Jeff Gordon utilizing exec position to increase legacy of Hendrick Motorsports

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scott r. lepage

Jeff Gordon gained 4 NASCAR Cup Sequence championships and 93 Cup races, adopted by a profitable stint as an on-air analyst for Fox Sports activities. However on at the present time, he was sitting in a boardroom at Hendrick Motorsports, studying concerning the crew’s plans to launch a TikTok account.

 

It was miles from Victory Lane, however a becoming picture of the previous driver as he transitions to a full-time businessman and learns extra about what it takes to run Hendrick Motorsports, the crew the place he loved his driving success and holds a minority stake.

January noticed Gordon take over as vice chairman of the fabled crew. Since then, he’s confirmed up almost each day, sitting by means of conferences, exploring methods to promote and assist sponsorships, and on at the present time in late January, attending a digital content material assembly the place Hendrick Motorsports content material director Christine Brownlow offered a rundown of the upcoming TikTok account launch.

“I have a look at this the identical approach as after we launched a Twitter account [in 2009],” Gordon mentioned, including that from his perspective something that may improve the expertise of NASCAR followers is a optimistic.

Gordon sat on the head of the desk, sporting a Hendrick Motorsports-branded black vest over a blue shirt, and sleeves rolled as much as his elbows. Talking by means of a black masks, he quizzed staffers about what TikTok movies generate essentially the most engagement. Knowledgeable that first-person, point-of-view reels are performing the perfect, he leaned in and mentioned he was already envisioning alternative ways to offer followers these forms of angles.

The trivialities of working a race crew on each the competitors and enterprise sides is a part of life lately for Gordon, and it comes at an essential time for Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick, the 72-year-old proprietor of the crew and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group, mentioned he was beginning to get stretched skinny on his workload. He insisted he’s not stepping again from his NASCAR position in full however mentioned he’s discovered to be extra considered about what he spends his time on.

Groups are engaged on a spread of time-consuming points, from the hunt to search out and handle sponsors, to positioning themselves higher for NASCAR’s subsequent TV deal, they usually’re assembly greater than ever between the Race Group Alliance, Group Proprietor Council and NASCAR’s variety committee. Gordon is concerned with all of them, whereas Hendrick nonetheless performs his position when there’s one thing additional essential happening.

“I’ve discovered to hit the excessive spots,” Hendrick mentioned of what having Gordon are available has allowed him to do. “I’m 100% CEO of each firms, however there’s solely so many hours within the day — and I get older.”

Jeff Gordon listens to the digital content material crew define TikTok plans. adam stern

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Gordon, 50, drove NASCAR’s mainstream reputation throughout his two-decade racing profession. After retiring in 2015, he moved into the published sales space, working for Fox Sports activities from 2016 by means of 2021. Along with his Fox contract expiring and Hendrick seeking to lighten his workload, Gordon introduced final yr that he would depart the community and seize his subsequent problem.

Gordon’s wealth would have allowed him to retire, however the thought of working the historic race crew that he loves was extra alluring than simply sitting on a seashore someplace. The crew’s workplaces are lower than a mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway, and that’s the place you’ll now discover Gordon most days working till 5 or 6 p.m.

“He loves being concerned within the sport and maybe as essential as that’s that the respect he has for Rick [Hendrick]is admittedly excessive,” mentioned Jeff Burton, the previous NASCAR driver and present NBC Sports activities broadcaster often called “The Mayor” for his deep connections within the storage. “There’s a gaggle of individuals on this sport who don’t must work to make ends meet, however they do as a result of they need to be a part of making it higher, and he’s in that class.”

Hendrick Motorsports has an intensive NASCAR pedigree. It’s essentially the most profitable crew in NASCAR historical past, with 14 Cup Sequence championships and 280 race victories. The crew now has 4 Cup Sequence automobiles with a driver lineup that features the game’s hottest driver, Chase Elliott, and final yr’s Cup Sequence champion, Kyle Larson.

Gordon gained a stake within the crew when Hendrick provided him a lifetime contract in 1999, and is the only real minority proprietor of the group. The stake is a part of a wider partnership that features investments with Hendrick in actual property, the inventory market and automobile dealerships. Hendrick Automotive Group has 94 places and is likely one of the largest privately held auto sellers within the nation.

Regardless of his elevated position, it’s not clear whether or not Gordon is the inheritor to the throne at Hendrick Motorsports. The crew president, Marshall Carlson, can also be Hendrick’s son-in-law. Hendrick’s son, Ricky, seemed to be in line to in the future assist run the crew, however he died in a aircraft crash in 2004.

His workplace is adorned with mementos from a driving profession that included 4 NASCAR Cup Sequence titles.Hendrick Motorsports

Throughout his driving profession, Gordon mentioned he largely simply wished to give attention to profitable races and taking good care of his sponsors, which over time included the likes of Pepsi, DuPont (now Axalta) and Chevrolet. However the fairness stake piqued his curiosity within the enterprise aspect of the game, and from that time on he figured he’d finally develop into an government at Hendrick Motorsports as soon as his driving days have been carried out.

He has been serving to the crew for years, however as a broadcaster, his loyalties have been break up — a scenario that was turning into more and more difficult because the years glided by. Gordon was criticized on social media final yr by some followers for showing to be too partial towards Hendrick Motorsports. For instance, after Elliott gained at Circuit of the Americas, Gordon was photographed in Victory Lane celebrating with the driving force.

No matter any criticism, the early involvement with the crew shortened his studying curve within the new position. Gordon had began quietly attending key business conferences in recent times on behalf of Hendrick Motorsports and has lengthy been concerned on the competitors aspect. That have places Gordon amongst many within the sport who insist the possession mannequin isn’t working and must be improved when the NASCAR constitution system comes up for renewal concurrent with the brand new TV deal that may start in 2025. Groups need extra TV cash out of the following deal; the present break up is 65% to tracks, 25% to groups and 10% to NASCAR. Groups now depend on sponsorship for about 75% of their annual revenue, which they really feel is unsustainable and unfair.

You don’t drive in NASCAR with out understanding easy methods to thank your sponsors, so it’s no shock that a few of Gordon’s earliest strikes have include sponsors in thoughts. For instance, Gordon proposed increasing the dimensions of the crew’s pit bins starting this season to supply extra room for the crew and for sponsor visitors who can sit within the field as a hospitality perk. Gordon mentioned he bought the inspiration to elongate the pit bins by touring to completely different sporting occasions around the globe, together with Formulation One races, and observing their hospitality efforts.

Different new Gordon-led initiatives embrace giant offseason overview conferences with drivers, their model administration groups and Hendrick Motorsports executives. He’s additionally working to herald extra sponsors general.

Pat Perkins, Hendrick Motorsports’ vp of selling, mentioned that whereas Gordon has lengthy helped out in varied methods on the enterprise aspect, what’s completely different now’s “he’s right here principally each day and he’s engaged with us as a assist system.”

Perkins mentioned Gordon has helped revamp a few of Hendrick Motorsports’ advertising and marketing operations and that his presence in issues like sponsor conferences helps as a result of “he’s very commercially and promotionally minded, he understands tradition, expertise and media platforms, and on high of that he’s Jeff Gordon.”

As somebody who crossed over to the mainstream and bought featured in commercials by main blue-chip manufacturers resembling Pepsi, Gordon is aware of the worth of huge client sponsors and says he desires to develop the star energy of the crew’s 4 drivers, who along with Elliott and Larson embrace William Byron and Alex Bowman.

“Once I have a look at my very own profession, I like how we had a mixture of B2B and product sponsors that tied into Hendrick Automotive Group, but in addition Pepsi that was a giant model that was pushing you as an athlete and crew and reaching out to a broader fan base,” Gordon mentioned. “Once I have a look at NASCAR after we have been actually hitting on all eight cylinders, you had sponsors that have been contributing to that.”

Gordon mentioned the crew is sort of bought out of obtainable sponsor stock for this season, a key indicator of economic well being within the sport. Companions embrace Ally Monetary, Ashoc vitality drink, Axalta, Hooters, NAPA Auto Components and Valvoline. Like many NASCAR groups, Hendrick has had some high-profile sponsor departures in recent times, together with Lowe’s and Pepsi’s Mountain Dew model.

Marti Walsh, vp of selling at NAPA, mentioned that since she joined that firm in late 2020, Gordon has been a giant assist in instructing her concerning the nuances of the game, significantly as a result of she was comparatively unfamiliar with it earlier than taking the job. Atlanta-based NAPA has been the most important backer of Georgia native Elliott since he moved to the Cup Sequence in 2016.

Gordon and crew proprietor Rick Hendrick (proper) rejoice after driver Kyle Larson introduced one other NASCAR Cup Sequence championship residence to Hendrick Motorsports.getty photographs

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Standing in his upstairs workplace trying over a binder full of images, Gordon is enthusiastic as he factors out photographs of Hendrick Motorsports historical past that his assistants are about to show into framed portraits within the workplace entranceway. One is a traditional picture of Hendrick sitting on a automobile at his well-known Metropolis Chevrolet dealership. One other is from final yr’s race at Dover Worldwide Speedway, when the crew had the primary 1-2-3-4 end in its historical past.

“Between the years of driving, being concerned with the enterprise behind the scenes right here at Hendrick and TV, I’m undoubtedly prepared and having fun with it,” Gordon mentioned. “Rick and I have been flying residence from Daytona yesterday [after the Rolex 24 sports car race], and I mentioned, ‘I’m having a blast.’ I nonetheless have loads to be taught and loads is occurring to maintain me very busy, however I like being extra concerned with the folks right here and seeing the aspect of the enterprise that I really feel we will make higher — simply giving extra to our sponsors.”

Gordon gained’t be required to be at each race over the primary half of the season anymore like he needed to for Fox, however he’s nonetheless planning to be on the monitor usually. He says his present schedule has him attending all however six of NASCAR’s 36-race schedule in 2022.

What he’s centered on is taking Hendrick Motorsports to new ranges. He desires his drivers to develop into extra well-known outdoors of motorsports and to cross over to the mainstream like he did. Elliott is the game’s hottest driver however is usually seen as being reserved and stoic, which performs properly with NASCAR’s crowd however could also be hurting his probabilities of making extra of a mainstream influence.

“I need our drivers to be natural and don’t need them to be anybody they’re not, however no matter you’re comfy with, I need to see you go simply outdoors that consolation zone,” Gordon mentioned. “In the event you’re keen to place your self in locations folks don’t count on you and also you need to be there — the normal sporting occasions and nation music concert events are nice, however let’s take {that a} step additional — that’s what I’m making an attempt to encourage our guys to do. I didn’t need to host ‘Saturday Night time Stay’ [at first] — I used to be scared to demise.”

Even earlier than he took on this new place, Gordon performed an essential position within the rehabilitation of Larson final yr after the driving force was successfully banished from the game in 2020 for a yr after utilizing a racial slur. Gordon helped advocate for Hendrick Motorsports to rent Larson and felt the crew might assist get his profession again on monitor. Larson gained the 2021 NASCAR Cup Sequence championship for Hendrick Motorsports in his first yr again and has largely repaired his picture, together with by doing work with social justice teams.

Hendrick famous that as a result of Gordon was as soon as a younger famous person driver himself, he can relate with the crew’s crop of younger drivers in ways in which many others can’t, together with “explaining the pitfalls.” Hendrick added that Gordon has additionally spent loads of time appearing as a conduit between crew chiefs and drivers to create more healthy dialogue and relationships between teammates.

Gordon is encouraging Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers to compete in different types of racing. Larson is already an enormous proponent of this — Gordon calls him motorsports’ modern-day AJ Foyt or Mario Andretti on this regard — and his teammate Bowman has additionally lengthy been racing on dust tracks along with NASCAR. Elliott has began making an attempt out completely different types of racing during the last yr and Byron is being inspired to do some late-model pavement racing this yr along with his NASCAR duties, Gordon mentioned.

One large query is whether or not Larson will ever enter the Indianapolis 500. Gordon mentioned it’s unlikely for this yr, however after that, “we’re open to it, however we’d prefer to at the very least talk about as a gaggle what makes essentially the most sense — that is the precedence right here, and if he went to drive within the Indy 500, we’d need to be certain we’re supporting it, embracing it and enthusiastic about it as a result of we expect each will be carried out properly.”

The group itself can also be open to dabbling in different types of racing. Gordon didn’t get particular however he mentioned: “We’ve to be ready the place motorsports and NASCAR is headed. It’s our bread and butter and what we love, however on the similar time we love automobiles and we’re an organization that has a tradition of efficiency, automobiles and racing … and if the precise alternative comes alongside to do one thing with [General Motors] along with NASCAR, we might completely be open minded.”

For now, Gordon has his efforts centered elsewhere, whether or not it’s studying about TikTok or no matter else it takes to take care of a profitable race crew:

“My priorities and issues I need to give attention to essentially the most are: ‘What’s going to assist us proceed to remain at an elite degree of automobiles, groups, competitively and all of the substances it takes to try this?’”





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