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;
- new tires
- a better engine
- a new race car
- data acquisition
- shinier wheels
- wind tunnel testing
- 7-post rig time
- a back-up car
- new driving shoes
- a new 4-storey, 3 bed, 2 bath condominium for your pit box
- a new website
- CFD simulation
- driving coach(s)
- fitness coach(s)
- nutrition coach(s)
- psychological coach(s)
- motor coach(s)
- 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?
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 This photo is actually outdated as the new condos have an elevator and parking; reserved and visitor.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!!”