I’m a race car driver, so you’d think my job would mostly be about driving a race car. The truth is, I’m only in my hot rod, the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, for a few minutes every race weekend. Even counting the pit warm-ups we do before every run, the burnouts, backing up after the burnouts and all the time just sitting in the car waiting, I’m probably not in there more than 15-to-20 minutes a day. It’s not like NASCAR where you’re driving around for three hours.
My real job is selling the sport of drag racing and selling product for my sponsors. At the end of the day, if I can’t sell the sport and if I can’t sell motor oil, Ford Mustangs, insurance, TVs and appliances, I can’t feed the beast. When I started racing, I had one car and my budget for one year was $40K. Now, I’ve got four Funny Cars that eat up budget; each one costs $3M a year. Plus I’ve got two A/Fuel dragsters that my youngest daughters drive for BrandSource and Sanyo.
But it’s not just the racing that costs money, it’s all the other stuff, too. The Eric Medlen Project at my shop in Indy is all about making the sport safer for the next generation. We’re shaking cars apart, trying to learn more about the harmonics and oscillation that took Eric Medlen from us in 2007. We’re building motors, and our first in-house chassis just came off the jig. Don’t even talk about salaries and bonuses, because they just keep going up.
So bottom line, you’ve gotta have great sponsors to partner with you and they’ve gotta have great products. I’m lucky. I’ve got the best with Castrol, Ford, the Auto Club of Southern California, BrandSource, Mac Tools, Sanyo, plus all the product sponsors.
Next year, I’ll celebrate 25 years with Castrol. Those are Kenny Bernstein and Richard Petty numbers and I’m proud that we’ve been together however long that is – perhaps a quarter of a century – which says that maybe we’ve been doing something right.
So, it’s not all about winning and losing on the racetrack because we’ve won more than anyone else. It’s also about winning and losing in Corporate America. That’s why, just because there’s a weekend when we’re not racing, it doesn’t mean it’s a weekend off.
After I got to the semifinals at Reading, Pa., while my teams headed back to the shop in Indy to get ready for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, I went to ESPN in Connecticut with the NHRA where my daughter, Ashley, and I schmoozed with the guys who control our TV. Then I flew down to Charlotte and did a whole day of media talking about Bruton Smith’s ZMax Raceway getting a second national event and getting grief from Bruton because he named a grandstand for me – and then I couldn’t qualify (for last year’s inaugural Carolina Nationals).
From Charlotte, I flew back to Indy to be with my teams during testing at O’Reilly Raceway Park and check on the progress on our third building. Then it was on to Topeka, Kans., for a divisional race with Brittany and Courtney, who are in their first full year driving for Jerry Darien.
Got home to California on Sunday night, spent a day in my office on Monday dealing with issues, and then flew to Las Vegas on Tuesday to make an appearance for BrandSource. Back to Indy Tuesday night to do the NHRA press conference on Wednesday and organize a new retail store and museum.
On Thursday, I hosted an open house at JFR and signed autographs at an all-Ford car show at Bill Estes Ford. And, finally, that took me right up to Friday and the start of U.S. Nationals qualifying.
I’ll continue to complain about the schedule, about my PR guys, about the budgets, and then I climb right back in the cockpit and do it all over again. I just love it, and I can’t imagine ever being just a team owner, standing at the starting line watching my cars. I’m too big a ham to do that. I love to hear the cheers of the crowd. That’s my motivation.