What started as a contingency decal on a quarter-panel of a stock car in Connecticut has grown into an international partnership.
Whelen Engineering, a long-time sponsor and supporter of NASCAR's touring and regional series, became the official entitlement sponsor of the European stock-car series in an announcement Monday morning in Paris.
The first race under the newly re-named NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will be this weekend at France's Tours Speedway. The first-of-its-kind, temporary oval is located just outside Paris. The series, which was founded in 2008, is in its second year under the NASCAR banner.
The Whelen entitlement sponsorship agreement is through 2019.
"This is a landmark day for the series," said Jerome Galpin, general manager of Team FJ, which owns and operates the European-based series. "Whelen's support of NASCAR at every level is exemplary and to have them on board with the Euro Series brings another level of prestige and support to the series."
Last year, Spain's Ander Vilarino became the first NASCAR European champion. He again leads the championship points after three race weekends.
Galpin and Vilarino were joined at Monday's announcement on the Seine River by Nicolas Deschaux, president of FFSA (Fédération Française du Sport Automobile); Bob Duvall, NASCAR senior director of business development; and Joe Balash, NASCAR international competition liaison.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series competes on road courses in France (Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro, Circuit de Dijon-Prenois in Dijon, and the championship round at Circuit Le Mans Bugatti in LeMans), England (Brands Hatch Circuit), Spain (MotorLand Aragón, near Alcañiz) and Italy (Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, north of Milan).
Many of those facilities have signed long-term agreements to hold Euro Series races.
The Tours track is a nearly .400-mile track. The success of the first event last year, won by NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver Ben Kennedy, has prompted the series to make it a more permanent structure with additional banking.
"NASCAR is a globally recognized brand that is synonymous with excitement, family entertainment and close door-to-door competition," said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series. "And that's exactly what the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series represents in Europe. We are extremely proud to partner with Team FJ and Whelen Engineering, and help take this series to the next level."
The signing of Whelen as an entitlement sponsor is yet another example of the growth and potential of the series.
"NASCAR has been a tremendous partner for Whelen Engineering, and having our products at the tracks and used by teams is really at the core of what we're about," said Phil Kurze, vice president of motorsports for Whelen Engineering. "We enjoy helping to provide people with exciting weekend entertainment, and providing an opportunity for drivers, mechanics, crew chiefs and fabricators to display their talents. As we continue to expand our distribution throughout Europe, partnering with Team FJ is a natural fit."
Whelen has been in NASCAR since the early 1990s, getting its first involvement with Ted Christopher in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East back when it was known as the NASCAR Busch North Series.
Whelen progressed in car sponsorship, eventually landing as a primary sponsor for Dave Blaney in the 2004 Daytona 500. The Connecticut-based company has also been involved in sports car racing, sponsoring Boris Said and Eric Curran in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series.
Whelen's involvement in NASCAR increased in 2005, when it became the entitlement sponsor for the NASCAR Modified Tour in 2005, sponsoring the oldest series in NASCAR. That same year, Whelen became the sponsor for the newly-formed Southern Modified Tour.
In 2007, Whelen added to its NASCAR presence by becoming the title sponsor of NASCAR's grassroots weekly series. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series encompasses 55 short tracks throughout the US and Canada. Recently, Whelen re-affirmed its commitment by extending its contract through 2019.
Kurze pointed out that Whelen's products -- which are all manufactured in the U.S. by is more than 1,400 employees at its plants in Connecticut and New Hampshire -- are used extensively by police and fire departments, towing companies and emergency personnel. Many of those same people help make up the racing community.
"It just makes sense for us to be involved here and that we're supporting their sport," said Kurze. "As time has gone on, we saw an increase in sales, which we attributed directly to our involvement in NASCAR.
Whelen's sponsorship of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is in addition to the commitments it has made to the U.S.-based series.
Kurze said that as the company has expanded distribution into many parts of Europe, it's a natural fit to partner with the Euro Series.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series crowns champions in its Elite Division, as well as an Open Division.
The top drivers will be recognized at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., in December, along with the champions from all of NASCAR's touring series.