Jason Aldean Warms Up Indy 500, Talks Firestone Deal and New Album at Pre-Race Concert

Jason Aldean

James Minchin III

“It’s hard not to have fun when you’re in the infield of a race track,” Jason Aldean said addressing the sold-out crowd of 41,000 screaming fans on Saturday night (May 24) at the inaugural Firestone Legends Day Concert on the eve of the 98th Indy 500.

The concert arrived in the midst of Aldean’s Burn It Down tour, which includes three consecutive sold-out shows at Aaron’s Amphitheatre in Lakewood, Ga. (May 15-17), and already sold out stadiums in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Aldean says he's also working on his next album for Broken Bow Records.

“We’ve got a new album coming out the end of this year or maybe September and a new single coming, probably coming  the end of June,” the Georgia native tells Billboard. “We’re getting geared up for all that stuff right now. Between that and the tour, it’s going to be a busy year for us.”

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Aldean’s show at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicked off his new partnership with Firestone.

“It’s a big feather in our cap to have those guys on board with us,” Aldean said shortly before taking the stage. “I’ve never wanted to be involved with something that didn’t represent what I was about and I feel like Firestone is one of those Americana sort of brands that has been around forever and for me… I would never do a deal with like Rave Hairspray or something.”

The Firestone deal was initiated by Kathy Armistead Olen, president of Nashville-based Atticus Brand Partners.

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“I work with Firestone’s agencies and they asked me to help them with a new program that they were going to center in country music called Destination Country and it’s a crawl, walk, run,” she says of the deal. “They wanted to plant a flag and say, ‘We’ve arrived. Our customer is a country listener and a country fan.’ I wanted them to chose the best guy and that’s what our company does is match brands and artists. I knew Jason would be a perfect fit.”

Phil Pacsi, Firestone VP of customer marketing, agrees.

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“When we started to look at where we could go with some other way to expose the brand, country music popped up as a great opportunity for several reasons,” Pacsi says. “Number one, when we looked at the fan base of country music and the fan base of the Firestone brand or our consumers, there was a high overlap between those two consumers. Firestone brand is built on a customer who is a work hard/play hard [kind of person]. They use their vehicle for work. They use their vehicle for play and when you look at the country music fan, they skew very heavy toward trucks and that’s also the Firestone demographic. Destination is our light truck tire brand so we came up with Destination Country.”

Aldean says performing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a chance to cross something off his bucket list.

“It’s the first time I remember playing a race track. We might have played a little county race track but as far as a motor speedway like this, this is the first one,” says Aldean, who won the male vocalist honor at last month’s Academy of Country Music Awards. “We’ve been crossing stuff off the bucket list, things we’ve never done before, and this is another one of those things so it’s pretty neat.”

Unfortunately, Aldean didn’t get to stay and watch the race. “We’ve got a show in Baton Rouge tomorrow so we’ve got to leave tonight,” he said. “I was hoping to see some qualifying or something cause I know it’s pretty impressive how fast these cars go, but unfortunately not.  Hopefully next year I’ll be able to come and stick around for the whole thing.”

Tyler Farr opened for Aldean on the stage, which was set up in Turn 4 of the infield. “Firestone has been a sponsor of the Indy 500 since 1909 and it was very important to them to that they helped Indy Motor Speedway produce a show the night before the Indy 500 as an inaugural event,” Armistead Olen says. “Jason agreed to do the show in a foreign land but I knew the fans would find him and so now we had to cap it at 41,000, because they’ve never done this before and they had to stop selling, but they could have sold more.”

Aldean was pleased with the outcome. “That’s more than any of us thought,” he says of the 41,000 tickets sold.  “They originally had it scaled for 30,000 or 35,000 and we just kept selling. Obviously country music and racing have always gone hand in hand and that just shows you, there’s a lot of race fans that are big country music fans and vice versa so I think this is a really good idea.”

Firestone plans to have a presence at CMA Music Fest in Nashville June 5-8 and will partner with Aldean on five shows during his Burn It Down tour this summer. “We have a Destination Firestone truck we created,” Pacsi says of the vehicle they’re sending to select Aldean dates. “It’s got a big eight-foot tall guitar that we created with our Destination Firestone logo. It’s got our Destination Tires so consumers can see that, and the highlight of it is going to be a karaoke booth where you can go in and sing your own country music songs and it will automatically download an email to you, but the people standing around the display will be able to hear you do that.”

The Aldean-Firestone partnership isn’t a tour sponsorship but an endorsement deal, and is Firestone’s way of testing the waters.

“We’re in the crawl phase now trying to figure out where we need to be,” Pacsi says. “We’ll  be at five of Jason’s concerts throughout the year and of those five we’re looking at two of the big festivals to get the brand exposed to a different demographic. When Jason launches his new album later on in the fall, we hope to be able to partner with him on an in store retail promotion and get him exposure in our 2,200 company-owned Firestone stores, as well as our independent tire dealers. It’s a nice way to get him exposed to people who wouldn’t normally see him in that environment. We’re looking at putting a life-size standee of him delivering the Firestone message.”

Pacsi says they also plan a special promotion with CMT in the fall. “We’re going to be a sponsor in the fall of CMT Crossroads and we’re going to do a sweepstakes in conjunction with them for their fourth quarter Crossroads program,” he says. “We’re going to give a lucky consumer an opportunity to go to a taping of Crossroads. We don’t know the artists yet.”