Greg Biffle and Team Grainger: Rookies With Big-Time Stats

Thu April 03, 2003 - National Edition
James Van Horn

He may be “only” a rookie, but Greg Biffle, driving the No. 16 Ford Taurus for Team Grainger, brings some powerful credentials to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series this season. And, he drives for Jack Roush Racing, which has placed two drivers among the top six finishers in each of the first three Winston Cup races so far in 2003.

Biffle’s rise to the top of NASCAR competition has been almost meteoric Last year, he was the champion of the Busch Series, with 20 top-five finishes and 25 top 10 finishes. He also became the first driver to win more than $2 million in a single Busch Series season. In addition, he earned the season’s Bud Pole Award by winning five top-five starting spots. And, this was only his second year in the Busch — he won Raybestos Rookie of the Year in 2001, finishing fourth in overall points. That year he set eight rookie records, including most wins, with five, and garnered $1.275 million in prize money, tops for a rookie, as well as setting records in most points overall (4,509), most laps let (948), and most races led (19).

The year before he took the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. The Grainger Team won five races and posted 18 top-five and top-10 finishes. This came only two years after he entered the Craftsman Truck Series, in 1998, when he was named Cintas Rookie of the Year. He established the Bud Pole positions with four. Biffle also led at least one lap in 12 different events that season and recorded eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes en route. (Naturally, in 1999, he finished second in overall point standings in the Craftsman, setting a series record with nine wins in a single season.)

Biffle’s NASCAR veteran teammates in Roush Racing have already established themselves this year. At Daytona, Kurt Busch finished second, Mark Martin fifth; in North Carolina, Busch was again second and Matt Kenseth third, while at Las Vegas, Kenseth swept top honors; and Jeff Burton was sixth.

The story behind the involvement of W.W. Grainger Inc. in NASCAR racing parallels Biffle’s. In 1997, Grainger went to Roush Racing for advice on how to build a motorsports platform that would work for their business. Roush recommended becoming a primary sponsor in the budding Craftsman Series. Biffle hit the Craftsman track the following year with Grainger as the primary sponsor, and the two have been together ever since.

Grainger, headquartered in Lake Forest, IL, celebrated its 75th anniversary last year and had sales of approximately $5 billion in 2001. The company bills itself as “the leading North American industrial distributor of products used by businesses to maintain, repair and operate their facilities.” Like Caterpillar, which sponsors Ward Burton in the Winston Cup Series (see CEG Feb. 12, 2003), Grainger is not exactly a marketer of consumer products and services like soft drinks and phones. However, in many industries, including construction, Grainger is known as a single resource for maintenance needs, with more than 500,000 products and parts from 1,200 suppliers.

How NASCAR Enhances Grainger’s Marketing

To make the most out of its investment in NASCAR racing, Grainger integrates it with marketing efforts. According to Michael E. McGrew, external communications manager of Grainger, “We use it as a relationship-building tool to get closer to customers.” He cites several examples:

• At the recent Plant Engineering and Maintenance show in Chicago, a major event for Grainger, both Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch of Roush Racing worked the Grainger booth, signing autographs. They also have been Grainger guests at dinner meetings with major customers. Roush people also stage pit-stop demonstrations for Grainger customers, showing what exactly goes on during that 10 seconds when a race car pulls in and the scene resembles controlled chaos.

• Last summer, Grainger held a “Get in the Race” sweepstakes among customers to help choose a new design for the No. 16 car. For the winner, a Dallas customer, Grainger held a racing day featuring race car driving simulators. (The winning company’s name was prominently displayed on the No. 16 car for one race.)

• Grainger uses the racing motif in its branch and on-line promotions and direct marketing — Biffle and his No. 16 are on page-one of Grainger’s all-important encyclopedic catalog, which is where customers get ordering information on the 500,000 products and parts the company carries.

McGrew said, “Our racing participation has been a big hit with our customers. We’ve seen so many examples that the loyalty of NASCAR fans to drivers and sponsors almost goes unquestioned, but what is interesting to us is that statistics show one-in-four NASCAR fans buys the products that we sell.”

A native of Vancouver, WA, — he now lives in Mooresville, NC, in “NASCAR Country,” — Biffle was a two-time state high school wrestling champion in the 122-lb. class. Early in his career, he took NASCAR Winston Racing Series championships at Portland Speedway and Tri-Cities Raceway. He caught the eye of NASCAR hall-of-famer Benny Parsons during the 1995-96 NASCAR Winter Heat Series. Parsons told Jack Roush, proprietor of Roush Racing, that there was no way he could pass up the chance to hire Biffle, and that if he did he would regret it while watching Biffle win races for another team owner. Roush took Parsons’ advice.

In the first three 2003 Winston Cup races, the Daytona 500, the North Carolina 400 and the Las Vegas 400, Biffle has finished back in the pack, managing 22nd at North Carolina, for example. However, after “surviving” his Winston Cup initiation at Daytona, Biffle said, “My hat is off to Randy, [Crew Chief Randy Goss] and the entire crew for a job well done. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season and what it has to offer.”

Goss has been crew chief for Biffle for the past five seasons, joining him in his rise from Craftsman through Busch to Winston Cup. Before joining Roush Racing in 1993, Goss had a career in pro motorcycle racing, winning the Winston Pro/Grand National championship, twice.

Biffle has set specific goals for the 2003 Winston Cup: “Realistically, I expect to run competitively each week and I believe we can run in the top-20 in points. I’ve got the team and the equipment, so I feel like we can run on the lead lap each week and turn in respectable finishes … I’m ready to make the No. 16 a winner.”