Recently I had the opportunity to interview Katey Hawbaker, the director of marketing and media relations at Red Horse Racing. Red Horse Racing, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team that began in 2005, fields three drivers in the series: John Wes Townley, Timothy Peters, and Germàn Quiroga.
Katey Hawbaker’s interest in the world of NASCAR began like most other people’s – as a fan. She grew up going to races with her family as part of their vacations. Katey earned a degree in marketing and a minor in communication studies while in college. Knowing she wanted to one day work in the NASCAR industry, Katey made the logical move to Mooresville, N.C., which is known as “Race City USA” due to the large number of racing teams and organizations that have their operations based there.
Katey got her feet wet by working in the sales area of a pit crew school that trains future pit crew members for NASCAR teams. In this position, Katey practiced pitching and placing stories, which would come in handy for her next job. After a grueling four rounds of interviews, Katey was hired at a marketing and public relations agency called Breaking Limits Marketing in 2012, which happens to be owned by legendary NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte. Through Breaking Limits Marketing, Katey resumed the role as the public relations contact for Bobby Labonte while interacting on a daily basis with the NASCAR teams and tracks to help plan hospitality events at the races.
In 2011, Katey moved to Kevin Harvick Incorporated (KHI), which was a truck team that operated until the end of the 2011 season. Katey was fortunate enough to work with the talented driver, Ron Hornaday Jr., for the entire season. After KHI shut down, Katey moved to Red Horse Racing, where she was solely responsible for the public relations representation for all three drivers and the organization. Katey took a short hiatus from the team during July 2012 to December 2012 when she worked as the manager of competition communications for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series after NASCAR reached out and offered her the position. She returned to Red Horse Racing for the 2013 season.
A Week at the Races
As described by Katey, a typical week working for a NASCAR team looks like this:
- Monday: Develop “race advances,” which include news releases for the upcoming race, stats on the drivers’ season and previous trips to the track, sponsor information, notice of any crew members local to the area, information on the particular trucks being brought (for example, if a truck is using a chassis that won earlier in the season), and quotes from the drivers and crew for media use. Also, organize each driver’s schedule for the weekend, which includes autograph sessions; media interviews; and corporate events, such as the Toyota Pit Pass.
- Tuesday and Wednesday: Create recaps on each team’s performance during the previous weekend’s race for the media to use in designing storylines. Work on storylines and pitching to local media as it pertains to the races ahead.
- Thursday: Travel to the weekend’s track.
- Friday and Saturday: Assist the drivers on any and all appearances at track. Update social media throughout the weekend. Take notes during the race to help with the creation of post-race reports, which feature race highlights and quotes from the drivers. The quotes are the most important part, as they are often what the media look for first.
Green and Yellow Flags
Just like in any other public relations job, there are highs and lows to working in NASCAR.
According to Katey, one of the best experiences is Victory Lane. Katey has experienced this quite a few times – some of the more memorable ones coming from when Timothy Peters won the race from the pole position at Iowa and the four wins that Ron Hornaday scored while at KHI. Katey describes the experience as a celebration of the entire organization’s hard work paying off. The week after is fun and busy due to all the media requests and appearances that come with being the week’s winning driver.
Racing isn’t all Victory Lane and champagne though. Challenges do appear, and when they do, they are often difficult to deal with. Last year Red Horse Racing had to let one of its drivers go due to lack of funding. To help dial down the impact, Katey and the Red Horse Racing team took the offensive approach by creating a news release explaining the situation and having their owner go on the Sirius XM NASCAR radio station to talk firsthand about the situation. The main focus was on getting their side of the story and statement out there for all to hear.
Overall, these are the five big ideas to know before having a career in NASCAR:
- Be prepared to travel. Traveling takes up a lot of time when working in the racing industry. For the cup series, 36 weekends out of the year are spent at a track. Katey mentioned that often times PR representatives are with the team and NASCAR media more than their own families.
- Develop a thick skin. NASCAR is not necessarily a hostile environment, but Katey explained that when working in the sport, you are a woman spending most of your day in a garage full of men. Not taking things too personally is important to getting the job done and having fun.
- Build up your integrity. Building your reputation will open up opportunities and job offers. Katey recommends to make a name for yourself by doing good work and being known as a great professional.
- Get to know the media. Many journalists in the NASCAR media group are veterans in the sense that this line of work is all they’ve known. While it may be intimidating, Katey recommends that the first thing new practitioners should do is introduce themselves to the media. After being able to put a face to a name, the media will begin to come to you to see what you are working on.
- Work on getting your foot in the door. NASCAR, like any other professional sport, is a tough industry to get into. Katey recommends new graduates do any type of work they can get their hands on, whether it be through an internship, contract work or just volunteer work. Many times there are teams that will bring in additional help during a busy time. Helping out in any way possible will help get your name out there and be thought of when an opportunity arises.