The Frontstretch: Dollars and Sense: The Architects of NASCAR's Driver Brand by Tony Lumbis -- Thursday July 7, 2011

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Today’s Sprint Cup Series no longer represents your father’s NASCAR. Gone are the days when a driver climbed out of the car after a race and was not seen in the public eye until the next event. Now, more than ever, NASCAR is about the fans and in the age of 24/7 media, drivers need to work hard to keep the fan base engaged and develop their own brand, all while keeping multi-million dollar sponsors satisfied and staying competitive on the track. These demands translate into hundreds of obligations, over all 12 months of the year – a workload which drivers cannot meet alone. That is why many go beyond their public relations assistant, relying on what’s called a business associate: a general title, while not official, seems most appropriate for those who wear so many hats in an effort to support their driver. Don Rohr fits this role for Brian Vickers while Todd Moore fulfills a similar capacity for Martin Truex, Jr.

Rohr works directly for Brian Vickers via his company, Requiro Scientia, which is Latin for “To Seek Knowledge.” He can more easily explain his job in terms of what he does not do. “The rule of thumb is, anything that involves a contract or a number, I am not involved,” explained Rohr. That still leaves a multitude of tasks left for him to meet on any given day. “I work on everything from our fan club site, to brianvickers.com, to creating content you will see on Twitter or Facebook.”

Moore has a slightly different role with Truex, which can be attributed to the type of experience he has had throughout his career. Several years after breaking into NASCAR by working for International Speedway Corp. in the mid-1980s, this entrepreneur started his own business called MSC Sports, which assisted Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing with selling their respective properties. When acquisitions dried up in 2008, Moore pursued driver representation, specifically for Truex.

The two have worked together ever since.

The relationship between sponsor and driver extends far beyond the track, where a driver’s job only begins.

It was Moore that actually played an integral role in bringing Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing together. “My first priority was to shop teams and we ended up with MWR for a lot of reasons,” recalled Moore. “They had solid backing from NAPA, they had a young team where Martin could convey some influence and they agreed to bring on his brother Ryan. They have fulfilled every commitment.” Moore’s job was hardly over once the dotted line was signed, however. His next project involved developing the Martin Truex brand.

When Truex isn’t behind the wheel of his No. 56 NAPA Toyota, he spends a significant amount of time pursuing this next passion, the great outdoors. That lifestyle is the driving force behind his brand, which is evident on his website, mtjauthentics.com, devoted to NASCAR, hunting and fishing. Even for an athlete who is involved with one of the most popular sports in America, it is important not to pigeonhole him into a single category. One of Moore’s many duties is to make sure that does not happen. He expanded on the theory behind a multi-faceted site: “You may have someone who loves to fish, but does not follow NASCAR. We hope the connection Martin has to Bass Pro Shops will entice that fan to follow him.”

Expanding a driver’s brand outside of NASCAR is a theme that also applies to the Vickers camp as well. “We try to generate as much media as possible, regardless of if it is NASCAR-related or not,” said Rohr. “For example, we have a relationship with CNN and numerous other media outlets that when the time is right, they will be ready and willing to help us out. In fact, in Fontana, Brian went up to the NASCAR suite and meet with a gathering of film, TV, music and entertainment producers that were guests of NASCAR. Included in that group where two producers who are responsible for the A&E television show, The Glades. They wrote him into their show that aired on Sonoma Sunday.”

Rohr does not see his role as limited just to promoting Vickers, though. If he has an idea that that helps NASCAR, he will not hesitate to present it to the appropriate person in what becomes a win-win situation for everyone.

“We often say that we’re all in this together, so if you come up with something that could help sell tickets or entitlement sponsors, why not bring it up?” he explained. “At the end of the day, something may come back to help you.”

While Moore represents Truex the driver, he also applies the “greater good” theory whenever he can when forming a business arrangement. If there is a chance for MWR to benefit from something Truex is working on, he will ensure that the entity he is pitching to recognizes the benefit of synergy between team and driver.

“Regardless of the team we’re with, when possible, we always want to include the race team and their assets they have in our proposals,” he explained, using a recent example to elaborate. “We just signed a deal with Schick’s personal care business, which started working with us at Michigan in June. They realized that working with Martin exposed them to the outdoorsmen and NASCAR markets. Well, they’ll also be a major associate on the No. 56 car. It is a good thing for Schick, Martin and MWR to work together to build a long-term relationship that will provide value to all involved.”

Fans, the race team and corporate partners are all important stakeholders in the career of a NASCAR driver, but it does not stop there. Many drivers are involved in charitable efforts, which can be a full-time off-track effort in itself. Once again, enter the men behind the curtain who make it all work.

Rohr provides a rather unique explanation of his charity selection process.

“The rule of thumb for me is to try to play Santa Claus, not God. We cannot help everyone. We just don’t have the inventory of ‘stuff’ be it sheet metal, die casts, hats, etc., that others have,” he said, explaining that a few minor details can make all the difference as to whether he will even consider a request. “It’s all about the approach. If someone sends something generic, it gets tossed immediately. If their charity means that much to them, then they should do their research about who they are reaching out to.”

Extensive research also represents the foundation of Moore’s approach to potential marketing partners for Martin. While he was careful not to give away his secrets, he did provide some insight that was basic, yet essential to the success of his business.

“I think one of the keys is to do your homework on anybody who you are speaking to, which I believe a lot of people don’t do,” he explained. “Everybody in NASCAR is fighting for the same territory. You have to hook them in by creating a convincing argument that investing with the entity you are representing will be different from how their competition is positioning themselves. I think too many people rely too much on their association with NASCAR, the TV ratings and attendance.”

On the surface, it appears that with the variety of job responsibilities these men could work twenty-four hours a day, yet still not complete their respective to-do lists. Moore states that it’s the structure of his team that makes the work manageable.

“We have a business plan where everybody understands their responsibilities,” he said. In fact, for Moore to be successful at what he does, he has to realize what he cannot do. “I always believe that if you don’t specialize in a specific area, then find someone who does and I hire the best.” Whether it is managing finances, writing contracts or administering Martin’s foundation, Moore oversees the process, but he lets the experts tend to the details.

Vickers, sidelined by blood clots last year did everything he could to stay relevant with Rohr’s help, including this press conference at Bristol last August where he updated his progress for the racing media.

Unfortunately, crisis management is another reality of managing a driver’s brand. Rohr had to endure just that last season when Vickers was sidelined by blood clots.

“That was the definition of a curve ball, knuckle ball and split finger all in one pitch,” he remembered. “The most difficult aspect of the first 24 hours was dealing with all of the questions. My response was the same to everyone, ‘Wait until the official story gets out.’ I think (Red Bull General Manager) Jay Frye and the team did an extraordinary job explaining the situation.”

As it turns out, though, the spring Dover race where the news broke would be just the beginning of the process for Rohr and Vickers.

“We did our best to keep him relevant by getting him on TV when we could and on the radio,” he said. “However, it was more of a challenge to keep him sane. He was watching his car compete on the track and he was unable to contribute. That was the most difficult part for Brian.”

With last year behind the pair, it seems like they will face yet another challenge when reports surfaced that Team Red Bull’s existence is in jeopardy for the 2012 season. However, Rohr’s role is much different this time around.

“At the moment, I am letting the powers that be handle the situation,” he explained, taking a back seat to any potential scenarios being discussed. “I will come into play when needed.”

A NASCAR driver’s day does not end when the checkered flag waves on any given Sunday afternoon. Fans want to know who their favorite driver is off the track and what he represents. Corporate executives, who are dealing with tight budgets, demand to know what return on investment they are getting in addition to a logo on a car when they write a check to support a driver. So while you may not see the Don Rohrs and Todd Moores of the sport in the limelight, it is their countless hours of work that go into the driver brand that the public sees on a daily basis. Without them, fans would not know their favorite driver in the same manner that they do today.

Contact Tony Lumbis

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