e.l.f.'s Indy 500 Car Sponsorship Points to Interest in Female Fans

a pink race car
Cosmetic Brand e.l.f. Sponsors an Indy 500 Carelf cosmetics

Motorsport is still a man's world. Not because women don't like it or can't do it, but because the way the sport has historically organized itself is set up around sponsors and track activities that have traditionally been considered male-oriented. And even then, it's a pretty narrow category, depending on the race series, angling towards the hunting/fishing crowd or the finance/watches sort.

Which is all fine. People need hobbies and to know the time. The problem with the narrow range of sponsors is that it's hard to bring in new fans. It's also hard to encourage the fans outside that interest group to spend their money on swag and collectibles.

That's what makes this year's Indy 500 interesting from a motorsports marketing viewpoint, because not only is there a makeup brand sponsoring a car, it's partnered with Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself during the race weekend with a large booth offering stickers, magnets, and makeovers. The brand is e.l.f. Cosmetics, a hyper-inclusive makeup brand with a large, mostly young, mostly female-presenting customer base. e.l.f.'s entry to Indy began with a sponsorship of driver Katherine Legge's Dale Coyne racing entry, but the brand has expanded to a full-scale deal with the Brickyard—the first time a beauty brand has been a primary sponsor of a driver in the race, as well as a partner with the event as a whole.

elf cosmetics

The Katherine Legge Juggernaut

Why would that happen, given the circumstances of motorsport? Well, some of it is due to one very, very good driver. Katherine Legge is the first woman to win a developmental open-wheel race in North America, who outqualified a teammate half her age for the 2023 Indy 500, and who brushed the wall during qualifying this year and kept her foot in it to be the only woman on the grid for this year's start.


The biggest barrier to women getting seats in racing is funding, as it is for most men as well, but many brands are put off taking a chance on women because the likelihood of success is so low. Because no one backs them. So, they don't get good equipment, so they don't win, so nobody backs them. To break that cycle takes a great driver like Legge, but also a team that can think outside the usual sponsor list and imagine a new audience they could reach.

indianapolis, in during indianapolis 500 practice in indianapolis, indiana photo by james black ims photo
James Black

IMS president J. Douglas Boles described the importance of the e.l.f. sponsorship as introducing "the racing capital of the world to new audiences, including women and girls." Which it will, although we'd add here that there are already many women and girls watching racing, so not only will this partnership bring in new viewers, but it will also encourage those who have been in the stands already to keep coming and feel both seen and valued.

Legge spoke to the press this week about the sponsorship, expressing surprise that the reaction has been as positive as it has. "Honestly, having e.l.f. as a partner has been a dream," she said. "I had no idea how meaningful it would be to so many people. But when you see all the young girls and young women and even the guys saying, you know, 'I had to go and buy e.l.f. cosmetics for my daughter or my wife,' or whoever it may be, I think they just feel represented. I don't think that there's been any female-centric products on any race car at this level. I think that they see the pink car—and while you and I might think, oh, it's pink, how cliché—it's actually representing a whole demographic of women who haven't been acknowledged yet."

a red race car
Chris Owens

Representation Matters

It may feel shallow, or even stereotypical, to place this much importance on a cosmetics brand being at the racetrack or, as Legge says, on a pink car designed to appeal to women, but the key to success in any sport is money. Does it makes any for the promoters and sponsors who support it? And based on the activity at the e.l.f. activation this weekend, the messages left for Legge on the whiteboard there, the buzz of e.l.f. tags on social media, and the lines for Legge's autograph and merchandise, there are clearly people ready to open their wallets for pink-car stuff.

This isn't just a "girl brand" sponsor. It's the result of a talented driver attracting a new partner to motorsports, and hopefully it signals the start of a trend. Forget alcohol and tobacco—let's enter the era of lip-gloss racing cars.

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