Cars

Sylvania lights way for NASCAR trucks; Honda fights to save drive-in theaters

ONE FOR THE ROAD: Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevrolet, shown in last year’s Sylvania 300, will be racing again today with a Sylvania paint job.
ONE FOR THE ROAD: Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevrolet, shown in last year’s Sylvania 300, will be racing again today with a Sylvania paint job.P.I. CORPORATION

There’s something that just feels right when local corporations step up to sponsor area events and facilities.

John Hancock did it with the Boston Marathon, Gillette with the Patriots’ stadium in Foxboro, and Sylvania with today’s Sylvania 300 NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We’ve got thousands of employees and suppliers in the area. It’s a great thing for them and a source of corporate pride to be involved in the largest sporting event in New England,” says Joe Verbanic, Osram Sylvania’s director of aftermarket sales and marketing. “We have a major production facility 40 miles away in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, and our North American headquarters is 80 miles away in Danvers, Massachusetts.”

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It’s a bit odd that a major manufacturer of automotive lighting sponsors a race for cars that don’t have headlights … or taillights for that matter. Those “lights” you see on NASCAR racers are just decals because broken glass is a no-no on a racetrack.

Not a problem, says Verbanic. “There are 100,000 people in the stands who all have at least one car at home and several million more car owners are watching the race on ESPN. We see this event as a great fit for us and our customers because it brings national interest to the area.”

Sylvania is also a partial sponsor of Paul Menard, who will drive the No. 27 car, which will have a Sylvania paint job for today’s race. And there’s also a NASCAR contest with a significant prize for fans who visit the company on Facebook.

It’s a big racing day for Sylvania on another front. The company also is sponsoring today’s final in a Global Rallycross four-race mini-series at Charlotte (NC) Motor Speedway. That event will be televised on ABC at 4:30 p.m.

Sylvania has made Loudon one of the more popular stops on the NASCAR circuit and has been a great help to some of the most important members of the sport’s family—the drivers who pilot the teams’ haulers around the country between races.

“We’ve been replacing the haulers’ headlights with high-performance halogen bulbs for the past several years. It’s like Christmas morning for them when they see us coming around,” says Verbanic.

“It’s nice for us to be able to do something nice and engage with the teams. We also get a lot of love from NASCAR for helping these drivers and making their lives safer. They do a lot of night driving each week, heading back to team headquarters the night after each race, then off across the country a couple of days later to get the equipment to the next track by the following Thursday.”

The trucks get Sylvania’s Silverstar Ultra halogen replacement bulbs. “The color is whiter than original equipment bulbs,” says Verbanic. “They also give better down road and peripheral visibility. Because the trucks have longer stopping distances, the extra visibility means the world to their drivers.

Meanwhile, the company is at the forefront of the industry’s adoption of LED lighting, but that’s a story for another day.

Save the Drive-in

The 74-year-old Saco (Maine) Drive-In is one of five drive-in theaters saved by Honda’s Project Drive-In.

Drive-ins, as well as many independent local theaters, face closure by the end of the year as the film distribution industry converts to digital projection, ending the era of 35-mm films. Conversion costs are in the neighborhood of $75,000, too much for many small businesses.

The Saco drive-in—a seasonal operation—opened in 1939 and is the second-oldest operating drive-in in the country.

Owner Ry Russell said he was overwhelmed after his theater won the Honda challenge against competition from larger year-round theaters around the country.

He said supporters had raised $5,000 toward the project and they decided to spend it to promote an online campaign. “Obviously, it was well spent,” he says. “If we hadn’t won, we’d have had to shut down and sell the land. Then it likely would have become a car dealership,” says Russell of the piece of prime real estate on Route 1 near several Prime Motor Group franchises.

Honda launched its drive-in effort hoping to raise local awareness and get communities involved in saving their local drive-ins, which are a perfect melding of cinema and American car culture.

Between Aug. 9 and Sept. 9, more than two million votes were cast and Saco was one of the first five drive-ins to win a conversion system. Four more winners are scheduled to be announced this weekend.

Besides the new projection system, the winning drive-ins have the opportunity to screen “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which premiered last night in Los Angeles, before its wider release date. Russell says the Saco theater will be open through Halloween.

“The economy still is tough up here,” he says. “We try to give families an affordable night out that’s less stressful than expensive amusement parks.”

Honda benefits from the initiative by using the website, projectdrivein.com, to encourage visitors to share the drive via social media, email, and texts. Visitors also were urged to pledge to see one movie at a local drive-in and contribute to the national save-the-drive-in fund.

Etc.

Today is quiet on the local car-show scene. On Sept. 28, the Salem (NH) Exchange Club takes over Rockingham Park from noon-5 p.m. for a combination indoor-outdoor show.

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