Hall of Fame Racing team adds Labonte, Ask.com

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Hall of Fame Racing became the latest NASCAR team to use a merger to stave off collapse, aligning Tuesday with Yates Racing to keep its operation running.
The team quickly signed former Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte to drive the No. 96 Ford, which will operate out of Yates’ shop, and secured primary sponsorship from search engine Ask.com.
Ask also signed on as “the official search engine of NASCAR,” in two separate deals that bring new money into NASCAR at a time when most of the industry is scouring the crumbling economic market for funding. Ask is also exploring marketing, at-track displays and media opportunities with various track operators.
“My feeling was, there’s no better time to come in than now because there’s less clutter,” Ask CEO Jim Safka said. “In our research, NASCAR fans really understand and support the sponsors. As others are pulling out, my hope is it gives Ask.com a better chance to earn their respect and their business.
“When other people are batten down the hatches, I think it’s a good opportunity to step on the gas pedal.”
Ask’s sponsorship of the No. 96 is for the first 18 races of the season, which begins with next month’s Daytona 500, with an option to buy more as the year goes on.
Tom Garfinkel, co-owner of Hall of Fame Racing, said Ask’s management team has proposed various new marketing ideas that will be new to NASCAR.
Meanwhile, the sponsorship and signing of Labonte saved the race team that was founded by former Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
“With our new Yates partnership and having a true champion and class person in Bobby Labonte behind the wheel, we’re expecting great things on the race track,” said Garfinkel.
Under the new alignment, Hall of Fame’s No. 96 will switch to Ford and operate out of Yates’ recently expanded facility. The No. 96 used multiple drivers last season after J.J. Yeley was fired midway through the year.
Yates fielded cars last year for Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland, and is adding Paul Menard to its roster.