With 4,500 retail locations throughout the United States, GNC Live Well, the largest nationwide specialty retailer of vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements, sports nutrition and personal care products, is known for doing things in a big way. The company's sponsorship in the sport of NASCAR is no exception.

Just take a look at the NASCAR schedule for the next two weekends. In a span of six days, GNC will serve as the title sponsor for no fewer than three different races.

For the second year in a row, GNC Live Well is sponsoring both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) and NASCAR Busch Series (NBS) events at the historic Milwaukee Mile. On July 5, the company will lend its name to the inaugural Stacker 2/GNC Live Well 250 NBS race at Daytona International Speedway.

The company also co-sponsored the season-opening NBS event at Daytona, the EAS/GNC Live Well 300, bringing its race sponsorship total to four for 2002. This season marks the second year the company has sponsored NBS driver Hank Parker Jr., and its second year as "The Official Vitamin Store of NASCAR."

Those companies that see the best return on their NASCAR sponsorship are the ones that do more than just put their logo on a racecar. GNC Live Well capitalizes on its sponsorship by distributing coupons, free samples and other giveaways at each race it sponsors, as well as at a number of race fan-related events throughout the season. GNC radio and television spots air during every NBS broadcast, and full-page advertisements appear in every NBS race program.

The investment seems to be paying off for the nutrition retail giant, which has found that NASCAR fans are very receptive to the idea that GNC can help people "live their best lives."

"Race fans have really responded to our NASCAR involvement," Karla Willman, vice president of communications for GNC Live Well, said. "We've found that we're getting a much higher return rate on coupons distributed at racing-related events than we have through other channels. The fans we've come in contact with at races and other events are extremely interested in how GNC products can improve their quality of life. Hopefully, the next time those people think of vitamins and nutritional supplements, they'll think of GNC."

The company has also used its NASCAR sponsorship in the area of community relations. Through a program called "Race To Be Safe," driver Hank Parker Jr. and his show car have visited schools and YMCA's in a number of race markets to discuss the importance of always using safety equipment. Parker explains how his restraint system and helmet help to keep him safe in his racecar and emphasizes how important it is for children to always wear a seatbelt when riding in any vehicle. The driver also suggests that kids wear a helmet whenever they're out bicycling, rollerblading, or skateboarding.

At the end of each visit, GNC Live Well has donated new bicycle helmets to local law enforcement agencies in each race market for distribution to area youth.

GNC's sponsorship activities have not gone unrecognised. Earlier this year, the Sports Business Journal named GNC as the NASCAR Busch Series Sponsor of the Year for 2001.

"NASCAR fans are a diverse group," Willman said. "You can no longer say that race fans come from one income level, education level, age group or geographic area. GNC is a nationwide retailer that offers products for anyone, and we feel that the sport of NASCAR gives us a marketing vehicle to reach those people."