My Weekend with Hendrick Motorsports

Being involved in auto racing for over 20 years gave me opportunities and experiences that I could have never imagined possible.

One of the most incredible experiences happened in the fall of 2004 – courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports.

In early 2004, I had joined Formula BMW USA and had taken on overall series responsibility. Soon after the series was announced, Tom Purves, who at the time was Chairman & CEO of BMW North America, called his friend – one of the most successful BMW dealers in the USA – Rick Hendrick and asked him to participate in this new series. I am not privy to the conversation(s), but when the series debuted at Lime Rock Park in the spring of ’04, there was one open-wheel Formula BMW race car on the grid owned by NASCAR icon – Rick Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick didn’t own the team that operated the car, he just owned the car and was listed as the car owner. The driver of the car was Brian Frisselle (who now competes in Grand-Am in a Daytona Prototype), the sponsor on the side of the car was Lowe’s, and the car number was 48.

My contact at the Hendrick Motorsports was Christian Smith who is Mr. Hendrick’s right hand man.

As the season went on, I would send results, pictures, media coverage and other info to Christian and we would talk from time to time about how the series was doing. Through Christian, we arranged to have representatives from Lowe’s at the Elkhart Lake event, where we showed them the marketing assets available through our series, and the series that we supported.

Sometime in the summer of 2004, Christian contacted me and invited me to be the team’s guest at any NASCAR Sprint Cup race on the schedule that I wanted to attend, as a ‘thank you’ of sorts for their experience with our series. I selected the October Charlotte race.

I flew into Charlotte on Thursday night of the race week. The Busch race was Friday night, and the Cup race was Saturday night. Christian was to pick me up at my hotel on Friday morning, which he did, and we headed for the race shop.

Christian took me on an extensive tour of the Hendrick Motorsports compound which included the engine and fab shops, the shops for the Cup teams and the Hendrick Museum. At the time, the 24 & 48 teams were in the same shop and we did get the chance to chat with Jeff Gordon as we went through. Chad Knaus also took time to say hello and express his delight with his brand new BMW.

As we went through the Museum, there was an area that was completely blocked off. Brian Vickers was doing a television commercial and promos for GMAC – one of his sponsors at the time.

This tour took the better part of the day and we ended up back at the administration offices. Our schedule now was that we were going to meet with Mr. Hendrick and then go with him over to the track to watch the Busch race.

After a nice conversation with Mr. Hendrick in his office, he said “Alright… let’s go”, and those three words set off a choreographed series of events worthy of induction into the “Time Management & Schedulers Hall of Fame.”

First, we left the office through a rear door and entered a garage with a black BMW X5. With Mr. Hendrick at the wheel, we left the garage and I assumed we were driving to the track – which is maybe one mile away. I was mis-guided. We actually drove about 100 yards and stopped in front of a helicopter that has obviously just landed. Whenever the conversation of helicopters had come up, anytime in my life, I was adamant that I would never, ever get on a helicopter. Before I knew what had happened, I was strapping into a helicopter! There was the pilot – an ex-military pilot (of course) – and there was one other gentleman – the Chairman of Lowe’s. The flight lasted 45 seconds. I was petrified. That was my first, and last, ride in a helicopter… or was it?

When we landed, there were two black Chevy SUV’s at the ready. Mr. Hendrick, Christian and I got into one, and the Chairman of Lowe’s – the other. The paddock gates opened, the seas parted and we were wisked to Mr. Hendrick’s motorcoach.

When we went into the coach, we immediately sat at the kitchen table and a perfectly prepared dinner was placed in front of us. Steak and roasted potatoes. Spectacular. As soon as we were done, the coach door opened and two gentlemen entered. They were well-dressed, in their early 40s, and clearly friends of Mr. Hendrick. I figured out that one of the men was Mr. Hendrick’s doctor who had recently performed surgery on one of his knees. The other – who was quite chatty – I couldn’t figure out. I wish I could have recorded the conversation though. They talked about a recent charity event that they had attended and how they had tricked Jeff Gordon into all kinds of things that he had not agreed to for the auction. If I recall, the auction item was dinner with Jeff. Mr. Hendrick, in an effort to drive up the bids, told the audience that in addition to dinner, Jeff would pick the winning bidder up in his car and drive them to dinner. When that bump in bidding was over with, Mr. Hendrick then announced that Jeff would also pick them up “anywhere in the USA” in his private jet as well. These guys thought that was real funny. Not sure how Jeff felt about it. After they were gone, I leaned over to Christian and asked who that was. He casually answered… “That was the Mayor of Charlotte”.

We then dispersed to the track for the Busch race. We spent some time on pit lane, and then visited Mr. Hendrick’s suite, and then back to the pits… and then checkered flag…. and then back to the helicopter… what???

I grudgingly got on the helicopter for the return trip and we were joined by Mr. Hendrick’s son Ricky, his girlfriend and their pet monkey. The monkey did not appear to mind the helicopter ride and I am positive it sensed my overwhelming fear.

For Saturday, we drove to the track and Christian had lots to take care of. I told him that I knew my way around and we agreed to meet at the 48 team’s pit box one hour before the green flag – which we did. Christian then gave me some instructions. He told me to try to be in the 48 pit box area for the first pit stop – and then he said to make sure I was back in the pit box with 10 laps to go.

For the first pit stop, he escorted me so close to the action that I could have reached out and tapped the gas man on the back.

Great stuff… and then the rear tire changer scooped up some wheels nuts and set them on the wall in front of me. He told me “these are for you – but they’re hot – don’t touch them yet”. This was all part of the choreography I mentioned early and these guys had done this many times before. Christian told me I could stay there or go wherever I wanted to, but reminded me to be back – at the latest – with 10 laps to go…. which I was.

When I got back, I let Christian know I was there. Jimmie Johnson was leading the race by the way. Christian then said “No matter what – make sure you stay with me after the checker flag…. “.

Jimmie won the race…. Christian and I jumped over pit wall and we sprinted down pit lane towards Victory Circle. He ushered me in and told me to “stay put” and that he would be coming back to get me. I was there for the champagne and confetti, the interviews and the hat dance.

After about 30 minutes, Jimmie went to the media center, the crew pushed the car out… and everyone, including Christian left. This was midnight… by the way.

So… there I was… staying put. There were a few people lingering about, but it looked to me like it was all over. What should I do? Well… I waited, and sure enough, shortly thereafter… here comes Christian, Mr. Hendrick, Jimmie and Chad. Christian grabs me and tells me to come up for a picture with the guys and the trophy… which I did.

What a weekend. First class at every step of the way.

Sincere thanks to Christian, Mr. Hendrick and the rest of the choreographers for the great memories!

And of course now… if anyone ever asks if I have been on a helicopter, my answer is… “Yes…. twice…. it was Rick Hendrick’s helicopter and my second ride was with a pet monkey.”

NASCAR’s Declining Audience – What would Steve Jobs do?

** I wrote this blog post on December 1, 2010 – 10 months before the untimely death of Apple visionary Steve Jobs. I still believe that Steve’s desire to challenge status quo and push creativity are the perfect benchmark for all to follow. RIP Steve. **

NASCAR’s Declining Audience – What would Steve Jobs do?

No matter how much NASCAR’s fan base has declined, I was reminded recently that they still have a massive audience. And yes, this is true. Whether it be a sports property, reality TV show or sitcom, most would be thrilled to have the large, loyal following that NASCAR still has.

Having said that, I still see reason for concern.

The first issue is simple. The audience is declining. This is a fact.

The second issue is also simple. The cost to participate is not declining. This is also a fact.

Let me address audience first. Growth and decline in audience are impacted by momentum. By attending a race, and/or watching on TV, fans get to join the conversation. The activity is validated by how many people are in the conversation, and you get this word-of-mouth growth. This used to (and did) takes years.  The conversations are sprinkled with questions like “Did you see….? Did you hear what (driver) did?” And when asked, you better have an answer and an opinion. So, the sport grows in popularity.

As soon as the conversation starts to contain language like; “I don’t care anymore”,  or “No, I didn’t watch that race”, or “I’m not going this year”, or “I can’t afford it”… the audience declines with steady, negative momentum.

Combine this with our new ability to communicate in real time, to likeminded people, all over the country(s), and you can see that momentum can and will shift faster than ever before, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, et al….

So, audience is declining, but it is still a large audience.

My other concern is on the cost side of the equation.  To put it in the simplest terms; the audience that Sprint will pay to reach today, is not the audience they bought. They paid for a larger audience. There are/were a lot of very clever people behind the language in those contracts – on both sides – so there might be clauses that increase the rights fee payable to NASCAR if certain audience metrics are exceeded. There may also be clauses that reduce the rights fees if there are declines in audience. If these clauses exist, NASCAR is getting lower rights fees, and that is not good. If these clauses do not exist, then Sprint is getting less value and that is not good.

And of course, where I used the word “Sprint” above, you could insert any team, series, or event sponsor. They are all getting less than they paid for.

TV rights fees are returned to the broadcast partners by selling advertising. Tough to make a profit – which they are entitled to do – with “less” audience.

The costs required to operate a race team, a race track, a licensed merchandise trailer or a hot dog stand have not declined. But their available market has.

On the race team side, in 2011, Roger Penske will end his 18-year sponsorship (partnership, loyalty, friendship) with Mobil1 and will move to Shell. Penske did this because he will get more ‘benefits’ (cash, in-kind, pass-through, technology, plus…). Okay, makes sense, but why would Shell move from Childress and Kevin Harvick – the team and driver that almost won the Championship? The answer is simple: audience. Penske brings an additional relevant, measurable ‘audience’. What the Captain has that Richard does not, is over 300 car dealerships that consume a massive amount of lubricants. With an overall decline in ‘audience’, Shell needed to find other ways to get measurable return on investment.

So, there are two strategies at play here. One is cost-cutting, and you can see that everyone is trying to do that.

To me, they should first and foremost cut the schedule. I could dedicate pages to the benefit of doing this. To over-simplify, let’s squeeze today’s audience into a schedule that will fill the seats at the track, and will re-energize TV numbers.

The second strategy is to grow or re-grow the audience.  And whenever I see a business in decline, I do what most of you reading this do. I ask myself a simple question: “What would Steve Jobs do?” (WWSJD)

So, if Steve Jobs was running NASCAR, he would declare that “the product is crap”, and that we need to “reinvent the customer experience with our brand!” Can you hear him saying that? I can.

He’d use technology  – at the highest level – to completely change the way fans consume the content. But he would not market the ‘technology’. He’d market the experience… the engagement. He’d make it cool to be a NASCAR fan. You would not just watch a NASCAR race on TV. You’d consume the content in a simple, user-friendly, meaningful-to-you, kinda way. At the track, it’d be same, only cooler.

Steve would also re-write the rule books and change the org charts of the teams. Technology would be encouraged that allows the fan to have a deeper understanding of the sport. This is key. The fan does not need to know how they got the content. They just need ‘content’ to deepen their relationship with the sport. When Steve rolls out the new iWhatever, his pitch always goes straight to the customer experience.  This is what he’d do with NASCAR.

And let’s be clear on technology. Formula1 owns “technology” in the mind of the consumer. That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the use of the highest technology for the benefit of the audience. Formula1’s use of technology is for braking, cornering, and accelerating… they can have that positioning.

As far as the org chart goes, they’d still interview Chad Knaus during the race, but they would also interview the team’s CEO – the “Customer Engagement Officer”. This person would manage how and where fans can consume their team’s content, in real time and on what devices. The good teams will build measurable audience by focusing on this deep engagement, and then learn to monetize it. NASCAR will want to do this as well, but the good teams will beat them to it.

Next, Steve would fire everyone associated with the television programming. No more Kenny Wallace…. Sorry! He’s just not cool enough. Steve would fix the TV product. If I knew how, then I’d be running Apple. I just know it’s broken – and that he’d fix it. It is the only TV that I watch that literally puts me to sleep. My family thinks it’s hilarious.

Steve Jobs would use technology that would allow fans to relate to the talent of the athletes. But he’d market the access and content, not the chips and ram and whatever else is in his box.

I think that “Have at it boys” was a necessary step – on the track.

I also think that Brian France needs to gather up his management team and offer them the same directive – “Have at it team!” – It’s time to make decisions for our brand with the belief that Steve Jobs will be presenting the ‘new’ NASCAR in a Keynote presentation.

It better be new and beyond cutting edge, and it better be cool…. And, it better be now.

Spending time with Chris Economaki – 1994 Inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

Back in the early 90s, I was head of marketing for Gallery 500 – an automotive art gallery and museum based just north of Toronto. I spent a considerable amount of time everyday coming up with events and activities designed to expose the gallery to a global audience of automobile and race fanatics.

One of our successful major events included a fund-raiser for the Gilles Villeneuve Museum in Berthierville, Quebec. We had teamed up with them, got some great memorabilia, as well as some cool things from other supporters. We had Gilles’ helmet and suit, Formula 1 trophies, his Direct Film Formula Atlantic car and a Ferrari T312T5 F1 car. We would have a kick-off event and sale with a portion of proceeds going to the museum. Erik Tomas and Raceline Radio did a live remote show from the gallery. It was cool and we raised some money.

The exhibit would run for three months or so and then would move to the Toronto Auto Show.

Somewhere during the run for the exhibition at the Gallery, the USAC midgets were scheduled to come to the Skydome. The radio promos talked about Kenny Schrader, Tom Sneva and other open-wheel stars – plus – Chris Economaki would be doing the on-event play-by-play announcing of the event. Cool!

Chris Economaki encounter # 1 – With the knowledge that Chris was coming to Toronto, I came up with a plan. I called his office and simply offered to pick him up at the Toronto airport and drive him to his hotel. I told him that we’d be driving right past Gallery 500 and that I had a bunch of Gilles Villeneuve memorabilia that I just knew he’d like to see. My goal was to get some coverage in his column in National Speed Sport News. So, he cautiously agreed…. but he agreed.

So, fast forward… I pick him up and we head westbound on the 401. Try as I might, I could not engage him in any conversation. I think that if he would have said anything, it would have been “Don’t talk to me”. Might have been the mullet? Anyway, as we were coming up to the DVP, he finally spoke…. “Why the hell do all you Canadians drive with your damn headlights on during the daytime??” And for those of you that know Chris, read that quote as if he is saying it to you – doesn’t that just sound like him? Awesome. I discuss the concept of daytime running lights – just like Sweden I explain – and we resume radio silence.

We get to the gallery, and he finally engages me. He asks lots of great questions. As a lot of you know, he always carries a camera and he snaps a bunch of pics. I ask him for a picture of him beside the Ferrari and he happily obliges.

On the drive to the hotel, we’re best buddies… finally! We’re discussing family, Canadian beer, hockey, AJ Foyt, daytime running lights and of course, Linda Vaughn.

The USAC midget event comes and goes and that’s that. A few weeks later, Gallery 500 gets a great pop in his column – mission accomplished!

Chris Economaki encounter # 2 – About 7 months later, at the Speedway Club at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, an event took place to announce the “Driver of the Quarter Century”. There were 10 nominees including RICHARD PETTY, A. J. FOYT, DON GARLITS, DALE EARNHARDT, DAVID PEARSON, DARRELL WALTRIP, CALE YARBOROUGH, AL UNSER, RICK MEARS – and the winner – MARIO ANDRETTI. Most of these guys, if not all – were there. Gallery 500 was a ‘table sponsor’ for the event and as such, I was fortunate enough to attend. Prior to the formal proceedings, the bench racing and cocktails were flowing. And then, you know what happens when that someone special enters a room? People stop talking, glance over, point and nod their approvals and admiration. You guessed it…. Chris Economaki had arrived. By plain dumb luck, I was right at the door as he had entered. I approached him like anyone who approaches an “old friend”.  “Hey Chris… it’s me… Jim Bowie” I enthuse – but get nothing in return. “From Gallery 500 in Toronto…. Remember?” I ask, less enthused. “Oh…. Yeah….. Right…. Yeah…. (long pause, looks me over)”. Just when I think it’s coming back to him, he says….

“Yeah…. Can you get me a scotch and water kid?”

“Yes Sir Mr. Economaki”… and I was damn proud to do it!

Chris is 91 now and I hope that someone writes a book about him one day. I just cannot imagine the stories. There will never be another like him.

Thanks for everything Chris Economaki!

Anatomy of a Motorsports Sponsorship Deal

The Sprint PCS Story

This case study, if it had a title, could be called “Credit where credit is due” – or maybe we would call it – “Yeah…. I did that deal”. That title would come from the ‘discussions’ held after the fact about how this partnership came together. Who ‘really’ made it happen? I am still not sure – but I’ll tell you what I saw….  from where I was standing.

Would it have happened without Arie Luyendyk – Indy 500 Champion – as the professional athlete and corporate spokesman?

Would it have happened without Fred Treadway as the team owner?

Would it have happened without Grant Haughawout as the show-car truck driver?

Would it have happened without the ‘Milkman’?

What would have happened without Square One – the decal/vinyl graphics shop?

We may never know…. they were all ‘involved’….. and oh yeah….  so was I.

In March of 1997, while overseeing all marketing, communications and sponsorships for Treadway Racing – a 2-car team competing in the Indy Racing League – I contacted both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and the folks from IEG (the sponsorship guru’s in Chicago). I proposed that we host a motorsports marketing seminar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sometime during the awesome ‘Month of May’ activities. We would invite up to 1,000 executives… decision-makers from companies not involved in the use of motorsports as a marketing tool. We had two strong credible industry forces to capture this audience – the Speedway, site of the world’s largest single day sporting event, and IEG – the global leader in sponsorship. So I crafted a letter, to be sent on IMS letterhead and under Tony George’s signature, that was sent to IEG’s targeted list of marketing pros. It invited these execs to a full day at the track on the Friday preceding the qualifications for pole position, which would happen on Saturday. We knew that to invite them to come on a Saturday would lessen the attendance significantly – despite the draw. Who would be willing give up a weekend, even for this? They would have breakfast with Tony George and 4-time Indy 500 winner – A.J. Foyt. They would then get a tour of the museum, including the basement where the good stuff is kept. Then off to Gasoline Alley, the team garages and pit lane – all of which require ‘special’ credentials. A tour of the corporate hospitality facilities, specifically the luxury suites overlooking pit lane, would be where they would end up. What wasn’t in the letter was that when we got them to the suites, they would get a soft ‘pitch’ on team and league level opportunities. This letter was sent to approximately 1,000 executives. Who showed up? Stay tuned…..

Sometime in mid-April, Grant, who then hauled around one of our showcars, was unloading a car at the Castleton Mall in Indianapolis. Why it was going on display escapes me, but here is Grant unloading the car when a young guy walks up and is intrigued by the car (that’s the whole idea – by the way). He quizzes Grant… how fast? how much? why no tread on the tires? how much power? – the usual.  The guy gets around to asking Grant why it’s there and Grant explains the ‘marketing power’ of one of our showcars. The guy then tells Grant that his company – Sprint PCS – is about to launch in the Indianapolis market and quickly figures out that he could use this car to help kick off the program. He hands Grant a card and is told that one of the marketing peeps from Treadway Racing will give him a call. The next day, Grant hands me the card at the race shop and tells me that this guy wants to ‘rent’ a showcar. I immediately take the biz card and hand it to the “Milkman’.  David, (Milkman) who was responsible for Business Development (finding new team level sponsors) calls the guy from Sprint PCS and they agree to meet and chat. Within just a very few days, a showcar request escalated to having our driver – 1990 Indy 500 Champion Arie Luyendyk – launch Sprint PCS – at a media event held at the Speedway, in the Treadway Racing suite. Arie would make the first call on the new Qualcomm manufactured Sprint PCS phone during the first week of practice for the 1997 Indy 500. To call the timing lucky would be an understatement. At this point, the ‘negotiations’ were with local market reps from Sprint PCS – out of Cincinnati I think.

By early May, the rsvps were returned from those executives who would take advantage of the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ to come to the Speedway and get the behind-the-scenes look at this sports and event marketing powerhouse. Out of 1,000 invites, 11 people were coming, representing four companies. Wow… this is tough. But of the four companies attending – two of them that signed up did business together – Sprint PCS and Nortel. The executive from Sprint PCS was none other than Charles Levine – the newly appointed CMO for Sprint PCS.

Back to the local market event. Between business media and the racing media, the product launch/media event that was held at the Treadway suite at the Speedway went well enough with Arie that Sprint PCS asked for Arie and the showcar to be present at the first retail store opening which was happening in just a few days. We all agreed on rights fees, expenses and all that stuff real quick and within 48 hours, the Sprint PCS newspaper advertising was featuring Arie Luyendyk and inviting customers to meet and greet Arie – get autographs, photos and racing memorabilia. Now, it is important at this time to mention that a few key people were not involved in any way at this time – team owner Fred Treadway and Sprint PCS CMO Charles Levine. The store opening went well and Sprint PCS was seeing measurable results from the program at this level. Sprint marketing types from Cincinnati and Minneapolis were catching the drift of all this. At this point, there was great desire on my part, and on Milkman’s part to grow this program – Sprint is one of those powerhouse companies that bizdev folks get real excited about. We also knew the power of local market buy-in, as well as the power of buy-in from key ‘influentials’ below the person who ‘signs the checks’.

Friday May 9 came quickly but we were ready. Working in concert with speedway marketing types, we had a full day planned for our 11 attendees – all of which showed up. We went about our business of racing on that day. We had plenty to do – over 100 guests from our other sponsors were present. The suite was full of guests all day long. We were doing last minute contingency sponsorships including an agreement with Tom Floyd from Pennzoil. I mention this because as it turned out, this became a very lucrative partnership for us.

Somewhere after lunch, I reached out to one of the Speedway marketing people that was on the tour to inquire as to what the mood was like – I wanted to know how they were responding. I was told that one of the attendees really ‘got it’. He was talking about Charles Levine from Sprint PCS. I didn’t actually meet Charles until around 2:30 that afternoon. We had a brief introduction and I asked him if he was enjoying himself. He was ‘cool’… “I know what this all about”… was his attitude. I then asked what he thought about our local market efforts and he thanked me for what we had done. When I started to get into a little of the detail of those efforts, he cut me off explaining that he didn’t get too involved “at that level”.

I think it is important to point out that by this Friday, we (Treadway Racing) had been on track for 4 days – and that Arie had topped the speed charts every day. It was an intense battle with Team Menard where bragging rights, momentum and confidence were all on the line. Arie was very serious about being the quickest – and around 3pm on Friday, Arie again worked his magic – setting fastest lap of the day, on the track. All this time, Milkman and I had been brainstorming on how to get Sprint PCS involved and we decided to pull Charles Levine out of the tour to talk to him. I arranged to meet Charles in the Treadway Racing hospitality coach on the promise that it would only be a few minutes and we would quickly return him to the tour. He reluctantly agreed so Milkman and I bolted down there from the suite with a copy of a proposal that had been prepared for Kraco. (of Galles-Kraco fame – owners of Michael Andretti’s race car in the mid-80’s)

We sit with Charles and get right to the point. We can get Sprint PCS on Arie’s car tonight and with Arie being the favorite for the pole tomorrow – Sprint PCS will be seen all over the country for a fraction of what their existing ad plan can do – and we had already proven the demographic similarities through our local events. Charles seems interested but he leaves the motorhome within 3 minutes explaining he doesn’t want to miss the tour and that he will think about it.

I am feeling that we have a 50-50 shot at getting some sort of partnership. After 14 years (at that time) of trying to put these programs together, that was very optimistic for me. Milkman and I quickly figure out that if Charles were to say yes to some sort of program at 6 pm tonight, our decal vendor will most likely be long gone. So we take a big chance – Milkman and I get with Steve Turner, (our decal guru, purchasing manager, tire guy, mechanic, all round good guy) we call Square One Graphics and prepare them for a possible order for Sprint PCS decals. Now at this point, we don’t know what might happen, but we need to prepare for just about every conceivable level of partnership. We quickly put together a list of various sizes and colors. That list by the time we were done was over 200 decals. Square One doesn’t have artwork for this new logo so I suggest that they get a newspaper from last week and pull the logo from an ad and begin scanning it so that it will work on his computers. These vinyl graphics shops that are based in Indy, there are 3 or 4 of them, live and die by their ability to service this type of last minute request – it happens all the time. To further complicate our situation, Square One was working flat out on another team’s ‘last minute request’. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that if we needed these decals, we needed to confirm the order by 6pm and that Square One would have them ready by 4:00 am – yes 4:00 in the morning – Saturday morning. Cool….. plenty of time.

Back on the tour…. the clock is ticking. We decide that we have to pull Charles out again. I call one of the tour leaders on their cell phone and ask them to put Charles on the phone. They were actually on the race track, being driven at a very high rate of speed and Charles was not impressed with this second interruption. He reluctantly agreed to meet me back at the Treadway Racing motorhome and we sat down again. I got right to the point…. “Here’s what we can do…. but need an answer right now!, I can give you an associate level partnership which includes signage on ‘everything’ for $250,000.”

I whipped out the Kraco proposal again and showed him that what I was offering him was, relative to the Kraco proposal, a good offer. I also showed him the exposure that Arie had received from Pole Day qualifying in 1996.

Well…. Charles said yes – to a 1 race deal – the 1997 Indianapolis 500, starting with Pole Day (tomorrow) for $250,000…. But then he immediately said that he had to let his marketing people in Kansas City know about it…and get their blessing – he wanted them to be supportive of this – and rightly so. He also said that he wanted to figure out a way that he wouldn’t have to pay for it. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but explained that we had to get started. So, we separated again – Charles called head office and Milkman and I called Square One to give them the green light. We agreed to meet at the Speedway, at the entrance to Gasoline Alley (which will be locked) at 4:00am.

Charles rejoined the tour – and remember that execs from Nortel were on the tour? Well Nortel is a major vendor to Sprint – they sell them telephone switches – big ones – multi-million dollar ones. So Charles got Nortel involved ‘somehow’. We believe that there were co-op marketing dollars involved but we never did find out. It was good enough for Charles – so it was good enough for us. Scott Goodyear, who was Arie’s teammate was also supported by Nortel, although a different group – but a nice fit nonetheless.

We had done this deal on a handshake – we didn’t have any choice – and I thought that we were we done…. for now. We weren’t. Charles asked to meet us one more time and ‘suggested’ that because their market launches in Texas and Nevada happened at the same time as our races there – “I would like you to just leave the decals on for those 2 races as well”. This was not part of our deal – we could have asked for more money – but were pretty sure that would have been risky. But we needed something – so we asked that for Sprint PCS phones for everyone on the team – and – that Charles agree to a meeting in Kansas City to discuss a multi-year plan that includes vendors, retail distribution, corporate hospitality, use of marks, inclusion in Sprint PCS advertising, and anything else that we could include to help with the launch of their new brand. Charles agreed – we agreed – we all went back to work. I ran into Fred Treadway on pit lane around 6pm – told him what he had done, to which he replied “Cool”.

So, we met the decal guys at 4am (jumped the locked fences to get into the garage area – a big no-no)…. and by the time the gates opened at 6am, we had Sprint PCS logos on everything. Arie went on the capture the pole, and then went on to win the race. Charles had done very well – Sprint PCS received over $3.5 million worth of in-focus TV exposure for this event (source – Joyce Julius) – and we were thrilled with the future possibilities with this global brand.

By mid-September a multi-year multi-million dollar partnership was done that included Qualcomm and Radio Shack.

So… who did this deal? Well, as you can see it was a team effort. Lots of people can take credit for this one – and rightly so. The photos below – courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – highlight the fruits of all of our labour. Enjoy!

Corvette Abuse at Mosport by Super Dave Osborne

Corvette Abuse…. starring Super Dave.

In the early ‘90s, my family and I moved from Burlington to Bowmanville because I was spending just about every weekend at Mosport. We lived in Bowmanville until January of 1996. At that time, we moved to Indianapolis as I was hired to oversee the marketing and communications functions for the soon-to-be Indy 500 Champions – Treadway Racing.

But for the five or six years that we lived in Bowmanville, Mosport became my second home. Not only did I go up just about every weekend, but I also went up for Porsche Club events, track days, private test sessions and other events that were held on the week days.

One of the craziest things about my time in Bowmanvlle – in retrospect – was that after school, my daughters would have their friends over – ages 7 – 12 or so – and we’d jump in my Ford Aerostar minivan, head up to Mosport, and we would do laps of the track. That is the type of relationship that I had with the people at Mosport day-to-day. Looking back, I have to think “who would let their 8-year old get in my van to go do laps of Mosport?” I certainly wouldn’t….

But, that was not the craziest thing that I saw at Mosport in the early 90s. On one of my mid-week visits, I was speaking with one of the track workers who mentioned that I “couldn’t come up tomorrow” because they were shooting an episode of the Super Dave Osborne Show.  Wow… cool… I loved that show!

So, of course, I told him that I HAD to come up, that I would stay out of the way and no one would even know I was there. He reluctantly agreed, so the next day, up to Mosport I went – camera in hand.

The premise of the show was that Super Dave was treating a bunch of celebrities to a performance driving school. At the time, the Powell Corvette School (don’t recall the official name?) was based at the track, and those Corvettes were all used as props for the show.

The celebrity students included Linda McCartney – who was sponsored by Paul McCartney, Oprah – who was sponsored by Stedman, Louis Malle (Google it) and others. It makes perfect sense that Oprah would need some high-performance driving instruction from Super Dave, at Mosport, in a Corvette…. right?

At some point the story line of the show dictated that Super Dave was demonstrating some of the finer points of car control, and of course his Corvette gets blown to smithereens. For the explosion, they used a crapified mid-70s Corvette.

The on-site explosives experts were very adamant that everyone be “far clear of the bomb blast”. This turned out to be good advice. When the Corvette died it’s unfair death at the hand of the Super Dave script-writers, the explosion totally destroyed the Vette, and also blew the windows out of the tower!

Of course, everyone on the cast and crew were thrilled with the carnage.

I am sure that this is not the craziest thing that has ever happened at Mosport, but it’s on the list.

One more thing… amazingly, despite the destroyed Corvette and Mosport tower abuse, Super Dave lived.

You can read more about Super Dave Osborne here.

An Open Letter to IZOD IndyCar CEO – Randy Bernard

** I originally published this blog story in August of 2010 – nothing has really changed. **

An open letter to Randy Bernard – IZOD IndyCar Series CEO

So you’ve been handed this box full of puzzle pieces and you been tasked with putting it back together. There might be a few people that hope that you fail, but they have a personal agenda, and I am not one of them. I hope that you make the cover of Time magazine – twice.

I am going to be the next – but not the last – in a long line of super-duper experts on the topic who will offer some insights into the challenge that you have accepted.

Let’s start with those experts. Already – and I am speaking metaphorically here – you have been in the presence of two seemingly sane, professional, accomplished, well-regarded stakeholders who are on the complete opposite sides of an issue or solution to a problem. So who do you listen to? Oh sure, you take in both sides of the issue and go with your gut. That has always worked. But frankly, you can’t afford to be wrong. Let me use a completely different scenario to illustrate my point. You have this tree in your front yard and it is oozing ‘stuff’. You call two tree experts to give you their diagnosis of the problem. Expert 1 says that the tree must be cut down and removed. Expert 2 says that he can treat the affected area and it will be fine. Who do you listen to? With all due respect, you are not qualified to know which one of them is right. You have the same problem in your role now. Who do you listen to? Ask five people in your paddock and you’ll get five answers. So, who do you listen to, and… what the heck is the question anyway? I think the questions are; What is your goal? And… What is the problem? These need to be answered before any solution can be applied. Getting everyone to agree on those answers is near impossible, but this is my letter to you – so these are my answers…

What is your goal?

I am going to assume – because I do not know – that your goal is to make the IndyCar Series a professional sports property that is supported by a “large audience”. And “supported” means in-person, and through media (TV, radio, www etc). So measurement, for the purposes of this exercise is “large audience” – period. It’s not the coolest cars, longest straightaways, highest speed, greatest dancer, biggest tires, sexiest driver…. It’s “large audience”.

I choose “large audience” for a couple of reasons. First, nothing that you are doing matters if nobody cares. It’s not about close finishes – USAC Midgets and go-karts have some of the best “racing” you’ll ever see. But nobody (except Robin Miller) cares. You need audience. And second, and this is key: Audience = Value. Over the past 15 years, I have had literally hundreds of racers, team managers and team owners say to me “I need a sponsor”… and my response for the past 15 years has always been the same. “No you don’t need sponsors… you need value. Find value and the sponsors will come….” Approximately – give or take – 100% of those people walked away shaking their head and mumbling that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

What is the problem?

So, the goal is ‘large audience’. That’s what you need Randy. But, what is the problem? Let’s examine other success stories in properties that have ‘large audiences’. There are some very simple lessons learned from the Olympics, the NFL, the World Cup and American Idol. And it’s simple really, when you step back and look at the key ingredients. There’s only three, and here they are Randy:

1) The audience needs to be able to relate to the talent of the athletes.

2) There has to be something significant on the line. In other words, the ‘prize’ for winning has to be substantial.

3) You need to have the very best competing at your events.

That’s it. Don’t believe me? Just remove, reduce or diminish any one of the three and see what you have. When you have these three things in place, everything else follows. Everything. Audience, sponsors, TV, merchandise sales, the best team owners, the best athletes, the best crews, the best talent… everything.

Below are my “success triangle” illustrations to make my point. To oversimplify, “Success” is a triangle consisting of the three elements above. Your goal is to have a big triangle. The bigger the triangle, the more successful you are. Again, simple. And the triangle, as a shape is perfect because the size of your success triangle will be restricted to your weakest element. Have a look at these illustrations:

So, that’s the problem Randy. The IndyCar success triangle has some short, weak, flimsy sides.

Okay… still skeptical. Let me prove it. And we’ll do each ‘ingredient’ – one at a time.

1) The audience needs to be able to relate to the talent of the athletes.

I am going to give you examples of properties where this is missing, relatively speaking, and I’ll give you examples of properties where this exists.

Let’s start with the Big 4 mainstream sports properties in North America. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Remember, the audience needs to be able to relate to the talent of the athletes. Which of these sports has the ‘largest audience’? That would be the NFL. Which has the smallest? The NHL right? From the mind of the audience, which sport is easier to understand, and why? Here’s the NFL; two 350 pound guys, who can run really fast, smash into each other. It’s like the Flintstones meets NASCAR. The audience can see this and understand what is happening. A wide receiver completely stretched out to catch a pass with one hand is easy to appreciate – even if you have never seen football before in your life. This is really important. In the NHL, the audience is able to understand the athletes ‘better’ if they’ve played hockey themselves. If you take the same person and expose them to football and hockey, they will grasp football first. This is how you grow audience. By having the ability to relate to the talent of your athletes. And no matter what the NHL does to try to explain ‘offside’, they will always be limited by this. In your sport Randy, the challenge is that unless you’ve driven a race car, it is hard to “see” Will Power’s talent and relate to it. To the masses – the general public – Will looks the same as Danica going through any given corner. But there is clearly a difference in talent that is hard to appreciate. In fact, speaking of talent, what is Danica’s talent compared to Sebastien Bourdais? Both are clearly extremely talented, but they are talented at two completely different things. Which ‘talent’ will drive your growth? To have mass appeal, you need the best athletes, and the masses have to be able to relate to their talent. This is a big challenge, and that is putting it lightly. Cricket is an incredible, global, professional sport, but I don’t follow it. I can’t relate to the talent of the athletes. I just don’t get it.

2) There has to be something significant on the line. In other words, the ‘prize’ for winning has to be substantial.

Randy, this ingredient is key because the audience wants to know that there is something on the line. A monumental prize for the winner, and significant lost opportunity for the loser. The audience needs jubilation driven not just by financial gain, but by the prestige of winning, and they need heartache and disappointment. They need to see success and failure at the highest level. This is why your Indy 500 means more than the Iowa race – whatever it is called. And this is why the 6:00pm news is so popular. People think that “Reality TV” is relatively new. They are misguided. “Reality” programming such as the newspaper or TV news broadcasts have always been around. Reality TV was borne from the audiences’ desire to see winners and losers, pain, sorrow and occasionally – joy. When the audience’s appetite wasn’t fulfilled from 6:00pm-7:00pm, the networks created their own misery – Reality TV. Ted Turner, of course, recognized this many years ago and created CNN.

Back to my point Randy; The Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl, an Olympic Gold Medal, the World Series, The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. These ‘prizes’ transcend these sports. Audiences that have no interest in the ‘sport’ come from far and wide to experience these events. Why? Because there is a significant prize on the line. If the prize for winning American Idol was a three-night gig at the Holiday Inn in Brownsburg, Indiana, who would watch? Take the same talent – talent that the audience can relate to – and change the prize. Simple. Motorcycle racing in the US is a great example of what happens when you take away the prize. It’s dead. The Daytona 200 used to mean something. They took away the prize and they excluded the best athletes…. and you can stick a fork in motorcycle road racing. But I digress.

3) You need to have the very best competing at your events.

Okay Randy, this one is real ball-buster. I say that because as long as there has been motorized competition, there have been “fast guys, rich guys and idiots” (thanks Sam Moses). But nonetheless, as I have stated above, and as history has proven, if you do not have the very best in your ‘competition’, you will fail – always. How many players in the NFL ‘bought’ their roster spot. Randy, I know you have heard this analogy many times before, but if Mark Cuban had bought the Dallas Mavericks and inserted himself into the line-up, the audience would disappear. Not at first, because remember, we love failure, pain and misery, and we need to be able to relate to the athletes. But in this case, it is not sustainable. You want more proof? Look at the Grand Am Rolex Series. What a can of worms they are in. Without their ‘gentlemen racers’, they would not exist. You should thank your lucky stars that you have not been charged with growing their audience. Ride-buyers and other ‘drivers’ who have no business being on the track, while the real talent sits on the sidelines, won’t work. Here is the other problem with this, and this is also very critical. As soon as a driver, or a team owner, reaches into their pocket to participate in your series – you work for them. Period. Do you want to work for Chip? Or do you want to work for your audience? Which ‘boss’ offers long-term stability? When your property has not provided enough ‘audience’ to build a profitable value proposition, you’re in trouble. I don’t care that “it’s always been like this”. What I care about is that it won’t work. So, if your going to head down the path of allowing ride-buyers, you need to change your positioning. You’re not a professional sport. You’re a platform that allows talent-less people to “live their dream”. You’ll need some branding/marketing agency to help with the positioning on that. Maybe Gene Simmons of KISS. Does your audience understand why Milka is racing and Bourdais is not?

So there you have it. I am fully aware that I have not offered any real solutions here. But, until somebody points out what the problem really is, anything you do is either short-term or irrelevant. If a new car is the answer, then you need a new car – all the time. If splitting one race into two is the answer…. cool, but that is change for change’s sake, and you need your next 10 changes lined up and ready to go.

So, my letter to you Randy is to tell you what the problem is.

There are great lessons to be learned all around us. Like American Idol. I love American Idol because of the beauty and simplicity of the show as a marketing communications platform. What is the difference between Carrie Underwood before and after appearing on American Idol? It’s not talent – she had that. Sure they massaged it, but she had talent. She’s one of the world’s best. The only difference between Carrie before and after is…. audience. That’s the only difference. But this isn’t just any ordinary audience. American Idol’s audience is 30 million strong – the world’s largest focus group. Every week they tune in and answer the question that American Idol is really asking. That question is, of course, “Which one of these 80,000 contestants’ album who you buy?” Again…. so simple. Every week, the focus group answers that question and when the record comes out, they already have…. audience. The producers of American Idol aren’t in the TV business – they’re in the music business. And Ford and AT&T fund their search for new talent. Think about that and explain how a new car can do this for you. And think about your focus group Randy. Who are they? Where are they? What do they want?

So that’s it. You need the best athletes in the world. They need to be relatable and you need to have the big prize. Do this and history has proven that you’ll have audience. And audience Randy… equals value.

Move fast Randy… be careful who you listen to… and good luck. I am pulling for you. I really am.

BMW Williams F1 Test at Silverstone – September 2005

This blog story will cover topics such as English bird poop, world-class amplification, the BMW Williams F1 factory and some F1 testing stuff. Enjoy!

Back in September, 2005 while I was Series Manager for Formula BMW USA, we were invited by the BMW Williams F1 team to attend an F1 test session at Silverstone. So, we sent invites to all of the competitors in FB USA at the time (26). We told the parents that three of us from the series management would escort the drivers and it would be a great experience.

Michele Henn, who really did all of the work at FB USA, Clay Filson, who headed up all things technical in the series, and myself would take some teenagers over to the UK. Sounds fun!… and it was. Three of our drivers agreed to go. They were Robert Wickens (twitter @robertwickens), James Davison (twitter @JDDavison21) and Reed Stevens. Reed, at 18 was the oldest. Robbie was 16 and I think James was 17.

We all met at New York’s LaGuardia… and off we went.

Strong navigation would be critical to a successful trip. Driving on the wrong side of the road is always a challenge.

We were told to change our priorities and then to give way as we exited Gatwick.

We had several months to plan this trip and when Michele – who is a top-shelf navigator – casually mentioned the words “Milton Keynes” as one of the towns we’d be passing through, I got very excited. Not because of the race teams that are based there (this is where the Red Bull F1 team is based today), and not because of the thriving cottage industry of fab shops who support racing that are based there. It is because Milton Keynes is home to Marshall Amplification. So Michele made sure that we included a visit to Marshall’s HQ in our itinerary.

Not a good time to bother the driver as the driver is getting accustomed to wrong-sided driving. “Strong Navigation!… please.”

I felt that this trip was all about education for our young drivers and what better time than now to learn about where Angus Young, Ted Nugent, Slash, Eric Johnson and Ace Frehley – too name just a few – get their sound? So, once we left Gatwick and got our bearings – but before we even got to our hotel – we went to Marshall.

I am livin’ the dream right here….



I asked if Jim Marshall was in. He was not. Bummer. But the lobby was fantastic. I just stood there in awe thinking about how this facility had turned some wood, wires, knobs and tubes into life-changing culture-forming unforgettable sound. James, Reed and Robbie were unanimous in what they thought of visiting Marshall Amplification. It made them all hungry and they wanted to go eat. They were clearly affected.

Clay knew how excited I was to be there and after we had all loaded back into our rental, he actually went back in to the office and got some free swag. Pins, key chains, and a great CD of music pushed through Marshall amps. Brilliant!

We took some time to stroll around Milton Keynes, found some food, and enjoyed the culture and great weather.

Reed Stevens taking in the UK way…. note the sign above his head.

Then we loaded up and headed towards Grove – home of the BMW Williams F1 team. We did encounter some traffic and even got to see the Queen (her majesty), Queen (the band) and the Beatles emblazoned on various vehicles touring the motorways. How royal is that?

We stopped at a service center along the way and what are the odds that where we would stop to stretch, snack and use the restrooms, would happen to be at the facility that has been awarded “Loo of the Year” for three straight years! This was shaping up to be one heck of a trip.

We actually ‘used’ the 2003, 2004 & 2005 “Loo of the Year”. This would make a trip complete on its own – but there was more to come.

James (front left), Robbie (front right) and Clay (getting mentally prepared)

We checked in to our hotel and were excited about tomorrow and our visit to the BMW Williams F1 factory and conference center.

Day 2.

Today we would visit the BMW Williams F1 factory and the Williams Conference Center. We would be treated to a private tour by none other than Jonathan Williams. Jonathan is the son of Sir Frank Williams, CBE, who founded Frank Williams Race Cars in 1966. Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve and Keke Rosberg to name just a very few, have all driven for Williams.

Jonathan met us in the lobby of the factory and after introductions, led us on the 100 or so meter walk to the Williams Conference Center – where our tour would begin.

None of us actually saw it happen. And it could have easily happened to any one of us. But it happened to be Jonathan’s time. You see, the walk from the factory to the conference center is outside. The wind tunnel was on our right. The ‘world’s fastest shrubbery’ was on our left. The rare-for-the-UK blue sky had at least one bird flying above. And so it happened.

Jonathan Williams got pooped on.

Not only did none of us see it happen, but Jonathan didn’t feel it either. This, in hindsight, was extremely odd given the mass and composition of the poop.

Jonathan Williams in the light blue – but soiled – dress shirt, starts our tour in the lobby.

Jonathan started our tour in the lobby. After a quick look at a showcar featuring the current livery, we headed down the hall towards the Alan Jones Room. And that’s when we saw it. The UK bird poop. The three – and I use the term loosely – adults, immediately felt horrified for Jonathan. The three – and I use the term literally – teenagers, were giggling.

The “Alan Jones Room”. Is there one bottle out of place? I think not.

Sometimes being the Series Manager means that you have do those things that no else wants to do. So, I separated Jonathan from the giggling future Williams F1 wanna-be drivers, and told him that he’d been hit. His first reaction was to reach for it. To confirm its existence. It’s a natural reaction. I grabbed his wrist in mid-flight like a Kung-Fu master blocking a lethal blow. “You don’t want to touch that”, I explained and I eased him towards the rest room.

Jonathan emerged about 10 minutes later, sporting a new team fleece, and continued the tour as though nothing had happened. We all learned a lesson from Jonathan who is a class act. That lesson – Shit happens and you just carry on.

The Williams Conference Center has one of the world’s greatest collections of race cars and Jonathan knew the history of each and every one. Standing amongst this Championship-pedigree and learning some real behind-the-scenes detail was an extraordinary experience. One we’ll never forget.

Jonathan sporting a new team fleece.




We saw the trophy room, the theater, the Hall of Champions and much more.

Spectacular, and now, time to head back to the factory. No photographs are allowed in the factory. As you’d imagine, it was clean, organized and was operating with coordinated precision. The exhaust systems for these BMW engines are still made entirely by hand and we all got to feel how feather-light they were. An engine fired up in main service bays. BMW staffers are always on hand when an engine is fired. In fact, the engines won’t start without them plugging in their computer to allow it. Cars and equipment were being loaded for the next race event, and another completely separate, dedicated team of engineers, mechanics, aerodynamicists and other specialists – including drivers – were prepping for the Silverstone test day.

We couldn’t wait for that. That was why we were here.

One more kinda unusual thing happened while at the BMW Williams factory, and I apologize as my recollection of the details are foggy. Somehow, for some reason, James Davison ended up on the ground doing push-ups. There is no doubt that if James could do 300–400 push-ups, Jonathan Williams would instantly hire him to drive their F1 car. No doubt. But unfortunately, that wasn’t what happened. What happened was that James hurt his upper back/neck area.

He couldn’t move his head.

So, Jonathan calmly picked up the phone, called the team’s chiropractor and ordered immediate service for young James. Within minutes, we were following Jonathan into Grove and then sitting in the lobby of the “Official Chiropractor of the BMW Williams F1 Team”.

James got semi-sorted and as we reflected on an incredible day, we also couldn’t wait for the upcoming test session at Silverstone.

Day 3.

Today we would attend the BMW Williams F1 test at Silverstone. We would be treated to a private test and our host was Jonathan Williams, son of Sir Frank Williams, CBE, who founded Frank Williams Race Cars in 1966.

left to right; Reed Stevens, Robert Wickens, James Davison

The drivers that were testing on this damp and then sunny, and then damp, and then sunny day were Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) and Antonio Pizzonia (@AntonioPizzonia).

Nico is now driving for Mercedes alongside (or in front of) Michael Schumacher, and Antonio is racing mostly in his home country of Brazil.

Jonathan set us up with headsets so that we could hear the interaction between the engineers and the drivers. Our agenda was that we would start out in pit lane and take that in for a while, then Jonathan would take us to some of the great corners that make up this historic track. Copse, Maggotts, Becketts, Stowe and Club, to name a few. After that, we would do lunch with Pizzonia and then go back to pit lane for the remainder of the test.

Of course, it was all very interesting stuff. Pizzonia had an incident and even though it was a private test, they covered his car up to bring it in. “Private” might be the wrong word, as the Panasonic Toyota Team and Ralf Schumacher were also there. And the Williams marketing department did have some sponsor guests, although they didn’t get near the access that we enjoyed.

My biggest takeaway from the actual testing was how the team communicated. Very precise. The drivers were just one spoke on the wheel. Without getting too technical, or too boring, here’s kinda how the testing went; the car would go out and do a few laps, and then come in for adjustments. The track was drying, but was wet enough that they were using an intermediate tire most of the time. But here’s where it got interesting (for me anyways), instead of waiting to see what lap times would result from the changes, the engineers TOLD the drivers what the time would be BEFORE they went out. And they were right – most of the time. This was amazing stuff.

At lunch, Jonathan and Antonio stressed work ethic, and that burning desire to succeed, that they had witnessed, first hand, in people like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost.

So, after lunch we went back to pit lane and the choreographed, synchronized testing continued. The team that was here was a dedicated test team. They did not go to races. They tested things and stuff on the cars and delivered valuable data back to the ‘other’ team.

Around 3:00pm, testing was over. We were escorted into the garage and in a bit of a flurry, James, Robert and Reed were told to quickly remove their shoes. They were going to be allowed to sit in the car that had just finished testing. “But you have to be quick!!” they were told in a forceful, boisterous tone. Reed was first. In – quick picture – get out – quick. Next James – same thing, make it quick, and finally Robert. Now get out of here…. Quick!!

Well, this wasn’t the first rodeo for the BMW Williams F1 team. This was full-on theater, obviously rehearsed, and all with the goal of making our three young drivers believe that their shoes were ‘gone’. The entire team erupted with laughter and for this team of highly trained pros, this was their finest moment on this day, and clearly the moment that they enjoyed the most. And then, they made James, Robert and Reed stand around in their socks for quite some time before the shoes were finally retrieved.

What a trip. Marshall amplification. The bird-poop incident. And the up close and personal look at one of the world’s premier race teams. Great memories for all of us because of the generosity of Jonathan Williams, the BMW Williams F1 team, BMW North America and BMW Motorsport in Munich. It was a life-changing trip.