ZHUHAI, CHINA— In China’s auto racing circuit, drivers can spend thousands of dollars for just one day of competition on the track. It is an unlikely place to find a children’s charity, but in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, one driver is making an effort to raise support for disadvantaged kids.
Driver and coach Pete Olson suggested the idea of advertising the ChildFund International logo on helmets and cars to the owners of his team, PS Racing, after supporting the charity in the United States.
The team donates money, and so far Olson has persuaded three so-called “gentlemen drivers,” for whom racing is just a hobby, to sponsor a child through ChildFund International.
“I just wrote them directly I said ‘hey, why don’t you guys sign up, come on, I know you guys spend thousands of dollars every time you smash your cars and laugh it off and stuff. I said it’s like 25 bucks a month, come on that’s nothing,” said Olson, describing his efforts to recruit other drivers.
The professional racing circuit in China has been slow to take off. The Chinese Grand Prix opened in 2004, but so far it has struggled to attract spectators, a problem critics blame on high ticket prices.
However, China is home to exponential growth in the automobile market, says Jim Moore, general manager of Quandarium, specialists in the automotive aftermarket.
Moore travels to China regularly to represent U.S. brands and says the Chinese market is changing rapidly.
“This is a culture that 15 years ago nobody dreamed of owning a car, and in that time period everybody has a car so it’s come that far that fast. Now that everyone has one they want it to be different from everybody else’s,” said Moore.
With accelerating private car ownership in China, auto industry sponsors are trying to promote their brands and products through the racing series. As the sport grows, Moore explains, it is still funded in part from second generation Chinese business people.
“Their parents built factories and sold products all over the world and made lots of money, and now their kids are off spending that money. Motorsports has become a pretty popular hobby for a select few of that group,” Moore said.
Olson admits that it is difficult to sell the idea of sponsoring a child to drivers from mainland China because, he says, the concept of donating money to charity is still very new.
Sunny Wong says he thinks promoting the cause through racing will attract more attention from wealthy businessmen like himself. He works in real estate in Hong Kong and started racing four years ago. He is part of the team that now sponsors a child through ChildFund International.
“I think it’s always good to have good exposure [to] such an audience, and… racing is a different audience for normal organizations like ChildFund International… I think it’s a new niche that they are being exposed to,” said Wong.
The positive exposure that ChildFund International receives through the team is reciprocal. Olson says he thinks PS Racing has received more coverage on national television and newspapers because of the connection to the charity.
“They will post more pictures of my car and in all the media they mention ChildFund International car. The promoter thinks it looks nice for the series… it adds more of an angle to the racing,” said Olson.
Olson says he was drawn to ChildFund International because his mother could not afford to raise him and gave him up for adoption when he was a child.
“I got adopted by a Harvard lawyer so I lucked out. So there are many, many times in my life that I thought I’m very lucky to have had my education, private schools and everything and the racing, especially when I was just getting started,” said Olson.
He says if he had not been adopted he would not be living the life he is now. He says he wants to encourage privileged people like himself to give something back.