REDMOND, Wash. — Howard Leendertsen roots for Indianapolis car driver Kevin Cogan louder than anyone else.
"I want him to win in the worst way," he said with a smile. "You might say it's a burning desire."
Leendertsen, 32, is chief executive officer and a co-founder of the Redmond-based Wolff Systems-SCA Corp.
The 5-year-old tanning equipment distribution company is expected to top $50 million in sales this year, up from $30 million last year. That's a 313% growth rate since the company's first year in 1980.
Some of that money is behind the Kraco Racing Team, which fields a two-car team driven by the 29-year-old Cogan and Michael Andretti, 22, son of veteran Indy car driver Mario Andretti.
Leendertsen's company is the principal sponsor of Cogan's car and an associate sponsor of the Michael Andretti car. With one race left--Nov. 9 in Miami, Fla.--in the 15-race Championship Auto Racing Teams series this year, Cogan still is looking for his first victory. Michael Andretti hasn't won, either.
Cogan's best finish came in the Michigan 200 in September when he was fourth.
When Roger Penske's car driven by Danny Sullivan won the Indianapolis 500 in May, Cogan finished 11th.
After 14 races this year, Cogan ranks 11th in the series' points standings. Al Unser leads the series.
"It's frustrating not to win," said Leendertsen. "But this is a sport that has so many variables."
Leendertsen's company is completing the first year of a three-year contract with the Kraco Racing Team and team owner Maury Kraines of Beverly Hills, Calif.
He's vague about the amount of money his firm is spending but admits it's "in the millions." He added, "Our promotional budget alone to support the (Cogan) car is in excess of $500,000."
Leendertsen's company has 12 offices nationwide. Thus, he explained, he wanted some kind of a national promotional vehicle for his firm.
The vehicle he settled turned out to be Cogan's.
"You can't put your name on the side of a horse in the Kentucky Derby," he said.
For Leendertsen, Indy car racing just seemed like a natural advertising gimmick as opposed to conventional advertising.
"If you had the money to create heightened awareness and promote the product," he explained, "would you do it with conventional advertising or would you utilize a medium that had imagery and that affords you that unique point of difference?
"So we decided on automobile racing. We liked the number of people we could reach and the awareness that we could create."
Leendertsen had to get his auto racing idea approved by his company's board of directors. But the directors liked the idea of having one of the world's fastest billboards, a sleek March 85C powered by a 750-horsepower, turbocharged Cosworth racing engine.
Does the company gets its money's worth?
"Absolutely," Leendertsen said. "We evaluated the tangible as well as the intangible return and we couldn't duplicate it."