Usually when NASCAR racing is mentioned in the same breath as hockey, it has something to do with part-time truck series driver Ryan Ellis, who shares a name with one of the top defensemen in the NHL. That’s not the case this time. It was announced today that the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL would be sponsoring Justin Haley’s car in NASCAR’s Xfinity series race at Darlington this Saturday. As a fan of both racing and hockey, I feel obligated to answer some questions you might have about this, so hopefully I have the answers you’re looking for.
Who are the Greenville Swamp Rabbits? They are the ECHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers and the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. The sponsor of their home arena, Bon Secours Wellness Arena, will be the primary sponsor for the Justin Haley car this Saturday, and it will also carry the logo of the Swamp Rabbits. They are located in Greenville, South Carolina, a town home to a rich racing history and the legendary Greenville-Pickens Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval that several icons of NASCAR have raced on. Some notable players from last season’s roster include Nick and Jack Poehling, brothers of Ryan Poehling who is known for his debut game with Montreal in which he netted a hat trick. Matthew Strome is another Swamp Rabbit with brothers in the NHL, namely Dylan and Ryan Strome. Old School hockey fans certainly remember Matt Barnaby, who’s son by the same name also played in Greenville last year. They finished the 2020-2021 season 2nd in their division with a record of 38-19-12 and got eliminated in round two of the playoffs.
So who are they sponsoring? A young rising star in the world of NASCAR by the name of Justin Haley. He drives the #11 for Kaulig Racing full-time in the Xfinity series, the last feeder series to the top level of the sport. He’s the most recent winner of a race in the series following a photo finish at Daytona last Sunday, to go along with three wins last year. He also took advantage of a one-off opportunity in the top series back in 2019, grabbing a cup series win that also came at the Daytona Summer race. He will be driving in the cup series full-time next season as Kaulig Racing makes their debut as a chartered team in the top series starting in 2022.
What does a sponsorship deal like this cost? Well, the idea of a sponsor on a car is to cover the cost of running the race, so to put it simply, not cheap. A one race deal like this likely ran Bon Secours Wellness around half a million dollars. Multi race deals have multi million dollar price tags. The idea for the sponsor company is to be on a car that finishes well in the race, therefore providing them with exposure and hopefully new customers. Being that the Swamp Rabbits play in Greenville, it makes sense to be on a car at the race in Darlington, which is just two hours away, closer the coast of South Carolina. Another win for Justin Haley could mean some new fans of the Swamp Rabbits headed to the games come puck drop for the 2021-2022 campaign, which would be greatly beneficial following a financially tough last two years for the ECHL and it’s clubs throughout the pandemic. So here’s to minor league hockey and hoping Justin Haley can put the #11 back in Victory Lane this Saturday.