Speed Secrets: Pro Driver Keys

By Ross Bentley

January 26, 2018

For many years now, a driver’s business, marketing and career skills have been almost as important as their ability to drive fast in making a career as a professional race driver. In this article, I’m going to briefly touch on the major headings – the most important areas you will need to develop if you want to be a paid race driver.

Business skills: At one time, most people felt that a driver would benefit from an engineering education – it would help them understand the nuances of tuning their car. While there is still some value in this, a business degree will take a driver a lot farther today. Understanding the nuances of business is more critical to tuning one’s career today. Do you currently have a “business plan” for your career?

Networking: Under the networking heading, I include making and keeping contact with anyone and everyone who could ever possibly help your career. The drivers who are very good in this area have a way to politely stay in touch with people inside and outside the motorsport community. The term I like to use to describe this is “politely persistent.” The overall objective is to have everyone think of you first whenever an opportunity arrives and to continue to make new contacts who may have the ability to help you in some way, either financially, politically, or otherwise.

Fan Appreciation: While this trait will never make or break a driver’s career, I mention it here because I do think drivers owe it to the sport to be respectful of the people who support their fun and career. Many drivers have gotten caught up in the ego-boosting glamour of being “superstars,” and forgotten who makes them superstars. Other drivers never lose the appreciation for what they’re doing and who played a role in making them what they are. It’s not coincidence that these drivers often get the nod over drivers who do not have this appreciation and respect – they are especially more attractive to sponsors.

Money: Some may say that this is the single most important factor in today’s state of motorsport. I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, having the necessary financing is critical, but if you have many or all of the other factors (the skills, knowledge, experience, contacts, etc.), somehow the financing usually takes care of itself. Does that mean that you won’t have to work at raising money, if you have all the other factors? No. You had better be prepared to constantly work in this area, and never feel that it is “beneath you” – that with all your talent you should not have to worry about such things. If you want to make it, you have to continually keep your eye on the money.

Media Savvy: One thing that helps drivers such as James Hinchcliff, and Jordan Taylor [RB1] in their careers is their personalities, particularly with the media. That’s not to take anything away from their driving abilities, but something you need to understand, if you don’t already, is that the media can help your career, or they can hinder your career. Your personality and ability to use the media to your benefit will play a big role in your level of success.

P.R.: Some drivers actually believe that playing the PR game is beneath them, that they are so good that they shouldn’t have to tell the world about themselves. Great! All the more opportunity for you, who had better learn how to generate positive PR for yourself, your team, and perhaps most importantly, your sponsors. The sooner you take some PR and media training – learning how to get your message across in interviews, speak in sound bites, provide interesting quotes, etc. – the sooner you will become a complete race driver.

Sponsorship: Under the sponsorship heading, I include the abilities to develop a marketing and promotional plan that benefits a company (and not just your own needs); develop the contacts with potential sponsor companies; how to “prospect” potential sponsors; how to sell a program; how to put in place an agreement or contract with a sponsor; how to service a sponsor once you have one; and so on. Entire books have been written about this subject, while I provided a brief overview in Speed Secrets. Yes, this is one of the most critical areas of all in becoming a complete race driver.

Sales: When I talk about sales, I mean having the ability to sell. Sell what, you ask? Things like your services as a driver to teams, marketing programs to sponsors, team members on your ideas to improve the performance of the team…selling whatever it takes to make you more successful. Some drivers seem to have a natural ability to sell, while others have to work on the skill. Either way, you need it.

Speed Secret: Business skills are every bit as important to your career as driving fast.

Okay, we’ve defined many of the key areas you will need to make it to the top. Now what? First, you need to go back and think about each of these areas, and decide for yourself whether that is a strength or weakness for you. Then you need to work at making each of them a strength. I will help in future columns by providing a few strategies and ideas on how make them work better for you, but ultimately it comes down to you. 

Ross Bentley

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