Tuesday, May 05, 2009

My Journey in NASCAR

This is a story of exploration and re-invention...for those of you who are seeking a new path in your life journey..this is an example of how small steps and a long term vision can mean success. This story is about enjoying the journey.

A couple of years ago, a client and friend, Sean Owens, moved from the Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team over to head up a new area of group sales at Lowes Motor Speedway. He came into the position with with a small team and limited budget. His group decided to have a booth down at the big party that happens the week of the All Star Race and the Coca Cola 600 called "Speed Street". The main issue for him at the time, was that he needed to be at the track at night for the races and needed someone who could manage the booth at Speed Street at night. I told him it would be a great opportunity for me to learn from a "grassroots" level about marketing and NASCAR., so for a few late afternoons into the evening I ran their booth where they were giving away free tickets to the Fall race. I met hundreds of race fans from around the country and saw first hand how loyal they were to the sport. Many made this as their annual Memorial day trek.
With my marketing "eyes" I also had a chance to meet and hang out with some of the workers from sports marketing companies and large NASCAR "brands".

When the fall races came along, there was no Speed Street so Sean recommended that I be a concierge at the Suite level. This again gave me a view of the sport working as the person who was in charge of making sure about 8 to 10 corporate suites were set up properly and people were taken care of . I had the opportunity to work with suites from 3M, Bank of America, Carquest, Rusty Wallace Family, and a few others. I worked on Pole Night, the Busch Races, the All Star Race and the Coca Cola. They were long days, but invaluable in terms of seeing a different type of fan and business experience. I also had the opportunity to talk to the branding and marketing executives at many of these companies. One of other experience was meeting the Australian contingent and tv crew who came last year to cheer on their fellow countryman and NASCAR driver, Marcus Ambrose.

The next year for the races, Sean was put in charge of the corporate dining club at Lowes Motors Speedway, called "The Speedway Club". The Speedway Club members were people who came to Lowes on a regular basis. There was also a group of fans who purchased ticket packages which included dinner at the club plus "Pit Tours". There was an RV just outside the track for the Speedway club members to put their coolers, coats, etc. and part of my job was to just check them in and out "a glorified coatchecker". Again a different fan experience was seen. I had a chance to go out on the Pit Tours and walk around to see how the cars were inspected and to see how the Pit Crews were preparing for the race.

Last fall, I had been blogging on MediaMensch for over a year and asked if I could be put on the media list. I got accepted and soon started to go to some of the preliminary press conferences and local events leading up to the race. The new $80-zMax Dragway was also being build and opened at that time, so I had a chance to learn not only about NASCAR, but about NHRA drag racing. When the fall, Bank of America races came around, I was accepted for media credentials and had a chance to be part of the media which included national media such as ESPN, Fox Sports, XM radio and Sports Illustrated. It was a large learning curve to see how all the film crews went out to shoot segments, how the ESPN group updated their website content during the race including video clips.

Now that it is really the 3rd year around NASCAR, this year I see opportunities as a blogger and social media advisor to really participate more fully. The sport has really grown on me with the combination of marketing, technology, automotive, and entertainment. One thing I have seen at Lowes Motor Speedway is that the management team is dedicated to make this the most "fan-friendly" major league sport. The Speedway Motorsports team really puts on a first class event for the 200,000 fans who come from all over the world to watch the race.

I will have an eye open this year to see which teams and drivers and sponsors use Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools to promote their brands.