Pathways to A Career in Motorsports Part 1

Episode 34

December 14, 2014

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As a former educator and motorsports enthusiast since the age of about 12, some 60 years ago, since I started as a Bangor Daily News blogger some 33 episodes ago, I have wanted to write a series of articles which focus on possible motorsports career pathways which may inspire others. My desire is to make people aware of what those in the industry have to say about the road to success with some of the bumps and hiccups they have experienced or are currently experiencing.

Previous episodes have focused on Caribou’s Jason Theriault, owner and one man show at JRT Customs. In my humble opinion he is one of the best fabricators in the business. He has turned out some amazing projects in his small shop.

On the other end of the scale is Van Buren’s Philip LaPointe whose photo and article in Motor Trend Magazine I featured as the lead for today’s episode.The son of an Aroostook County potato farmer is an example of what I will be talking about as well as others in this episode. His bulldog determination, great attitude, and willingness to do what it takes has brought him to the top in international and stateside motorsports.

I am also sure that there are stories of success out there that I am clueless about. This is where I need your help. If you know of someone who is actively involved in motorsports as a career let me know at thale@reagan.com. This is no guarantee that I will cover that person, however, you never know…..

Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2014 Bobby Alexander at the induction ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center in April 2014.

Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2014 Bobby Alexander at the induction ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center in April 2014. Photo by Tom Hale

My first conversation is with Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame 2014 member, Bobby Alexander, now residing in Ellsworth. With his record of accomplishment in the motorsports area and as a fellow former educator I value his advice for anyone thinking of pursuing a motorsports career.

I recently asked Bobby to share with me some of his ideas and rather than trying to re-write his words I will post them as given to me in a recent email:

Motorsports Careers

Bob Alexander

     A career in motorsports can take several different tracks. Some of the areas are:

1.       Builder/ Fabricator

     Duties:

     Designs and fabricates race car chassis and components from differing materials which include steel sheet, aluminum sheet, box and round steel, aluminum stock, fiberglass and carbon fiber.

2.        General Crewman

     Duties:

     Miscellaneous shop duties, painter/body man, parts room clerk, truck driver.

3.          Race Day Crew

      Duties:

      Tire Changer, Jack Man, Fuel Man, Sign Holder

4.           Crew Chief

     Duties:

     Overall management of race shop and race day operations for an individual race car. Multi-car teams may have multiple crews and crew chiefs.

5.            Team Manager

     Duties:

     Management of all aspects of single and multi-car team operations

6.            Office personnel

     Duties:

     Might be a single person on multiple employees with responsibility for logistics related to team travel, personnel, payroll, clerical, accounts receivable and payable, team promotion and sponsor recruitment and race day hospitality.

7.            Driver

     Duties:

     Racer/Driver competing at varying levels of competition. Team and sponsor ambassador available as required for on track and off track sponsor and team requested duties related to team and sponsor promotional activities.

8.            Team Owner

     Duties:

     Responsible for team financing and recruitment of team drivers and support personnel, real estate, rolling stock and other equipment.

Paths to a motorsports career:

The easiest and most often followed introduction to motorsports is to work as a volunteer crew member on a local team. Most teams welcome individuals eager to trade their labor for the opportunity to learn the basics of week to week race operations. Benefits might include paid pit passes and other weekly expense reimbursement.

Some will form their own race team and progress through the varied classes at a local track with a goal of competing in a touring or sanctioned division.

Many will progress as they find the niche which matches their passion and talent, working their way up through varying levels of competition ranging from the weekly racing operation at a local short track to a touring division such as The American Canadian Tour, Pro All Star Series, (North or South) NASCAR Modifieds, Camping World Truck Series, K&N, Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup Series.

As one progresses through the higher levels, these positions will become paid positions with both full and part-time positions. Many one car pro touring teams will employ a full-time crew chief and one or two full-time shop crew member.

More and more it is becoming a requirement that persons seeking full-time employment add credentials and formal training to their resume. Schools such as “NASCAR Tech”, a division of Universal Technical Institute, Wyo-Tech, and UNOH, The University of Northwestern Ohio, currently offer differing levels of motorsports training.

 Of these, the school with the best reputation in the industry for producing graduates with the proper training and experience is The University of Northwestern Ohio, a degree granting, non-profit university.

I would caution anyone considering formal training of this type to perform due diligence by questioning graduates of the ‘for profit’ entities as to their success with motorsports employment as well as potential employers as to their experiences and requirements.

Course work should include training in welding and fabrication, chassis design and setup, engine performance, engine machining and assembly, and post-secondary classes in math, English and science.

I recently had a conversation with the CEO of Whelen Industries, a major sponsor of motorsports venues concerning a position he was seeking to fill. He specifically wanted a graduate of The UNOH motorsports program to work as a crew member who would travel with the U.S. Bobsled Team performing such duties as required to optimize the setup and performance of the bobsled. The moral here is that a career in motorsports may also take one into areas other than race cars.

As you know Tom, as a former representative of The University of Northwestern Ohio, my opinions may be biased toward UNOH. However the record and my personal experiences fully support this bias.

I hope that these thought might be a help to you in any future articles and you have my permission to quote me if you wish.”

In addition Bobby has talked with me multiple times over the years about what can a person do to achieve the most satisfying level of success for them. We both agreed enthusiasm, desire to start before and stay after the average person, be willing to learn, and get to know people in the industry. Most jobs do not appear on the bulletin board of the local career center nor do they get advertised in the local paper. They are filled often by word-of-mouth recommendations as someone knows the person in charge and your name keeps popping up.

Mitch Green, the older gentleman by the door of this Super Late Model at his shop at Crazy Horse Racing in South Paris. Joining him are several  students from Oxford Hills Middle School. They are involved in a collaborative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)  project with Green and his crew at Crazy Horse Racing.

Mitch Green, the older gentleman by the door of this Super Late Model at his shop at Crazy Horse Racing in South Paris. Joining him are several students from Oxford Hills Middle School. They are involved in a collaborative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) project with Green and his crew at Crazy Horse Racing. Photo Courtesy Crazy Horse Racing

Another fellow retired educator whose opinion I value is Mitch Green co-owner of Crazy Horse Racing in South Paris. Green and his wife Judy, and son Mickey make up the core of this multi faceted racing business located near Oxford Plains Speedway.

Mitch was the automotive technology instructor at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School for 20 years before retiring in 2008. His interest in racing began with Mickey in the Strictly Stock class at Oxford. Mitch only drove a couple of times and decided the driving part was not for him.

His son Mickey then became the driver saying, “We’ll split this 50/50. I ‘ll drive and you pay for it.” They worked their way up the ladder learning the ins and outs of chassis as they went. Green admitted they did not know much about set up at the beginning.

When they bought a Late Model race car built by the legendary Gardiner Leavitt, Mitch said, ” We did not have a clue how to make a late-model handle.”

Since Mitch was an automotive instructor this allowed him to work  summers for David and Donna Smith at Race Basics in Andover. He learned a great deal at Race Basics  during the five summers he worked there.

Green and his wife Judy bought the parts trailer end of the business in 2004 and later the entire entity in 2008. In 2010 the moved to their current location in South Paris after deciding they wanted the business closer to home.

Green had many recommendations for the person wanting to make a career in the motorsports business. “Have the interest and really enjoy what you are doing, ” said Green.

“Find a team to work with. Get involved, teams are always looking for a good pair of hands. Become a student of the game learning everything you can about all aspects of the sport” .

Another prospect for not only getting involved in motorsports but making that part of your education career is the STEM project that Crazy Horse Racing is partnering up with Oxford Hills Middle School (OHMS).

This project grew out of an Idea presented to Green by Oxford Hills Middle School principal Troy Eastman. Eastman wondered if Crazy Horse would help build a Wednesday Night Camaro for Oxford Plains Speedway’s mid-week show.

Green convinced Principal Eastman that it may be more beneficial to build a Late Model from scratch so students would work on a  car  built from the ground up rather than strip out a street car with all the work that involves.

Currently 55 students from OHMS are involved in everything from fabricating, designing, marketing, and public relations. The student rotate each week in smaller crews of 6 or 8 to work hand-in-hand with skilled craftsmen at Crazy Horse as they piece together a Super Late Model race car that will be campaigned at Oxford as part of the weekly series and the Oxford 250 in August 2015.

The team of students arranged for driver selection by having their marketing team interview interested potential drivers and making their final choice for driver. They chose Waterford’s Spencer Morse. Morse was involved with this group three years ago. He currently campaigns in the Strictly Stock division.

A crew chief will be recruited and race day responsibilities will be turned over to Morse including finding sponsor money to race the Super Late Model. His crew will include 2 to 3 youngsters each week so they might get some hands on experience in motorsports.

“It gives kids a reason to get up and go to school,” said Green. “At first we had a lot of at risk kids. Now we have a wide variety of students. We do a lot of math including measuring as well as science. I tell the students when you are in math or science this is why you pay attention.”

Green did not have statistical data to show the success that this program is having with students that get involved. The project is only in its fourth year.

He does know that in order to stay with the program the youngsters must maintain acceptable attendance and grade standards. Green also emphasized that this project is expensive, however, when one looks at the cost per student in comparison to some other programs remain relatively low.

I have tons of other information that I will share in future columns including interviews with others in the industry as well as Caribou Tech Center Welding Instructor Keith Dumond. So look for that in future episodes.

Locals make their appearance at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI ) Show at Indy

Brett Alexander on left the crew chief for son Wyatt on the right spent time at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show at Indianapolis, Indiana last week. With over 3000 exhibitors and educational seminars and forums it was a whirlwind of activity.

Brett Alexander on left the crew chief for son Wyatt on the right, spent time at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show at Indianapolis, Indiana last week. With nearly 1200 exhibitors and educational seminars and forums it was a whirlwind of activity. Photo courtesy WAR and Norm Desjardins

The Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show at the Indianapolis Convention Center in downtown Indy was the place to be last Wednesday through Saturday. The show featured nearly 1200 exhibitors in the  high performance motorsports Industry including NASCAR, Indy Car, USAC, dirt track, karts, and every imaginable equipment manufacturer that a racer could imagine.

The 5 day event included seminars, forums, and awards ceremonies. The biggest names in motorsports make their appearance at the show. Anyone wanting to make a career in the industry as a driver or other related jobs must make the PRI Show to see and be seen by potential employers or sponsors.

I will feature comments about the show from a couple of locals Austin Theriault, and Brett and Wyatt Alexander of Wyatt Alexander Racing (WAR).

Sneak peak at Moncton’s Ryan Messer’s Late Model for 2015

Ryan Messer's Late Model having panels fitted to the chassis. Messer will compete at Speedway 660 in Geary, New Brunswick in 2015.

Ryan Messer’s Late Model having panels fitted to the chassis. Messer will compete at Speedway 660 in Geary, New Brunswick in 2015. Photo courtesy of RYAN Motorsports

Ryan Messer Motorsports released some pre-season photos of their 2015 Late Model being prepared by them at the team’s Harvey, New Brunswick shop. Crew chief and Dad Rob had this to say,

“The 2014 season was a tremendous success for RYAN Motorsports!  At 13 years old, this was Ryan’s rookie season running full size stock cars as he ran the full schedule with the Atlantic Modified Tour.  Ryan adapted to the bigger car extremely fast scoring podium finishes in his first 2 races and breaking through with his first win late in July.  Ryan finished the season with 4 wins, 6 Top 3s, and 9 Top 5s on route to the series championship and Rookie of the Year titles.

In 2015, Ryan will continue to ascend the maritime stock car ranks as he moves into a Late-Model Sportsman car.  This class is one of the most popular & competitive classes in the Maritimes!! This car will be another big step for Ryan as it is a heavier car with more horse power and less tire on the ground.  Ryan will campaign the car full-time at Speedway 660 in Geary, New Brunswick. Although not official, I believe he will be the youngest driver to ever compete in this class in NB.”

We will hear more from RYAN Motorsports in future episodes. Until then:

Let’s go racing!

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.