Ryan Vargas is a NASCAR driver. The 21-year-old races in NASCAR’s Xfinity series for JD Motorsports a team that fields four cars in NASCAR’s middle tier touring series and has campaigned a mix of drivers in its 24-year existence.
The team isn’t exactly known as a front runner in the series: in nearly 1,500 starts they’ve never won a race and have scored top five finishes just six times. As a small team they lack what the bigger teams have, money. Speed in NASCAR takes cash and JD Motorsports is constantly looking for sponsorship.
Vargas began racing Bandolero cars in his native California when he was 12, moving up to the K&N Pro Series East in 2018, and made his Xfinity debut with JD Motorsports in 2019. That was a one race deal and young Vargas knew that to race in the upper ranks of NASCAR he needed sponsorship, something that is hard to attract for a small team like JD Motorsports.
As it turned out Vargas was very good at finding sponsorships. That’s because he learned early on that to race, he needed to be good at marketing himself, become his own brand; and if he wanted to stay in NASCAR, he would have to find the sponsorships himself.
And that’s something he’s gotten quite good at.
In 2020 Vargas returned for a multi-race deal with JD Motorsports. What was originally three races turned into nine when Vargas convinced social media giant TikTok to sign on for six additional races.
This past season the sponsors kept coming for Vargas. They ranged from Swann, a security company, to NFL player turned NASCAR fan Alvin Kamara who signed on to promote his company Big Squeezy, a Louisiana-based juice and smoothie chain. He even secured a deal with Newegg Commerce a growing tech-focused online retailer for the second to last race of the season at Martinsville.
Gaining all that sponsorship is impressive considering Vargas just turned 21 in September, and even more impressive considering he accomplished all those deals alone.
“The reason why I really do my own sponsorship stuff is really just because I can’t afford to pay anyone to do it,” Vargas said chuckling. “I got to worry about rent.
“When it comes to doing sponsorship, there’s so many marketing groups and agencies and all this stuff, and some of them, most of them have really good intent and a lot of them do a really good job, but I just simply can’t afford it. I can’t afford to have someone go out there and represent me.”
Obtaining his own sponsorship is something Vargas has had to do throughout his career.
“The best advice that I’ve ever gotten is nobody can sell you better than yourself,” he said. “And that’s the way I’ve kind of gone about a lot of these things. That’s how I go about these sponsorship deals.”
Vargas markets himself constantly and when a potential sponsor shows interest, it’s the driver who goes to the meeting; something he admits can be a little frightening sometimes.
“It’s what’s gotten me sponsorships,” he said. “It’s what’s kept me in race cars. I mean, I was supposed to be done racing in 2017. So, the fact we’re talking about me driving in the Xfinity series and hopefully, knock on wood, getting to race into the future. I think that’s a really big testament to everything that goes into it.”
The biggest marketing tool for Vargas is something that comes naturally to all those in the generation born after the 21st Century began, social media. Vargas uses all the online platforms to connect with fans, and more importantly perhaps, potential sponsors.
“It’s its own form of promotion or advertisement that’s really free,” he said. “You don’t pay to be on Twitter. You don’t pay to be on TikTok. You don’t pay to be on Instagram; don’t pay to be on Facebook. You just simply post and get the word out there.”
Attracting and signing a sponsor is only the start, however. Vargas has learned that every single sponsor he signs has different reasons for doing so.
“They’re not sponsoring a race car just to have a sticker on a race car” he said.” You know, a sticker can only go so far for some companies.
“You have to be aware of that when you reach out to them, you can’t just reach out to them and say, okay, I’ll give you a quarter panel and, and tickets to a race…no there has to be a reason.”
The goal for Vargas is to understand what the sponsor’s needs are and help meet those.
“That’s something that I’ve had to learn very quickly,” he said. “Not as a businessperson, I guess you could say, when I do put these deals together, because I know that at the end of the day, for every dollar that someone spends, I want to get back at least a buck 50.”
Going beyond simply branding a racecar is something about Vargas that his latest sponsor learned very quickly.
“Ryan first caught our eye when he brought TikTok to NASCAR last year when he drove the TikTok car,” Andrew Choi, director of brand marketing for Newegg said. “Since then, he’s done an amazing job of bridging the tech and motorsports worlds.
“He streams PC gaming on Twitch, most notably iRacing, and enjoys engaging with his livestreaming audience and fans. He also participates in PC gaming tournaments, and his social media presence exudes positivity from both him and his fans. He has an authentic love of technology, and that’s something our customers can really connect with. And the fact that he’s local to Newegg in La Mirada, California, makes him just a perfect fit for collaboration.”
Vargas admits that he has had to learn a great deal about the corporate world. And while he doesn’t consider himself “corporate savvy,” when a sponsor asks him things such as how to measure a ROI, he’s ready to show them.
“You look at social media,” he said. “How many clicks do you get? What are your impressions, your engagement, what is each video that you put out?
“For example, Swann, okay. There’s a Swann logo in this video. How many people saw that?… How many people clicked on their tag? How many people viewed them?
“Then also you got to reach out to them and see, okay, how many new customers do you guys have? How many website visits, partnerships that we’ve developed internally for you guys that have helped grow these things. So, it’s all just trying to figure out how you returned for them so that they’re happy. And as long as you’re consistent and you’re able to continue replying to these people, then you’re able to make it happen.”
His newest sponsor has seen this in action.
“Ryan was great at articulating the ROI of our partnership,” Choi said. “He listened to what we were looking for and we cultivated a campaign together that would generate the return we were looking for.
“We wanted to integrate custom PCs and PC gaming into the campaign, so we built a custom ‘Ryan Vargas PC’ for him to give away, which he designed and signed. And he introduced us to his current sponsors (Nutrishop and Swann), which both raved about his professionalism, dedication, positivity and willingness to go above and beyond for his sponsors.”
Vargas raced 29 times in the Xfinity series in 2021. In January before the season started those races were unsponsored. By the end of the season, Vargas had sponsorship for all but three of those races.
“It was really just like me trying to say, okay, time to figure this all out, make it work and sell sponsorship,” Vargas said.
At the end of the day all Ryan Vargas wants to do is race. And in order to drive a racecar he’s doing what he needs to do, in order to do what he wants.
“I’m doing this all to keep myself in a racecar,” he said. “If I’m able to continue racing for 5, 10 years, that’s going to be far and away further than I thought I’d ever experience. I’m at a spot I never thought I’d make it to, I never believed I’d make it to Xfinity. I don’t think I shouldn’t even have made it this far, but you know what, here we are.”
And that drive isn’t confined to the racetrack.
“Ryan’s entrepreneurial drive is impressive,” Choi said. “He’s fearlessly going after his dreams – on the racetrack and off – and we’re proud to support him as he builds his brand in the NASCAR world and beyond.”
With his skill and ability at attracting, and keeping, big name sponsors, Ryan Vargas has shown at a young age he is not only a racer, but a savvy entrepreneur. As for the future:
“What does the future look like for Ryan Vargas?” he said. “The truth is Ryan Vargas doesn’t know what the future looks like; but Ryan Vargas hopes he’s driving race cars…if I’m driving race cars, Ryan Vargas is happy.”