One could almost say that Sage Karam was born to be a race car driver. His family moved from Easton to Nazareth when he was 4 years old where they became quick friends with their new neighbors, the Andretti family, perhaps one of the best know families in Indy Car racing.
Karam took an early liking to the sport of racing and showed the talent and initiative to become a professional driver. Michael and Marco Andretti were mentors helping him learn the dos and don’ts of becoming an Indy driver and what it takes to succeed not just on the track, but off.
Karam said one thing many race car fans don’t see is that the driver of the car can’t just have talent behind the wheel, he needs to be a good salesman and businessman to garner the support of sponsors and keep them happy, so they continue to financially support him and his team and they can afford to keep up with the significant expenses of racing.
“Racing is different because you have to bring in a lot of money to do it,” Karam said. “In other sports if a kid has talent they can get scholarships to go to college and prove that talent and get recruited to play a sport. In racing, if you don’t have the money you can’t get into the sport.”
Because of that most drivers come from families with more money, many the children of business owners.
His parents are a nurse and a teacher, so without the support of the Andretti family, his racing team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and his sponsors, his racing dreams would have been left on the side of the road.
“In the 1990s it was easier to get sponsors,” Karam said. “Now you need to get creative to get sponsors and make them happy.”
To recruit good sponsors he needs to let them know that he’s more than a 240 mph billboard, but a business resource that will provide them with value.
In addition to having stickers with his sponsors’ names on his car, helmet and suit, his team hosts business meet-and-greets and provides networking opportunities between sponsors to add value to their investment in him.
For example, he may have one sponsor that manufactures a product and another sponsor that is a major retailer. He can work with both on a partnership to get the manufacturer’s product in the store of the retailer.
“They don’t just want to see their name on a car, they ask, ‘how does this benefit me as a sponsor,” Karam said.
It’s tricky, he said, because he has to be careful not to get sponsors that are competitors so they have the exclusivity that their deal provides. He says he’s pretty lucky; his team gets most of the sponsorships that keep him in the races, but like any driver he is asked to lure his own sponsors.
“Sometimes for an upcoming race they’ll say, ‘we need you to go out and find $100,000,” he said.
The sponsorship money goes towards expenses such as tires and fuel, crash repairs and getting the team to and from the racing events.
He has one local sponsor, Rich Mar Florist of Allentown, but most of his sponsors, AES, Global Power Company and Mecum Auctions, are national or from Indiana where his team is based.
John Morrissey, owner of Rich Mar, said sponsoring Karam is part of his company’s “out of the box” marketing strategy that targets motorsports. He also sponsors drivers in NASCAR and recently did the flowers for the Nashville Speedway.
But he said his sponsorship of Karam is special.
“Sage is such a great person and it’s great to be able to sponsor a local driver who has been in the community his whole life,” Morrissey said.
Karam’s manager and agent, Gerald Grube, said he’s making an effort to get more Lehigh Valley-based sponsors for Karam.
“Our Lehigh Valley has some huge companies who would be perfect for Sage and team,” Grube said. “The opportunities in hospitality and B2B are huge.”
It’s good to know he has the backing of local companies and fans in the community, he said. “Local sponsors would be really cool because we could do meet and greets, have autograph signings at their business.”
So, for now his sites are set on his own hometown and the Greater Lehigh Valley to gather sponsor support.
As for what’s next for his racing, he said he’s keeping the possibilities open. At 26, he said he’s young enough to explore other motorsports and may try to dabble in sports car racing or NASCAR to see if he has the shot at making it beyond the world of Indy Car racing.