NASCAR’s rising stars traded in their helmets and firesuits for pencils and pens Tuesday as they took part in an interactive “Professional Development 101” business skills workshop.
The nine members of the 2017 NASCAR Next Class, which spotlights the top upcoming drivers in the sport, participated in lectures conducted by Johnson & Wales University professors Jeff Longo and Patrick Stack. The drivers – many of whom are still in high school – learned a variety of business skills, from public speaking to writing a formal email to establishing connections with sponsors.
Class attendees Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are both teenagers from North Carolina and are sons of former Cup Series drivers. At just age 16, Burton said he was able to acquire his sponsorship with copier provider DEX Imaging with help from his father, Jeff Burton.
“Today really helped,” said Harrison Burton, who is in his second year with the NASCAR Next program. “This is what drives NASCAR. So many drivers are identified by sponsorships, so it’s really good to learn about the things that are so important to the sport.”
The course, taught in a Johnson & Wales classroom, also covered maintaining relationships with NASCAR fans, which Burton called one of the valuable components of the workshop.
“I never knew the gravity of how important it is to treat the fans right,” Burton said. “If you don’t sign one kid’s autograph, he might throw away all of his gear and not like you anymore, so that could be one fan down the drain. At NASCAR, we want to bring everyone in to this community that we love.”
Gilliland, son of David Gilliland, said he’s been racing against some of the other drivers in the NASCAR Next program for the past five years. And he and Burton have been facing off since they first got behind the wheel at age 5.
“We’re all pretty good friends off the racetrack,” says Gilliland, 17. “We have such unique schedules. We all hang out together.”
Before the course, the young drivers met with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Joey Logano, who talked about his off-track experiences as a young race car driver: the mistakes he made and the opportunities he capitalized on.
“We can’t all fund our way to the top,” Burton said. “We need to have other entities come help us; without that, we won’t be in a racecar for very long.”