To move ahead, sometimes you need to look back. In reviewing how I’ve gotten here and how I can help you excel in the racing world, first let me tell you my story that can be summed up as the intersection of marketing, racing cars, and how being an automotive enthusiast melted into a life centered around the automotive industry. This is my story and hopefully through each episode I can share experiences that help you on your journey. If nothing else, maybe these experiences, knowledge, and mistakes can entertain you along the way!
This journey has been an adventure that’s covered the country, sometime with driving gear in hand and others with a briefcase, but all of them have taught lessons, opened new networks of contacts, and built relationships with many in the industry. It has been filled with winding roads, but most turns have an apex and an exit that lead down a long straight where we have built up speed. While I do not consider myself an expert on many things, I have been privileged to spend time with many people who are and hopefully some of that knowledge had rubbed off.
This series will focus on two main topics:
Marketing – Particularly the fun of events, the power of the brand with the automotive community, and how it all comes together through sponsorships with ambassadors; and
Racing – The constant that ties this passion together, whether it’s performance driving, spending time with my extended family at the track, or how that intersects with marketing and events.
From the beginning, racing has been the nucleus
Starting with being a fan of midget racing and spending Saturday nights watching the stars of the World of Outlaw Midgets, all I wanted to do was race cars. Fast forward to Labor Day weekend of 1987, I got my first opportunity to race a kart and let me tell you, it was exciting, nerve wracking, and the most terrifying thing I’d ever done to that point. A little over a year later, I won my first race, then the following year top five in the class, then class champion a couple of times, and within five years a regional champion and National Event winner on the karting circuit. Needless to say, I was not only hooked but I couldn’t see life without it.
At that time, racers were either engineers or had to learn business skills to find funding to stay in the sport, so guess who’s going to college to be an engineer because “I don’t want to sell anything.” I quickly figured out that physics was not my thing and racer Plan B was set in motion. Off I went to business school in semester two. My first class in marketing was with a former executive from Sara Lee and I went from feeling like I went from “over my head” in engineering to “being at home” and that “maybe I have a sales bone in me after all?” If nothing else, branding was something I took to because all my race car heroes of the time all had brands all over their cars so this might work out after all! It also helped that I had real world branding knowledge because I could relate it back to what was happening at the race track on the weekends.
You raced, went to business school, and found marketing was a passion. So now what happened?
Reality… After school the money ran out and I had to get a real job. Maybe I could have worked harder to secure funding and stayed with it, but the next ten years behind the desk taught me more than sitting behind the wheel and helped build relationships in the industry that I still have today. I have a background in road racing, and this is the late 90’s when stock car racing was at its peak (which I quickly found out wasn’t for me so I made the right decision)! Also, the racing world was in a state of transition with open wheel racing taking a back seat to stock car racing and professional road racing was just as, if not more divided than open wheel racing at that time.
What I learned over those next few years out of the driver’s seat built the foundation for what I will be sharing with you. I’ve since worked with professional sports teams, automotive enthusiast series & events, professional racing series and some of the most well known in their segment of the industry. I’ve been fortunate to meet, get to know, and learn from the best in the industry. I’ve also been able to work on brands that have not only funded, but also grown from sponsoring motorsports.
After getting back on track in the mid 2000’s (I was invited to a private driving event with a project build), I got hooked again and the second opportunity to race has been more rewarding, I’ve been more successful, and hopefully helped others in the process. My last national championship race ended in the wall at Mid-Ohio. Not only was I pissed that I’ve won everything but the national championship, it was a good friend, mentor, and I consider the best driver in the country in this class that put it into perspective: “The guys you race with in your region are the best in the country because they chased you for years and got this good by having to learn how to beat you. My guys have some work to do to catch you so don't look at it as a defeat. They are on top of the podium because of you.” I guess I help racers is just something I do.
Why is this important and how does it help you?
In future posts, we’ll start to address racing off the track in the way of sponsorships. It is essential for racers, teams, and series to understand it and how to benefit from it while growing those businesses that are supporting you. Remember, sponsors have several other ways they can promote products to the market. Depending upon the company and who you talk to, sponsorship is a dirty word in Corporate America. With the information I’ll be sharing with you, use this not only to help yourself in this process, but help the reputation of the racing industry and be a good steward of the sport.
Over the years, I’ve worked on brands, and with many brands where I have seen from the inside what they look for and how sponsorship helps them grow their business. As you read these articles, please share them and recommend them to your friends, competitors, and other within the industry. If you’re afraid they are going to steal your sponsorship, please reread the paragraph above. By taking this message to heart, you will help the cause and won’t contribute to the negativity that surrounds motorsports sponsorship in some circles by those who have come before you and given the sport a bad name.
My goal is to help you understand sponsorship as it is seen from the corporate side, what we do, and how we advocate for you, the racing community. But in return, you must help us by being more businesslike. You must work hard to help your sponsors achieve their goals. If we can do this together and think in terms of partnerships, my industry counterparts will not cringe when we get the generic and unsolicited Gold, Bronze, and Silver advertising package for a racing sponsorship that immediately goes in the trash.