There are NASCAR fans, and then there are NASCAR super fans.
NASCAR super fans are normally those who want more than just a seat in the stands when watching a race; they want an all-encompassing experience: pit passes, garage tours, maybe even a suite to watch the race.
However, one fan just wanted a little more access than all that.
Dale Sahlin is the founder of Production Alliance Group (PAG), an event management company based in Tustin, California. The company manages events for many Fortune 500 companies and has a production company, 3rd Rail Productions covering the entertainment industry.
Sahlin’s success gave him the freedom to pursue his passion for NASCAR. And thanks in large part to PAG, he is perhaps the sport’s biggest superfan.
For three seasons, PAG was the godfather by right for the Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway. The race, known as the Production Alliance Group 300, is not the first time Sahlin’s company has been involved in the sport. His involvement actually started very modestly and for very different reasons. He first got involved in the sport at Phoenix Raceway in Arizona when it was known as ISM Speedway.
“I mean, honestly, I was a fan, I’ve been a fan all my life,” he said. Adding with a chuckle: “So when I started with the track, I really started small, I wanted a good parking space in the field for where I parked my bus, like near the driver’s parking lot. So, I became a sponsor, a very, very small track sponsor.
Over time, Sahlin became more invested in the sport and began looking for ways to grow his business on the track.
“There was finally a plan for it,” he said. “But then they came and said, ‘Why not be the authorized sponsor?’ And I thought ‘Hey, why not?’
“And that’s when it became the Production Alliance group or the PH 300.”
That first race for PAG was in 2019. And as the race sponsor that gave Sahlin the ultimate fan experience: posing in Victory Lane with race winner Cole Custer (Custer also won this year’s PAG 300).
“Honestly, I had no idea who Cole was,” Sahlin admitted. “I wasn’t really a big fan of the Xfinity side; plus, maybe the big names, but I didn’t really know Cole.
It was at Victory Lane that day that someone slipped a business card into Sahlin’s pocket and said, “Call me.”
That person turned out to be Warren Vigas who was Cole Custer’s business manager at the time. And that call turned into a meeting later that night with Custer and Vigas.
“We sat around a campfire that night,” Sahlin said. “And he’s like, ‘forget the track, man. You gotta get along with the teams.
This led to PAG’s sponsorship with Stewart-Haas Racing and Cole Custer in the Xfinity Series. A sponsorship which followed Custer into the Cup series and now also includes Stewart-Haas driver Chase Briscoe. All the sponsors not only provided Sahlin with unlimited access to the track, but also to the drivers.
“These are the guys I vacation with; I make life with it now,” he said. “I consider them very dear friends.”
However, being in the event planning business and trying to grow that business in the NASCAR space can be tough. Especially since NASCAR’s event space is already pretty much booked. CSM Productions led by Jay Howard has been the event planner of choice for NASCAR for over 30 years. If you’ve seen a pre-race concert, elaborate staging for driver introductions, or confetti flying down Victory Lane, chances are CSM had a hand in it. Sahlin said he has enormous respect for the CSM and what they do and has no intention of encroaching on their turf. He’s still looking for a way to get involved, though.
“You know, NASCAR is so big, and they have so many events,” he said. “Lots of other things like IMSA. I did the IMSA Awards… For the Cup this year in Phoenix, I did this media day. They give me slices here and there.
While these small installments are important to his business, NASCAR sponsorships have other benefits, such as B2B marketing opportunities. Warren Vigas is now the business manager for driver Joey Logano, the 2018 Cup champion, and someone Sahlin also counts among his NASCAR friends. Logano helped secure PAG and Sahlin an account with Planet Fitness, one of Logano’s sponsors.
“I’ve been doing Planet for the last two years because of Joey,” he said. “Joey is the CEO’s best friend, and he just said, ‘You gotta use my boy, Dale’. Well, that’s all it took.
And it’s those B2B introductions that are one of the best things about his relationship with everyone in NASCAR.
“Obviously the B2B side, you know, is tough,” he said. “But it opens doors and we can talk to a lot of people.
“I’m put in places and (with) people and then I have to do my job. It’s my job from there… they say, ‘Okay, Dale, now we can open the door for you, which you’ve probably never had until this door, but now you have to take care of it.’
Just as he was beginning to open those doors and grow the business, Covid shut down the world and NASCAR. Sahlin said PAG was able to pivot and adapt, resuming business with government entities.
“We built the largest vaccination site in the city of Chicago for FEMA,” he said. “FEMA knows how to build tents and do little things; they don’t know how to push eight to 10,000 vaccinations a day; like moving people through an event. It takes event people.
“So when you say adapt, absolutely. My production guys were the operations guys at a vaccination site in the city of Chicago and have nothing to do with production. There’s no sound, there is no lighting. That’s what they did because it paid very well. And we adapted.
Now the world is reopening with the drop in Covid cases. However, many corporate sponsors continue to work in a hybrid model, and many events that once took place in person are scaled down or taking place remotely. But PAG adapts again. A recent example is Expedia who, in the past, used PAG for their annual meeting.
“It’s awesome,” Sahlin said. “It’s huge in Vegas. Two years ago it went off and now we’re bringing it back; a little less, budgets have gone down, it seems like it’s the common thing, budgets go down. is like, ‘Hey, we still want that’, but they’re like, ‘Hey, you spent 2 million last year, you got a million this year’, but it has to look like that.
“So we’re starting to see a bit more of that. But you know, I’m telling you, I’m not the best, you know, lawyer, whatever. But I believe deep down that yes, people will always bring you together and events will come back. They just might not be to the scale they used to be, or it will take some time to resize them.
And now that NASCAR is back, NASCAR superfan and business owner Dale Sahlin will continue to try to grow his brand in the space, a space beyond just a parking spot for his bus. He wants to continue to earn the respect and trust of those at NASCAR and win more business for PAG.
“Before Covid it was like, ‘just let me do an event for you guys. Let you guys, let me see how my guys work’. It’s all about my guys. That’s not a question “We have great equipment. It’s not about the equipment. It’s about my team, my team, you know, it’s great.
“Yeah, we’re definitely making waves,” he said. “We make our waves and it comes back. We get bites where we can, and there’s enough business for everyone. That’s the thing, I mean, CSM has a big dent in this business, but there’s more business with NASCAR.