Fire Department Coffee officially made its move into the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023. The company is only five races into its inaugural season, but it has felt the family atmosphere that makes motorsports unique.
Founded in 2016 by US Navy veteran/retired firefighter Luke Schneider, Fire Department Coffee joined Kaz Grala and Sam Hunt Racing as a primary partner for 10 races and as an associate partner for the rest of the season.
This deal led to several appearances at the track for Schneider and others associated with FDC. What they quickly discovered is that fans and members of the industry can be very welcoming to newcomers as they try to teach them about the sport.
“Our first prime sponsor race was in Fontana, I wasn’t able to make it,” Schneider told Heavy ahead of the Atlanta weekend. “My family went, and they treated my family like family. My parents and my uncles and [my] cousin couldn’t say enough good things about how well they were treated.
“And for me, because I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to make it, it made me feel so happy to hear that my family was being treated like their family. So, it’s been incredible.”
Once Schneider attended a race in person, he was blown away by what he saw. He realized that the family atmosphere was present on the starting grid, and he saw that it extended to the areas surrounding the racing surface.
“I think it seems very fitting the racing market highly supports first responders,” Schneider said. “They’re very supportive of our military and our veterans. And I also like how NASCAR before every race, they do the prayer, they do the national anthem, they do the flyover. I think it’s just an incredible experience.
“They’re very engaged in making family-friendly events, and you see a lot of people with their kids. And then even in the VIP area, they had foosball, and we were able to play all these types of games. I think that’s really cool and just a really good fit for us because we’re very focused on creating memorable experiences with our community.”
A Championship Racer Played a Major Role
NASCAR is not the only motorsports series in which FDC has a presence. The company also became the Official Coffee of NHRA as part of a multi-year deal that began with the 2023 season.
Why did Fire Department Coffee move into NASCAR and NHRA? There are many reasons, such as the focus on a family-friendly atmosphere at the track and the support that the series show for first responders.
Another reason is that there were key people that played significant roles. Darius Grala, for example, reached out to the coffee company in 2022 because he believed that a partnership between his son, Kaz, and FDC would be a good fit. This led to an introduction to Sam Hunt Racing and, ultimately, a 10-race deal in 2023.
Darius helped FDC move into NASCAR, but there was another key figure that played an important role earlier in 2022. Three-time Top Fuel dragster champion Antron Brown is the man that FDC points to as the catalyst for the move into motorsports.
As Schneider explained, FDC was selling coffee through Matco Tools, the company that just so happened to sponsor Brown. The Illinois-based company was able to attend an NHRA event through this partnership, where it met with Brown and his AB Motorsports business manager, Ted Yerzyk.
“We got introduced to Antron, we got in Antron’s hospitality tent with our coffee and we were serving coffee in the hospitality,” Schneider said. “Then Antron introduced us to NHRA, and then we started brainstorming some ideas.
“We were like, ‘Well, what would it take to be the official coffee of the NHRA?’ And then it was like, ‘Okay, this is awesome.’ So we ended up partnering with Antron Brown, we partnered with the NHRA, and then we partnered with Kaz and the Sam Hunt Racing team.”
“Ted just started giving them the lay of the land,” Brown told Heavy. “What we do, how we do it, and then how we entertain all our folks because our form of racing is different from the circle track racing. We actually have a deal called the pit side experience, which is a hospitality area right next to our race vehicles.
“So all of our partners and their customers come in our pit, enjoy themselves, lay back… And think about this — our dates always start off in the morning. So how cool would that be to have FDC out there entertaining our guests with all their new flavors and their flavors that they come out with?”
The interesting part is that Brown was not a coffee drinker. He would start his day with tea while his wife would have coffee. However, a sample of FDC’s vanilla bean bourbon-infused roast led to a new coffee experience, which included an unexpected dose of extra energy.
“It was hilarious, brother. So my wife makes this coffee and I’m smelling. I say, ‘What is that smell? It smells good.’ Like you know what I mean? You can smell the flavors in it. And I came up there, and I don’t even put cream or sugar or anything like that. I just took the coffee to see what it’s gonna taste like this.
“My wife looked at me like I’m crazy because I’m not a coffee drinker. No, I’m just drinking it black. I sip it, and I’m like, ‘ This coffee’s got some good flavor. Like, it’s really, really good.'”
Brown played a key role in FDC becoming the official coffee of the NHRA. He also did a deal with the coffee company, which involves activations at the tracks and giving back to the community.
“Throughout the year at every race, we visit a local fire department,” Brown continued. “And when we go there, we make an appearance and then they actually make a hero of that local fire department where they’re able to give them a shirt and bring them out to the race.
“They come to our pit side experience and do all that stuff and they’re on the midway, where they’re being recognized. And then also, they sell T-shirts at that race. And then from the T-shirt proceeds, they make a donation to that local firehouse that they chose.”
Fire Department Coffee Wants To Build Something in Motorsports
The move into NASCAR and NHRA is fairly fresh, but Fire Department Coffee is embracing the challenge. The company has attended numerous events, and it only plans to increase the number while building a long-lasting relationship with industry members and fans alike.
“We want to show them that we’re out here because we believe in the sport,” Schneider said. “We believe in what it stands for, and we feel that it’s a great community for us to get involved with and grow with. So we’re really excited about being a part of it, and we look forward to meeting more and more race fans out at the races.
“I’m personally going to be at a lot of the races. We have a lot of our executive team that’s going to be out at the races because we want the community, the racing community, to know that we’re not just doing this to kind of half do it or kind of make some extra brand awareness. We actually want to engage this community and be a part of it and create memories in NASCAR and NHRA.”
FDC has a sizable presence across multiple motorsports series with its sponsorship of Grala and its role as the official coffee of the NHRA. Now, its executives believe that they can simultaneously create memorable experiences and raise funds to support first responders through the Fire Department Coffee Foundation.
“We’re a coffee company. We have a mission to make great coffee and support our fellow firefighters, first responders,” Schneider continued. “That’s our mission, and if NASCAR can help us with that, great. If NHRA can help us with that, great. If we can thrive in both environments, even better.”