eye in the place!" Dale refuses, and keeps refusing, despite the pressure from UPS people, kids in the mall, Jackie Stewart, and apparently, everyone else in the known universe.

As UPS continues to pressure Dale ("The new logo makes it look a lot faster!"), even numerous celebrities get into the act. Wayne Newton, Joe Walsh, Charlie Daniels all perform spoofs of their hits, modified into a plea to race the truck. George Thorogood performs a comical send-up of "Bad to the Bone" called "Brown to the Bone" ("cause it's big and it's brown, b-b-b-b-b-brown to the bone!"). Kermit and Miss Piggy even try to persuade him.

At the beginning of the 2005 season, Dale interrupts a UPS meeting to agree to race the truck, and the news is broadcast as far as Japan before Dale goes back into the meeting and asks the group to keep the news low-key for a while.

And on it went. We want to race the truck. People love the truck.

Like most NASCAR drivers, especially champions, Dale Jarrett was everything a sponsor could ask for. A winner who raced clean and almost never caused trouble on or off the track. Linked to history through his father. A mild-mannered, genuine good ol' boy that represented what was likable about good ol' boys. He even had a cool NASCAR-type name. Especially in his prime, it was a no-brainer for a company like UPS, when they were looking to get into NASCAR, to sponsor the car driven by Dale Jarrett.

However, even considering that, few drivers could have pulled off "We Want to Race the Truck" like Jarrett did. Always deadpan, but always with the bewildered and just slightly impatient, irritated look on his face at the continuing insanity around him.

This columnist's personal favorite spot: Jarrett is riding in an airfield cart with a UPS rep, and he questions how he will compete on the track with the truck's top speed of 75 MPH. The UPS rep explains that UPS has one of the largest airline fleets in the country. When Dale asks what that has to do with racing the truck, a UPS truck screams by with jet engines hilariously attached to it. Dale is completely satisfied, and the ad ends with the jet-engine-adorned UPS truck racing full throttle down a runway.

Finally, Jarrett will race the big brown truck.

But there were so many other ones. There was the pit stop practice, where it is learned that not only do the wheels have about fifteen lugnuts on them; but also, much to the crew's surprise and dismay, that there is also another tire behind the outside one that needs to be changed. The exchange in the elevator with the woman who asks him to race the truck; Dale says, "No can do, ma'am" and a UPS rep reprimands him: "_Can_ do, Dale. Can do." The yoga class with Dale struggling to keep his balance. The suggestion that he wear the truck driver's uniform shorts. The proposed movie version ("Truck On The Track!"), featuring a Rob Lowe look-alike as Jarrett. The department store scene, with Dale minding his own business riding an escalator, and an announcement comes over the PA: "Would the owner of a white Ford Taurus, please race the big brown truck."

UPS and Dale Jarrett carried on what were basically variations on the same gag for seven years and it's still pretty doggone funny. Note to Lorne Michaels: hire some UPS commercial writers for Saturday Night Live.

There will be motorsports journalists everywhere who will give Dale Jarrett his just due for his racing career, and rightly so. His 1999 Cup championship and three Daytona 500 victories alone should undeniably land him in the Hall of Fame someday. Undoubtedly, his accomplishments on the track will get the acknowledgment that is duly deserved.

But his impressive career numbers aside, Jarrett made many of us laugh in commercial breaks probably more than any other driver did. Just by mastering a look of slight discombobulation at the idea of racing against other race cars in a parcel delivery truck.

The UPS ads reminded us all that the marketing of the drivers, the sponsors, and the sport is all part of the big show too.

The big brown truck crosses the finish line first after a hard-fought battle. The "race" fades and the 1999 Winston Cup Champion is seen holding the keys to the truck. He unhooks the key from his key ring that includes a UPS keychain. Ceremoniously, wordlessly, he hangs the key on the hook that reads “RACE TRUCK.”

He clutches the UPS big brown truck key chain in his hand and looks off into the distance. And even in a commercial that, like all commercials, is written and rehearsed to perfection, the emotion of the moment seems to be getting the better of Dale Jarrett.

The commercial, the music, a Hall of Fame career, and the funniest ad campaign in the history of NASCAR ends with UPS thanking Dale for a great ride.

NASCAR fans' faces everywhere might still have dry eyes, but they are probably wearing smiles reflecting on seven years of a brilliantly executed joke. Thanks to Dale Jarrett and the UPS marketing department, now people really do love the truck.

Well done, DJ.

Kurt's Shorts - Friday, March 14, 2008

  • Tony Stewart raced his heinie off in Atlanta just to get a Top 5 and a post race interview. You could tell he had been rehearsing his tirade while he was racing… I wonder if his explosion at Goodyear after the race was the kind of emotion Brian France said the sport is looking for more of. We'll find out when the No. 20 hauler shows up at Bristol after Tony blasted their official tire maker.
  • One cautionary word to Stewart, though…if he switches the tires on his hearse to Firestone, I hope he's prepared for a long wait at the shop. I speak from experience. No Firestone employees are ever going to be nicknamed "Smoke,” trust me.
  • You wonder how much of what goes on with the tires is politics…who makes the decisions, how knowledgeable they are, who's getting paid, who's in a position that shouldn't be, at Goodyear and/or at NASCAR. At my "other" job, I work for a large corporation that, for the most part, makes a great product, but the mismanagement that goes on is unbelievable sometimes. I can conceive that Goodyear possibly has people making big decisions who have their own self-interest in mind more than the quality of the racing. I hope that's not the case, because there is danger involved with motorsports. I'm just saying I believe it's possible.
  • Here's a good headline: "Despite Stewart's comments, Goodyear insists tire is worth at least one crap, proves with photos"

Hope you enjoyed Happy Hour this week. Here's to a great final race for DJ at Bristol.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

03/14/2008 12:21 AM

Thanks for the tribute…It definitely has been the “Best Ads” I can ever remember..One of my favorites was when his dad in a “Dale” mask tried to get in and drive the “truck”.the first time I saw that one I caught myself saying outloud, no less, Aw come on Dale let your daddy drive the Big Brown Truck”. My husband looked at me and just shook his head…they just brought a joy and smile each time I saw them….They sure will be missed..No one else could have pulled it off for 7 years.. and it will be nice to have a Jarrett back in the booth in fact they could bring his dad out of retirement and they could work together…

Kevin in SoCal
03/14/2008 01:35 AM

Why doesnt Dale race the UPS Brown Truck in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series?? It’d be perfect!!

03/14/2008 07:48 AM

Thank you Dale Jarrett!

And thank you Kurt Smith for putting it into words!

M.B. Voelker
03/14/2008 09:46 AM

I’d be happy to pay money for a DVD of the complete commercial series. Not the insane kind of money that new release movies command — they are, after all, commercials. But if I could pick one up at the UPS store for $7-12 I’d do it.

Getting people to be willing to pay to watch commercials has to be an advertiser’s wildest dream.

03/14/2008 10:39 AM

Thanks to Dale Jarrett for such a great career. One of my greatest memories is him winning the Daytona 500. I will never forget Ned calling the final laps with them showing his mother hiding in their van in the infield so nervous.

These commercials are some of the greatest NASCAR commercials. I always looked forward to what would happen in their next commercial.

My father-in-law was a retired UPS employee so he was naturally a Dale Jarrett fan. My only hope is that UPS finds some way to possibly continue some of these ads with Dale Jarrett. I am not sure that David Reutimann is work as well in these ads, but we will have to see.

Brian Thompson
03/14/2008 10:53 AM

I’ve been reading your commentary since you started, Kurt, and you really did a great job with this one. Dale Jarrett has always been a class act on and off the track and the sport will miss him. Keep it up. I’m proud to be related to you, cuz.

03/14/2008 02:13 PM

My favorite commercial was the little boy who was going to hold his breath until Dale raced the Big Brown Truck and Dale reached up and squeezed the boys cheeks and let out the air. I laughed so hard I was crying.

03/14/2008 02:53 PM

I agree with M.B. Voelker…I would TOTALLY buy a DVD with just Dale’s UPS commercials. They have always been my favorites! I even got a little teary-eyed at the latest one with him racing the truck. Not even Michael Waltrip can beat the UPS commercials.

Thanks, Kurt, for one heck of a tribute. Your words were perfect.

Thanks for the memories, Dale. You always were and will forever be one of the classiest guys out there!

03/14/2008 05:28 PM

Gotta agree about the RACE THE TRUCK ads …only thing thats ever been close has been waltrips NAPA ads …dale was a great driver and michael IS a fabulous sponsor rep , I would love to see any of these other “models” in firesuits make fun of themselves for the benefit of the folks paying the bills ..

03/14/2008 09:57 PM

What a perfect scene..Dale doing a parade lap at Bristol in the UPS truck.Thanks Kurt for a fantastic article.Now how do we start a petition to have Dale do a lap in the truck?

Kurt Smith
03/15/2008 09:50 AM

Thanks all for reading and commenting. M.B. had a good idea, and yes I would pay a reasonable amount of money for a DVD of the Race The Truck ads. Hopefully someone from UPS is listening.

03/16/2008 07:07 AM

Dale is such a class act because he had one of the best role models in the sport. His dad Ned has always been the perfect southern gentleman. The best commercial I like to remember was “How about a piece of pie?”

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