Making use of the time while out of the race car – both at the race track and away from the track – is key to differentiating yourself. Do only the champions continue to climb the ladder? Do all champions end up having long-lasting professional race car careers? Of course not. Sure, winning races helps, but what you do the 99 percent of your time (that you are not in a race car) is what primarily will help attract partners/sponsors, or at minimum will provide current partners with value they require. To further explain, we turned to Mazda scholarship driver Kenton Koch.
While I am not a professional in all aspects of this sport, I am a student of it and can pass on some tips I have been told.
First, stop thinking of this part of the year as the “off season.” This is a common phrase that needs to be re-coined. Sure, it’s associated with the time frame when the racing season is over, but it should be viewed not as the “off season,” but the “season for additional opportunity.” (If you can come up with something better, I think we’d all appreciate it and be better for it.) To create a plan during the “season for additional opportunity,” review and measure the success of the past season(s). Determine what you should change and what you should continue. Set the game plan for the upcoming season, and plan for adjustments. The takeaway: You must offer significant value to key stakeholders (e.g., your sponsors/partners).
Part of this plan for me has been executed at the race track (while not behind the wheel). Mazda Motorsports asked me to share insight into this plan. What are my steps?
Step 1: Set up a phone call with your partners to understand their goals and objectives. Remember, it is about them.
Step 2: Two weeks before each race weekend, I created a game plan and sent it to my partners for review and feedback. Once you have a complete understanding of the Gs and Os, realize they may change. Understanding goals and objectives for Mazda Motorsports and others, I created my plans/tactics and adapted. We created a list of assets at the race track; to name a few: The announcer booth; Mazda dealer car corrals; Mazda’s activation booth; Mazda and team VIPs, the race team I work with, and more. Then, I created a plan of action around each asset, ensuring I drive value to my key stakeholders and therefore my brand.
Step 3: Execute. Below, I break down three of these tactics that worked for me and my partners. You may have some ideas for your partners or potential partners, but why assume when you can ask.
1. Access the PA booth and all the stakeholders at the track: On any given pro race weekend there is a PA booth used to commentate the track sessions. This past season, I was able to get into the booth to color commentate many of the Battery Tender MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires races because I reached out to someone in Mazda; he helped make the intro with the commentators. Announcers love having people in the booth that can offer technical insight to the series. If you hit it off with the announcers, you’re more than likely to be invited back. This tip is directed towards those in pro racing and grassroots (e.g., races such as the SCCA Runoffs are broadcasted over the intercom).
The value: Commentating gives fans a better perspective of the series and in return helps the key stakeholders involved with the series – in my case, Mazda and the supporting sponsors. Of course it benefits you because it makes you visible, so to speak, and and gives the key stakeholders involved a reason to appreciate you (if you don’t say anything too bad on the mic!).
2. Make appearances at Mazda car corrals: This can apply to every racing driver. Since Mazda needs to sell cars to stay in Motorsport, you have the opportunity to provide its customers with a unique experience at the race track. Mazda Motorsports and I discussed me engaging the corral customers – to share insight into the behind the scenes happenings.
The value: You’re showing your appreciation for those who own a Mazda. They even may tell their friends how great Mazda is and, who knows, maybe that person will buy a car. And as racers who are appreciative of the support Mazda provides, this is an altruistic thing to do. Plus, you never know who you might meet at a Mazda car corral- you know they are a race fan; you could meet your next big partner/sponsor or connection to one. Finally, building a relationship with Mazda Motorsports is always a good thing. Besides, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort away from other activities; just organize it, do it, and have fun with it!
3. Represent a good cause: Something anyone can do. I have a connection with Donate Life America, an organ donation awareness program. My mom recently was lucky enough to receive a heart transplant. 13 years ago she was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, which eventually got bad enough to where she had to be put on a heart transplant list. I am thankful for that person who signed up to be donor because that person was able to give a new life to my mom. But not everyone is as lucky as my mom. The point being, there aren’t enough donors in the world and it’s simple to sign up. This is my story I promote using the racing platform.
The value: It benefits the lives of loved ones and in return helps you stand out among the others at the track. Sharing these stories offers media exposure opportunities not only for you, but your cause. It’s a win/win! Find something that means a lot to you that you have a connection with and try to promote that in a non-selfish way.
Repeat steps 1-3.
20-30 years ago that might have been enough; it’s now about being the complete package. You have to be marketable, personable, technical, hardworking, and fast! Again, I am no pro at this stuff; I am still a student of the sport in every aspect and always will be. This is what I have done so far that has helped me. If you’re not going to help yourself, why should others?