NASCAR CHAMP BRAD KESELOWSKI NOT AFRAID OF FAILURE AS TEAM OWNER
Past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski did not get into NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ownership to get rich, and that’s probably a good thing: He revealed in December that his Brad Keselowski Racing operation suffered some hefty losses in 2014.
The 31-year-old Keselowski, who won the Cup Series championship driving for Roger Penske in 2012, said at a Motorsports Marketing Forum in Las Vegas that his truck team, which brings in an annual revenue of $7 million to $8 million, lost $1 million. The losses are not something that Keselowski takes lightly, but his view of the truck team is about so much more than just the bottom line.
“I believe you have to look short- and long-term in anything you do,” Keselowski said. “You sometimes have to try to see the world from a lot of different elevations. My involvement in the Truck Series is about being a part of something bigger. It’s a legacy. It’s about giving back to the sport, cultivating future talent.”
BKR fields two trucks in the series, and the team is aided by several business partners, including two Michigan-based companies that have become primary sponsors, Cequent and Cooper Standard.
“Having stable partnerships allows us to do some things that maybe some of the other truck teams can’t do, but a race team is not a profitable endeavor,” Keselowski said. “It’s a losing business. It’s a business maybe without a tangible return, but it makes me feel right.
“It’s tough. I knew that this is how it was going to be, but for me, it’s all part of a bigger picture, a bigger portfolio.”
BKR is coming off its most successful season on the racetrack. In 2014, Keselowski finished third in the series owner standings, and its No. 1 driver — Ryan Blaney –finished second in the driver standings. Keselowski started three Truck Series races for the team in 2014 and won at Bristol –- his first career Truck Series win in 62 starts dating back to his debut in 2004.
Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain and Cup driver Joey Logano shared a truck with Keselowski for BKR in 2014. Reddick replaces Blaney in the team’s full-time seat for 2015 as Blaney moves to a Cup ride with the Wood Brothers. Reddick and Austin Theriault are driving for Keselowski this weekend at Daytona.
Unfortunately for Keselowski, success of his drivers on the track has not necessarily translated all that well with the accountants. And that’s helped to keep Keselowski’s management team busy.
Keselowski works with Troy, Mich.-based Sports Management Network. The firm aligned with Keselowksi in 2008 while he was driving in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. SMN is involved with just about all of Keselowski’s off-track interests, including contract negotiation, sponsorship acquisition, personal service arrangements and endorsements, appearances, licensing, digital and social media strategy, creative services, foundation and charitable work, and legal support.
SMN helped bring together Keselowski — a three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion — and his current Cup Series boss Penske through SMN’s relationship with sponsor Discount Tire. Keselowski and Penkse have combined for three NASCAR Nationwide and one Sprint Cup Series championship.
“I think it would be inaccurate to say his truck team is bringing him down,” SMN founder and CEO John Caponigro said. “The truck team is doing exactly the opposite. The truck team is helping him establish a brand. It’s helping him establish himself as an owner of a top-tier racing program. It allows him to give back [to the sport].”
Keselowski had created a team designed to give opportunities to future stars of the sport – drivers, engineers and crew chiefs. BKR graduates Parker Kligerman and Blaney got opportunities to win races in trucks on their way to driving at the next rung of the NASCAR ladder and eventually the Sprint Cup Series.
“We obviously look at the economics of the truck team when making decisions on whether to go forward, how many trucks to run, the various employees, drivers, etc.,” Caponigro said. “We measure it. We’re not careless in our planning. It’s not just an open faucet. We know what the threshold of pain is.”
A truck team, while not nearly the size of a typical Cup Series organization, is an operation that affects several families aside from just that of the drivers and, of course, the owner.
BKR employs about 30 people –- 15 per truck — at its Mooresville, N.C., race shop, according to general manager Jeremy Thompson. By comparison, Cup operations that Thompson has worked on the past have operated with 75-80 employees per vehicle.
“It encompasses pretty much everything, from planning, logistics and budgeting to dealing with crew chiefs, drivers, the fabricators, my shop foreman, our finance manager, our parts manager,” Thompson said. “It’s pretty much all-encompassing, keeping this thing moving and going down the road. I communicate with Brad on a daily basis to keep him up to speed on what’s going on.”
On race weekends, Keselowski finds himself working overtime, and then some. In September, for example, on the eve of the first Chase race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoffs, Keselowski and Thompson were agonizing late into the night while trying to figure out the issues plaguing Blaney’s truck following a disappointing Truck Series race.
“People, parts and technology are all intertwined,” Keselowski said. “When something goes wrong, or something goes right, you try to learn from it.”
There’s no question that Keselowksi lends more than just his name to the truck team.
“The thing I’ve always said about Brad is that he’s the perfect owner,” Thompson said. “He’s extremely engaged in his team. He sets the parameters for us. They’re very clear, and they’re very easy to follow. He wants the team to be competitive, to run up front and to win races. He wants it to be a truck team, but he wants it to have the appearance and feel of a Nationwide organization.
“And he wants it to be financially responsible.”
That’s where the sponsors come in. Novi, Mich.-based automotive supplier Cooper Standard joined Keselowski’s truck team for four races in 2011. That expanded to 12 races in 2012 and a full 22-race deal in 2014. Cooper Standard has a sponsorship agreement with Keselowski through 2016.
The cost to run two trucks in the series is in the neighborhood of $350,000 per race weekend.
“There’s definitely a big difference in the cost – the price to participate at the truck level versus a higher level,” said Allen Campbell, Cooper Standard’s executive vice president and CFO. “If we looked at a truck just by itself, we probably wouldn’t be involved as we are. We look at a truck that is sponsored by Brad, and that gives you access to Brad, that helps a lot. He is becoming a strong business presence throughout the truck and car world.”
Cequent, another major sponsor, joined forces with Keselowski for the 2012 season and has a contract with the team through 2017.
“We’re in the towing business –- trailer hitches, jacks and couplers and winches and all the products you’d use for towing,” said John Walsh, vice president of sales at the Plymouth, Mich.-based company. “The truck series was a natural fit for us. The demographics fit very nicely. The style of vehicle fits very nicely, and with our partnership as a supplier to Ford, it seemed to dovetail as well.”
Walsh added that Keselowski (who has more than 545,000 Twitter followers) helps to bring the century-old company into the spotlight, as well.
“Brad’s presence on social media is great,” Walsh said. “We have brands that are well over 100 years old. So, we’re always trying to find the next evolution. Brad was a great way for us to really kind of bust through the barrier of social media.
“While NASCAR Trucks don’t get much TV exposure, it does get some, and we certainly get exposure at trackside. Our arrangement with Brad also allows us to use him and his image in our marketing and promotional materials. We like Brad Keselowski and BKR because they’re good people. They’re down to earth, they’re hard-working, they’re very dedicated, and they understand that what sponsors need is that connection to their customers.”
SMN’s Caponigro is predicting a happy ending and continued success for Keselowski, despite his most recent speed bump in the Truck Series.
“He’s not afraid,” Caponigro said. “He’s true to his own way of thinking and his own code. He’s not afraid of failure, and he’s not afraid of success. Those are two things that don’t always go together for everybody. Sometimes, people are afraid of failure. He’s not afraid.”