The ALMS Sportsmen

July 18, 2012

The ALMS Sportsmen

July 18, 2012

The secret to the success of sportscar racing in general and the American Le Mans Series in particular are the sportsmen team owners. These accomplished entrepreneurs have a passion for the sport that is matched only by their business acumen.

Three of the most successful teams in the ALMS are led by such sportsmen: Seth Neiman of Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche in GT, Greg Pickett of the LMP1 Muscle Milk Pickett HPD Honda team and Jon Bennett of CORE autosport in PC.

Ironically, each saw their cars win their respective class at the most recent ALMS race at Lime Rock Park.

Seth Neiman, founder of Flying Lizard Motorsports, saw his career take him from music through the computer revolution to engineering, then to executive and CEO roles before landing in the venture capital world.  Since joining the ALMS in 2004, the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsches have claimed 21 race wins and the 2008 and 2009 ALMS GT class championships.

Greg Pickett founded CytoSport, makers of Cytomax and Muscle Milk. Pickett, a legend in Trans Am competition and now retired as a driver, returned to the ALMS in 2009. Since then, his team has racked up 10 race wins and currently leads the 2012 ALMS P1 class championships with drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf.

Jon Bennett, team owner and co-driver of CORE autosport, owns a company that makes carbon fiber products and medical devices. He entered the ALMS in 2011 and his team claimed two race wins and the 2011 ALMS PC class championship. In 2012, CORE has taken the PC class wins in all four ALMS events to date.

While not a team owner, Ed Brown, CEO of Patrón Spirits, is a sponsor and driver whose passion for the sport and business and marketing savvy plays a continuing role in the success of the sport and the emergence of Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari team.

The Alley met with Seth Neiman at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to talk about his team. His comments may surprise you.

Why did you start your own team?

“Early on, I realized that a ‘ride/drive’ program wasn’t going to make me happy as a customer. To do it right, we had to own a team. When we first started racing, I realized that I had some knowledge and skills that some of the people didn’t have. There were two key things: first, to construct an organization and second to hire great people who could create stability in the organization, for the potential to go beyond what we could do individually.”

What was your approach?

“We wanted to hire the best athletes, people who are natural pros, intelligent and good communicators. We needed people who can listen, learn and develop talent and the ability to work together.”

“Once we identified the key people like Craig Watkins, Tommy Sadler, Eric Ingraham, Thomas Blam and Jennifer Hart, we spent the next six months creating FLM. We came out at Daytona in 2004, ran second at Sebring and won Mid-Ohio. We had success early, but after Sebring we saw that we had a lot to learn.”

What did FLM get from your business background?

“Good businesses tell themselves the truth all the time. They are forced to deal with reality. Cash flow and customers are reality and good businesses have a cold eye on what is working and what is not. Good business also tolerates failure. If you are trying things, you will fail sometimes. You take risks.”

Is racing a business, if so what business?

“Contrary to what many think, running a successful business is not necessarily an automatic carry-over to a race team. Racing is not a business in the traditional sense. Businesses live and die by cash flow and cash flow is making customers happy. We don’t have any customers. The upside is that the passion of racing and winning and the spirit is fundamental to marketing objectives.”

“Half of being a racing team is being a small car manufacturer. Basically we are rebuilding a car 15 times per year. The process is the same – ordering parts, building and tracking, inspecting and testing. Businesses recognize organizational methodology.”

The racing changes constantly, why does your team seem so stable?

“Stability is a big part of our team. We want people who stay, not people who are changing jobs every 18 months. We want people who bring stability, good communications and intelligence. We plan, build a plan and follow it up.”

“It is hard to own a team and maintain stability. There are lots of momentum swings, up and down. What do we need to learn from this? How do we fix it? It took us two or three years to get that.”

“We have been with our key partners like Porsche and Michelin since we started.”

What is your race day model?

“We build our business and team through testing and planning, but, once we are trackside, we want to race like Navy Seals. We have a limited time to execute our mission at a race track. We practice, have a sense of continuity, and we get people ready for military-style execution.”

Why do this?

“I love it because it is hard. I saw something we could contribute to and have passion for. Our objective is to build the best sports car team in the world. I am still learning.”

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