Jeff Olson

If you don’t live in the St. Louis area, you probably aren’t aware of the city’s largest auto dealer. Until two years ago, anyway. That’s when Bommarito Automotive Group became the event sponsor of the NTT IndyCar Series race at Gateway Motorsports Park, turning race fans far from the city into world-class Googlers.

What did they find in their search? (After mastering the spelling, of course. Two Ms, one R, one T). They discovered that Bommarito Automotive Group has been part of the auto dealership scene in St. Louis for nearly 50 years. It operates dozens of new and pre-owned dealerships, selling everything from Audi to Suzuki, and it has a unique interest in and position regarding motorsports.

Last month, Bommarito decided to re-enlist with Gateway Motorsports Park and INDYCAR, extending its sponsorship of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline through 2021 at the 1.25-mile oval just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Bommarito and Gateway aren't the only ones to come to such a decision recently.

A similar thing happened Tuesday: Acura announced its sponsorship of the Long Beach Grand Prix. On Wednesday, Firestone’s announcement that it will continue as INDYCAR’s tire supplier through 2025 included mention of previously announced naming rights for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The Laguna Seca entitlement announcement came Jan. 16, the same day Road America named REV Group as title sponsor of its June NTT IndyCar Series event weekend.

And last week, Gainbridge, an online financial service specializing in annuities, added its name and logo to the Indianapolis 500, making May’s race the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Once curious fans established the correct spelling – Gainbridge, not Gainsbridge – the internet searching commenced.

What fans found was a company that put its advertising toe in the motorsports water last year with Group1001’s sponsorship deal on Zach Veach’s car for Andretti Autosport. Group1001, Gainbridge’s parent company, discovered that INDYCAR fit the market it’s attempting to reach, and chose to pursue it further with the Indy 500.

What is it about placing a corporate name and logo on the name of a race that works? In the case of Bommarito Automotive Group, it’s fairly simple. It’s about getting the company name in front of a larger audience.

John Bommarito“A lot of it has to do with the ability and the exposure and the reach and the frequency of how INDYCAR promotes its races,” said John Bommarito, the company’s president (shown at left). “By utilizing that, you’re teaming your brand with a national brand like INDYCAR. The exposure is great, and it happens very quickly. It drives traffic and more customers to us.”

It’s not an unusual dynamic, this idea of corporations wanting to get involved with racing as an advertising platform through event sponsorship. In fact, it’s as old as the first auto race in the United States. In 1895, a race of six horseless carriages from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois, and back was sponsored by The Chicago Times-Herald.

No doubt that people interested in that race sought to follow it by way of the newspaper, so cross-promotion via race sponsorship isn't a new play. The product or service of the sponsor reaches a larger audience; in Bommarito’s case, putting its name on the Gateway race has been a key strategy play in the company’s expansion.

“We’ve utilized a regional and now a national footprint,” Bommarito said. “With the auto business and the way of the internet and our virtual showroom, we can pretty much sell and deliver automobiles all over the country now. It’s very easy to facilitate that. We’ve taken our website and broadened our footprint with the help of INDYCAR and Gateway. It’s been a great and successful relationship.”

Through Bommarito, Gateway Motorsports Park owner and CEO Curtis Francois has been able to aggressively and smartly promote the race, one of several recent add-ons to the NTT IndyCar Series schedule that have proven popular. The relationship between the three – Bommarito, Gateway and INDYCAR – is mutually beneficial.

“We’re honored to be a part of it,” Bommarito said. “It’s a great culture. The people and the culture of INDYCAR are just phenomenal to work with. I’ll be honest with you. I’m new to the environment, but they opened their arms to us. They opened their information and knowledge and gave us access to everything very quickly. It’s been a very easy and quick relationship about putting on a first-class event.”

Try searching for Bommarito Auto Group now. Not the race, the company. You’ll sift through dozens of references to the race before you find the story of Frank Bommarito, who turned his skill as a car salesman into ownership of an Oldsmobile dealership in Ellisville, Missouri.

Nearly five decades later, the company he started, now run by his son, operates 20 dealerships in the greater St. Louis area. It sells nationally, not just regionally. By sponsoring a race in its hometown, Bommarito Auto Group found a clever way to expand to a larger audience.

What’s in a name? In racing, just about everything.