FROST: Motorsports Professionals Away From The Track

Tim Frost

WILMETTE, Ill. — We know how hard motorsports professionals work at the track, but this month we will examine the off-track business activities of industry professionals.

Life as a driver, crew chief and team owner can be a lucrative endeavor. However, similar to time between races, substantial time is spent working away from the track.

The length of a career can also vary widely. Many will stay in the sport for years, but factors such as funding, sponsorship, performance, management and manufacturer support will play a big role. The development and importance of safety has also contributed to the longevity of a driver’s time behind the wheel.

Many are taking a proactive approach to the next stage of their careers. Traditional paths lead to broadcast booths, studio shows, team ownership or driving coach. The racing family receives the familiar face and voice warmly.

Motorsports requires being resourceful. Define the problem and develop a solution. To be competitive, stay motivated and take calculated risks, and most importantly be passionate.

The importance of teamwork cannot be underestimated. Working with engineers and mechanics requires cooperation and specific understanding of strengths and weaknesses. Staying focused is key to taking the checkered flag.

These are also qualities needed to be successful as an entrepreneur.

The transition from the track to the business world can be challenging. Developing and maintaining an identity away from the car requires a commitment.

The status of being a former professional driver can have its advantages. The ability to network and leverage relationships may be enhanced by celebrity status. Demonstrating humility and grace will get one through an open door.

The typical model sees companies utilize drivers as brand ambassadors. Brands will leverage the power of stars to market products and reach consumers. These relationships remain central to marketing strategies, but equity-based partnerships are emerging.

Since retiring, four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has taken a multi-directional path. It has primarily focused on motorsports and the automotive sector. His on-track performance served as the basis for a unique relationship with team owner Rick Hendrick. Post-driving ventures include car dealerships, team ownership, broadcasting, a vineyard and a charitable foundation.

Brad Keselowski has recently launched a manufacturing company. The goal is to utilize 3-D printing to develop products for the aerospace, military and other industries. Along with his father, Bob, they had experience in the design, engineering and manufacturing of parts.

Many drivers have off the track business ventures.  Fernando Alonso has taken an ownership stake and board position in a motorsports gaming company, Kevin Harvick a sports management agency, Sarah Fisher a karting entertainment center, Max Papis owns a steering wheel manufacturer, Bobby and Terry Labonte started a chassis bussiness, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has entertainment venues.

We are seeing another trend in which athletes are becoming early stage investors in start-up companies.

The ability to engage directly with fans and develop a personal brand is driving the influence of individual athletes. Access to investment opportunities with venture capital fueled by technology and transparency is lowering barriers to entry.

Professional sports create high-net worth individuals. This allows for deal consideration and the ability to invest and deploy capital. Leagues are doing a better job of educating their athletes for life after sports with tools for responsible financial management.

The ability to invest in a familiar industry aligns with the personal affiliation and experience creates natural synergies.

Sports tech offers many opportunities. Merchandise, data and safety are only a few of the areas that are ripe for investment. Technology, venture capital and sports are coming together for funding rounds resulting in higher valuations.

Motorsports and investing in start-ups can be high risk and return, but following this line around the track may result in a successful performance.