America’s next top team
America’s next top team
You can fill an imaginary paddock with the ghosts of over-hyped racing teams that never arrived or quickly disappeared from the sports car scene.
However, if it is indeed true that the quiet types ultimately prevail, then now is a good time to meet Jon Bennett (pictured above), the leader of what may well become America’s next top team.
The quick, quiet and efficient arrival of Bennett’s CORE autosport team follows his success with his Composite Resources business. Where some build a successful business and then take up racing, for Bennett it was the other way around.
He started what became a successful business so that he could go racing. Now in just its second season of American Le Mans Series competition, Bennett’s CORE autosport team has already secured its second consecutive ALMS PC Class team championship.
“No one in my family had an interest in race cars, but as a six-year-old, I saw a Saturday-night stock-car race and took it all in. Eventually, I started going to races with some friends of our family.
“As time went on, I wondered what it would take to be a major player and thought of generational heroes, Bob Tullius, Al Holbert and Rob Dyson. They were all impressive. I had pretty much given up hope of that until 1998 and 1999 when our composites company started to blossom. I looked at my personal calendar and decided it was time to take a shot. I met Morgan Brady (team manager) working out at Charlotte gym. I didn’t have any cars, tools or a race shop, but he agreed to put it all together. That was the critical moment.”
What were your early expectations?
“Talking with Morgan, we recognized that we can’t control the results but we can control the process, our presentation and our conduct. If we do that well, we won’t be so concerned with the things we can’t control, like the unknowns and racing luck.
“Our approach is to control the process, especially the manufacturing, meaning the process to get the cars race ready, and the presentation of a competitive race car. We are never totally results focused, but we are always very process focused. Our group is passionate. We love racing, we are focused on preparation and process. We are trying to create a CORE family and try to keep it light with lot of jokes, but we are very serious about what we do to prepare. I think it helps that we are not totally results focused.”
CORE’s New Home
“We learned from our manufacturer composite customers that having a nice facility, tools, and environment allows our employees to do a better job for our clients. It may cost a little more, but it pays off and we tried to take the same approach with the race team.
“Our people work very long days; many spend more time at the race shop than at home. It is important for them to have a nice place to work. It makes everyone happier and able to do a better job.
“Our CORE autosport facility in Rock Hill, South Carolina, (pictured above left) is a symbol of our approach to manufacturers and success. When we have new drivers or tech partners visit, our facility is a bit of a calling card to help express our capabilities.”
Avoiding the Sophomore Slump
“In 2011, we had multiple challenges. We had all new equipment, a new facility, new employees and a new corporate identity. We worked very hard last year just to develop our presentation and learn to work with each other under pressure.
“For 2012, our race mechanics did not need to be introduced to each other each race. Now, everyone knows which drawer the tools are in and how the transporters are laid out.
“This year our only focus is on improving our process and our performance and working on some intangibles.”
Jon Bennett as a driver
“I started as a driver in other classes, including IMSA Lites, but it took a while to understand the world stage we have in the ALMS and competing wheel-to-wheel with cars driven by heroes.
“All of the drivers in the ALMS are very professional and I’ve learned a lot. Colin (Braun) is currently coaching me. We spend time analyzing the session data and identify areas to improve. I work hard to become closer to the lap times that Colin and our teammates run.”
The Talent Wars
“Morgan is probably the critical factor in our success. His ability to pick key people and impressive drivers is key. One of the most amazing things of the last two years is the caliber of people coming to work for us.
“Professionals help attract other professionals, the whole thing begins to snowball. It is breathtaking, the talent that has joined us or approached us.”
What is Next?
“Our success so far is a little bit unexpected. I’d like to think it is sustainable, but racing is a tough business and no one really knows what the future holds.
“At the moment, we are chilling. We are in a bit of a holding pattern just trying to determine the next step – our belief is that if we can continue to have good results that things will follow a natural path.
“We would all like to see more cars in the P1 and P2 ranks. Part of the problem seems to be that everyone is waiting for someone else to make the move.
“One of the unique aspects of our company: Since we are brand new, we haven’t built any allegiances to a car manufacturer. We would like to become a vendor partner with an OEM and develop a mutually beneficial relationship and help some outside company in a way that we can grow together.”
“In 2011, I shared a car with Andy Wallace. He is a racing legend. This year we have two 2012 Le Mans class winners, Ryan Dalziel and Tom Kimber-Smith driving with us. Alex Popow is a top driver and Colin is outstanding. Each one of them has helped me hone my skill and their talent and the team’s talents have matched well.”