The Quest for the “Holy Tenth”

The following blog story may have references that resemble the real-life circumstances of my actual friends and acquaintances…. which is unfortunate.

“Looking forward to coaching today” popped up on my Twitter feed. The tweet was from a young American stud of a race driver who has an incredible racing resume. A young unemployed race driver, except for the occasional coaching and OEM ride and drive gigs. What really struck me about this was that another young up and coming go-karter had sought out professional coaching to gain that elusive 1/10th of a second – that “holy tenth” – even though the coach himself had not turned that elusive holy tenth into a viable racing career. To me, this would be akin to a medical student paying for tutoring from a former medical student who ultimately was not cleared to practice medicine.

Yes, that elusive 1/10th of a second…. that “holy tenth”.

The feeling was – and still is – that this holy tenth will lead to race wins, Championships and of course; sponsors; funding; corporate backing; partners… moolah!

So…. as young drivers are coming through karting and into open-wheel cars or sedans on their ascent up the ladder, their ‘team’ will spend thousands in search of the holy tenth. Many before them – and perhaps even their $500 a day driving coach – have actually found the holy tenth, and yet they remain unemployed.

I think owners and team managers get all goofy in search of the holy tenth as well. Invest $50,000 a day for testing – no problem! Invest $3,000 to have your marketing person attend a sponsorship and networking conference? – are you nuts?

Here is a sampling of the types of things that team owners, managers, drivers, parents and other supporters have always been able to justify spending money on;

  • testing
  • new tires
  • a better engine
  • a new race car
  • testing
  • data acquisition
  • shinier wheels
  • wind tunnel testing
  • 7-post rig time
  • a back-up car
  • new driving shoes
  • testing
  • a new 4-storey, 3 bed, 2 bath condominium for your pit box
  • a new website
  • CFD simulation
  • testing
  • driving coach(s)
  • fitness coach(s)
  • nutrition coach(s)
  • psychological coach(s)
  • motor coach(s)
  • testing
  • new helmet(s)
  • smaller, lighter, more reflective mirrors
  • a bigger transporter
  • new radios
  • iPads of course – w/carbon fiber covers
  • and did I mention testing?
Maybe I can find the holy tenth during green-flag pit stops by having a crew that does Yoga and eats Oreo cookies.
Marketing coach or new engine?? Marketing coach or new engine?…. No brainer!! You can’t dyno-test a marketing coach…
It doesn’t make sense to reach out to sponsors if I do not have a cool place for us to sign the contract….

These pit side condominiums are critical to success. This photo is actually outdated as the new condos have an elevator and parking; reserved and visitor. This team no longer exists because they lost their sponsors. Was it because of the holy tenth?

Some drivers even hire a “manager”. This “manager” will make sure that all of the team owners know if and when their driver finds the holy tenth. And then of course, their “manager” will negotiate the contract, commission the press release and hit up eBay’s “Private Jets” section…. right after they submit their monthly retainer invoice.

Now, I certainly understand that there are parts of “the job” that are undesirable. Some racers do not like to work out. Others could care less about interacting with the media. These mandated autograph sessions must really be bothersome to others. But to even consider that a young driver should become a student of marketing?? That… is…. ludicrous. Sidney Crosby and Tim Tebow didn’t need to do no marketing….

Think about it this way…. Let’s take two 14-year old racers – who are equal in every way, on and off the track – and have one of them mentored by a team of driver coaches, and have the other one mentored by a by a team of driver coaches PLUS a marketing coach. In the long run, which driver will be in a position to a have a sustainable career – as a racing driver – in motorsports? (If you answered…. “the one who found the holy tenth” – stop reading…. right now please…. no, really)

Hey, it sucks that talent is not the determining factor in racing today. But, until the organizing bodies figure out a way to create value-based sports properties instead of these cost-based ones, that’s the way it is.

As for securing sponsors, ten or 15 years ago, it was really more of a sales function. You were packaging your audience as an exposure play and just had to sell it. Today, if you want to play the exposure game, you’re done. In today’s search for sponsorship, you need to understand marketing – not sales. It’s a big shift, and it’s complicated.

A clear indication that someone has found the holy tenth… look at all of those sponsors!

Throughout my time in racing, I haven’t been shy about telling young drivers and their parents that they need to understand, and invest in, marketing. I can say without exaggeration that my message was offered to hundreds of drivers. Very, very few paid any attention.

“The holy tenth will set me free…”

One driver that listened was James Hinchcliffe.  Back in 2005, James, together with his parents took my advice. Imagine the look on all of their faces when I announced that James was going to be the Mayor of his own virtual city. That’s another blog story, for another day; “The strategy and tactics behind the Mayor of Hinchtown”. Stay tuned.

“Of course you can change the speed limit to 300kph in Hinchtown…. you’re the Mayor”

Ultimately you need to become a viable marketing platform that employs racing, as well as many other assets, to sell a company’s products and services. So, yes, the holy tenth is important – there’s no doubt. Testing, fitness and nutrition are all critical to success. And great coaching is mandatory.

But, you must ALSO be a student of marketing.

So…. make sure you get right on that, as soon as you and your driving coach get back from testing.

“Hey boss…. If we buy this $4 gagillion dollar car wax, we might finally locate the holy tenth,” explains team manager person. “Get two goddammit!!”

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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!

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