Canadian Superbike – My Take!

** I originally wrote this on December 14, 2011. I am working on a follow-up blog story to let you know the outcome of this; my take on Canadian Superbike. Any guesses on the feedback that I received? Stay tuned… **

When Parts Canada announced that they were pulling the plug on Canadian Superbike, I have to say, I got pretty excited. I felt that this was finally going to be the impetus needed to change the sport. To me, Parts’ decision was much more impactful than that of an OE, or other sponsor. Think of it as ‘creative destruction’… a process where a shock to the status quo leads to positive change for the future. Clearly, the sport was broken, and I thought… “Finally!!… this is great – here we go.” I immediately reached out to some influentials that I knew and expressed my desire to talk to someone…. anyone. And I got some names, and I tried… but no one seemed to have the energy or enthusiasm that I had, and as time passed, so did my energy and enthusiasm.  The attitude was either indifference, or that “nothing is gonna change”.  If someone would have listened to me…. here is some of the propaganda that I would have spewed…

1) What is the responsibility of the Canadian Superbike Series?

The responsibility of the CSBK series is to generate CONTENT.  This content is to be used as an AUDIENCE AGGREGATOR for its STAKEHOLDERS.

Let’s identify the stakeholders:

– B2B companies that are endemic to the motorcycle industry

– B2C companies that sell motorcycle-centric product to consumers

– Media that is endemic to the motorcycle industry

And…. let’s identify the audience:

– B2B – Decision-makers who manufacture, distribute, sell or buy endemic products

– B2C – Fans/spectators of motorcycle racing (consumers of CSBK-generated content)

– B2C – Consumers of motorcycles and associated products

– B2C – Consumers of non-endemic products and services

And finally… the content providers:

– Team owners

– Professional racers + support staff

– Promoters

– Race tracks

So, to summarize; it is the responsibility of the CSBK series to deliver great content that builds and sustains ‘audience’ which can be monetized and measured. Period. Think about properties that are successful, and you’ll quickly identify they are very good at delivering on the responsibility of being an audience aggregator.

Let me use this in a sentence… “Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment used great content to grow a large, measurable and sustainable audience. This large, measurable and sustainable audience was desirable to all of MLSE’s stakeholders. ALL OF THEM. The content was so effective as an audience aggregator that the two largest distributors of content in Canada, namely Bell and Rogers…. bought it all…. for $1.32 billion.”

Now… let’s talk content.

First, when you think about the NHL, NFL, MLB. MLS.. etc., the game has fundamentally stayed the same since their inception. The size of the playing fields are the same, and for the most part, the rule books have not changed. There have been tweaks to the rules to make the content better for the audience… such as the NHL’s regular-season overtime and shoot-out rules. But in general terms, the content generated by these sports is the same.  They have not changed the content – they changed the experience with the content.

The exact same thing is true with professional motorcycle road racing. The content is the same as it has always been.  In fact, it’s fantastic!

So…. as other pro sports have used their (same) content to create multi-billion dollar enterprises, CSBK, using its (same) content, cannot generate enough audience to justify participation from Kawasaki Canada? (as an example)

The point that I am trying to make here is that you do not have to change the content. Professional motorcycle road racing in Canada has all of the elements in place that are necessary for success. It is already FANTASTIC CONTENT.

So, what has changed with the stick + ball sports? The quick answer is; “everything else”. They have completely changed the stakeholder, audience, customer and fan experiences with their content.

While the CSBK ‘executives’, the tracks, the promoters, the teams and the riders were all out “looking for sponsors”… MLSE was out “looking for value”. Think about that for a moment….

One of the people that I did speak with suggested that what CSBK needed right now was a big non-endemic title sponsor. I don’t disagree that this would be great, but think about it this way; If you run a professional motorcycle racing property, and the motorcycle industry cannot find enough value to participate, how is $$$ from a non-endemic sponsor going to fix anything? You might argue… “Well, Winston did it for Stock Car Racing…” This is an undisputable fact for sure, but this is not 1980…. there is absolutely no way that you can have that conversation because everything has changed. Everything. You continue to argue… “But if Red Bull came in and ‘promoted’ the series, more people would see how fantastic it is, and more people would buy tickets to the races, watch on TV and buy stuff…” Balderdash!!…. Millions and millions and millions of Canadians have been exposed to Superbike Racing in Canada in one form or another and didn’t come back. Exposing the same product, in the same way, to a new group of people will not have the desired effect – that being to attract and retain sustainable audience.

When Mopar was announced as the new title sponsor for CSBK at the Toronto Motorcycle Show, a series official actually said something like: “When companies see that Mopar has come on board, perhaps now they’ll take a look as well.” Take a look at what??? This is like inventing a widget and taking it to market year-after-year with no one buying it. And, instead of modifying the widget, the answer is to show the defunct widget to ‘different’ people. Really?

So, I do not think this is a content issue. Sure, we need more teams and riders, and better teams and riders… but we do not need to change the rule book as it pertains to sporting regulations. Technical regs absolutely need to be modified from time to time to match consumer-driven decisions with OEs, but if the goal is “world-class motorcycle road racing”… everything is in place for that.

So… if I was large and in charge…  here is where I would start…

1)   Admit there is problem. This is the biggest problem…. getting the prideful people in charge to admit that there is, in fact, a problem.

2)   Stakeholder input. Talk to everyone identified as stakeholders above and ask them what they want from the series. They’ll use different words, and descriptions, but their answer will be “audience”. It’s just that the audience to Parts Canada is different than the audience to Honda Canada, which is different to the audience of TSN SportsCentre. Not much… but it is different. Talk to them. Get it defined. Make a plan WITH EACH ONE to capture, sustain and monetize THEIR audience using CSBK content.

3)   Capture, package and deliver the content – differently. This is critical. The content is good – we’ve established that. It stays the same. How it is captured and distributed determines size and scope of measurable and sustainable audience.

4)   Sponsors: STOP looking for sponsors and start looking for value. You need to do an asset audit. When you discover value – sponsors will come. It’s magical.

5)   Audit your human resources: Step #1: Re-read the definition of insanity. Do you really expect the same people who got you into this mess to get you out…. by doing the same ^&$%ing thing??

6)   SWOT analysis. Do you know why major, successful corporations still do SWOT analysis?? Because it works. Capitalize on your strengths. Eliminate your weaknesses. Act on your opportunities. Neutralize your threats.

7)   Write a 10-year Strategic Plan. Realistic. Sustainable. Year-on-year growth in everything measurable. Innovate. Include flexibility to change with your audience.

In conclusion…

1) To those people that are charged with organizing professional motorcycle road racing in Canada, you need to take your responsibility seriously.

2) You need to understand, appreciate and respect your impact on motorcycling in Canada – positive and/or negative and/or indifferent.

3) You need to understand, appreciate and respect your impact on Canadian motorcycle racers – positive and/or negative and/or indifferent – especially those that have the ability go on to World Championships at the highest levels of the sport. (Maybe one day, you’ll be the highest level of the sport)

4) Treat people… and make decisions… and take actions,… that will result in your induction into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as well as put you on the front of the sports, business, lifestyle, automotive, motorcycle and technology sections of all of the national media outlets.

5) You need to OVER-DELIVER in everything tangible and non-tangible, in everything measurable and non-measurable… to EVERYONE defined as audience, stakeholder and/or content provider above – with NO exceptions.

6) You must become the envy of sports marketers and content producers world-wide.

All it takes is the right people doing the right things. Simple.

Good luck

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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.”

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.

There’s an Elephant at the Hockenheimring

Brandrenaline Blogs – 




I attended the finale of the Formula BMW ADAC Championship at Hockenheim in October of 2004. I was running the North American version of the Championship for BMW NA. And, as our season was over, it was a great opportunity to see how the German Championship operated – especially since BMW Motorsport (Munich) was large, and in charge.

Despite being surrounded by literally hundreds of millions of dollars in supercars, hospitality set-ups and the Hockenheimring itself, it was a shy, seemingly recluse, 17-year old with a mouth full of braces that kept my attention.

And although he had already clinched the Championship, Sebastian Vettel was laser-focused on finishing the season on the top of the box.

The brilliance of Formula BMW was that it required participants (kids aged 15 – 21) to learn about fitness and nutrition, sponsorship, marketing, PR and of course, racecar dynamics.  The Championship had its age restrictions so that old fat rich guys didn’t mess with this true driver development program. You see, BMW had created Formula BMW to feed drivers into their Formula 1 program. And by having four different Championships spread around the globe, they had the opportunity to snag the very best in their net when these future World Champions were just starting.

One of the really truly amazing elements of this concept was the team and driver hospitality set up that accompanied each series.

This was the hospitality set-up, used mainly by wannabe racers honing their PSP skills.

 If you ever saw Penske Racing’s hospitality set up, or Cal Wells’ from the PPI days in the 90’s, they were pretty spectacular – but nothing like these kids had. You can see from the photos that this was world-class. Most kids – coming up through the ranks of racing – eat their lunch under a 10 x 10 eazy-up on a table that has been handcrafted by stacking used racing slicks and a square piece of oil-stained plywood on top.

I bring this up, and wanted to show you these photos of this fantastic hospitality because if I wanted to study the drive and determination of Vettel, I had to leave the opulence of the BMW Hospitality tent and hover outside his race team’s set-up like a groupie.

“Sebastian!!.. Oh Sebastian!… come out, come out, wherever you are!!”

Even then, sightings were rare. You see, Vettel was working. At 17 years and 3 months of age, Vettel was studying data, grilling his engineers and trying to get better. While the other drivers were playing video games, picking their nose and looking at girls, Vettel was working.

Coming into the weekend, Sebastian had already won 16 of 18 races. This was a phenomenal accomplishment in a spec series.  His strategy was so simple that you and I could win with it. Qualify on pole position and then, at the start of the race, get out front and let the rest of the kids crash and bang and fight over second. Simple.

He had just won his 2nd race of the weekend, and the Championship. This was not celebration – this was debrief.



He won both races this October weekend.

He was awarded his Championship trophy in a rather low-key ceremony in the hospitality tent by Dr. Mario Thiessen.  The accolades were in German, but it didn’t matter. Nobody could hear any of it because the DTM cars were on track.

Throughout the weekend, there was something else that I couldn’t help but notice. To me, it looked like maybe, just maybe, there was something else going on that could end in tears.

Although Sebastian’s car had the colour scheme and graphic design that indicated that he was in fact, supported financially by BMW, there was also an elephant at the ’ring.

The largest branding on Vettel’s car was not BMW – it was Red Bull.

The smiley faces indicated race wins – he ran out of space. The “Red Bull” represented the elephant.



Who owned the rights to Vettel? Red Bull also had a global driver development program.

How is this gonna play out?

In 2007, Sebastian was named as the test driver for BMW’s Formula 1 team. Was this our answer? He stepped in for the injured Robert Kubica at the Indy GP – drove brilliantly into the points – and then abruptly in July, he was ‘released’ by BMW and replaced Scott Speed at Red Bull’s Toro Rosso.

Why would a German automobile manufacturer racing in Formula 1 release a German superstar race car driver? Methinks that they had no choice and that the wide-awake, energetic elephant had first dibs.

And the rest is history.

Did the loss of Vettel from BMW’s stable have anything to do with BMW leaving Formula 1? Was the global economy a convenient excuse to cover for the “one” that got away? I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. I do know that public statements and press releases are rarely designed to tell us what really happened.

Maybe Dr. Thiessen will write a book one day.  If he does, I doubt that there will be an elephant, or a bull, on the cover.

Question or comment? – add it here… or email me at jb@brandrenaline.com