Do you ever go to bed at night after an amazing day and go “man, I love my job”? As a member of the Storm team, I have this thought every day…ok most days. But sometimes, the stars align, and a few really cool things happen, and I get to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience all thanks to my awesome job at Storm.
When I was almost 10 years old, I discovered the world of NASCAR. It was 2001 and I was watching ESPN with my dad when a picture of Dale Earnhardt popped up on the screen. I asked my Dad who that was, to which he responded “that’s Dale Earnhardt, he is a NASCAR driver, he died today.” That was the first time that I learned what NASCAR was. That same year, the Kansas Speedway was built and hosted its first race. My family decided to purchase season tickets, and from that first race, I was hooked. Over the last 21 years, I have been lucky enough to attend dozens of races at multiple tracks across the country. I have gotten the opportunity to meet a lot of drivers and industry insiders over the years and have had some pretty cool experiences that I thought couldn't be topped… until they were.
Part of our job at Storm is to always be on the lookout for new and creative marketing opportunities for our clients and in this situation, a hidden DM from a NASCAR driver who asked if one of our clients would be interested in being a sponsor. This had the potential to become a great opportunity. Since the DM was hidden, it had been weeks since the driver had sent the DM to our client's Instagram but naturally, this piqued my interest given my love of the sport. I brought it up to the client, and they said let’s look into it and see if there are some options that might work for them. Trying to contain my excitement, I took to the Google machine and started diving in and finding any contact I could with various teams across all three NASCAR series to find out what the sponsorship landscape in NASCAR looked like.
After firing off more than a dozen emails to different marketing departments of various teams, I sat back and waited to see if anyone would actually respond. And they did! I would receive responses from many of the teams and would have calls with several marketing directors to discuss the options for different levels of sponsorship and the opportunities that each team offered. I was even able to have a call with a driver who isn’t afraid to work directly with prospective partners from the start for the small team that he drives for. Fun fact: this driver Parker Kligerman, just recently won a race with the small family-run team he drives for! Throughout this process, I couldn’t believe that I was able to talk with the teams that I was able to talk to, and I was fascinated with the information that I was learning when it comes to how the marketing side of NASCAR works. After talking to the various teams I had gathered a plethora of information, and I figured this would be the end of my foray into NASCAR marketing until the client had made a decision on if we wanted to pursue sponsorship opportunities. Then I got an offer from Jeff.
Jeff Dennison is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for Front Row Motorsports. Front Row is a NASCAR team that has 2 cars in the NASCAR Cup Series which is the premier NASCAR series as well as a team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which would be equivalent to a AA baseball team. The Truck Series is mainly made up of up-and-coming young drivers who are trying to make a name for themselves and climb the NASCAR ranks. Jeff and I had gone back and forth a few times while I was gathering information on their various sponsorship levels when he made me an offer that I wasn’t expecting.
As a season ticket holder at Kansas Speedway, my friends, family, and I attend the Spring and Fall races at Kansas every year. In conversations that Jeff and I had, we discussed how I attend the races there every year, and if I was going to be attending the Spring Kansas race, he would like to offer a VIP pass to me and a guest to show me what their team has to offer for our clients. I accepted his offer and it was off to Kansas Speedway, I had no idea what was in store for the weekend. Just when I thought I had done it all in NASCAR…I was wrong.
My best friend Domenic and I headed to the NASCAR credential trailer to pick up our VIP passes (while trying to act like we’ve been there before and not be as giddy as we were) and get started on our adventure. We ventured into the garage and started enjoying our up close and personal views of the garage and pit road that few people are lucky enough to get. We had some time to kill before we met up with Jeff, so we were just taking it all in.
Once we met up with Jeff, we realized that we were going to get an experience above and beyond what we were thinking. Jeff gave us a tour of the team transporter, which is the trailer that acts as a mobile race shop for the team, and introduced us to several team members. He introduced us to their two Cup Series drivers Michael McDowell, who won the 2021 Daytona 500 (the Super Bowl of NASCAR), and up-and-coming rookie driver Todd Gilliland. We conversed with both for a while, which was a really cool experience. We spent the next couple of hours walking around the garage, taking pictures with a few drivers and media personalities, and enjoying the experience. Then it was time for our next adventure, which was a meet and greet with their Truck Series driver, Zane Smith.
I feel like I need to add some context before I continue talking about how the rest of our day went. As a NASCAR fan, I have a couple of favorite drivers in the different series. One of those favorites is Zane Smith. I have been a fan for several years and watched him advance through his career. This is another reason why I was excited to get this opportunity from Jeff. We trekked over to the truck series garage and met up with Zane at his hauler for pictures and chatted for a while. As you can tell by the picture, I was not at all excited…
Once we wrapped up at Zane’s hauler, we had a couple of hour break to head back to the camper before returning to the garage for the pre-race activities prior to the start of the truck race. We met up with Jeff again who walked with us to pit road and the truck that sits on the grid prior to the race. Domenic and I took some pictures with Zane and the truck and stood lined up with him and the team during the invocation and national anthem. This is another experience few people get to experience, and I couldn't believe it was happening. Once pre-race ceremonies were complete, we shared a couple of fist bumps with Zane before he climbed in the car and Domenic offered some advice “keep it on the high side, don’t wad it up, and we will see you in Victory Lane”. We all laughed and headed down pit road to watch the race from Zane’s pit stall with the crew.
Zane started 4th, and quickly found his way to the lead. We enjoyed watching a pit stop up close and personal, and watching Zane not just lead the race, but dominate. We started to think “um, Zane might win this race”, and with a 4-second lead with 10 laps to go, it seemed inevitable. Then, a caution flag. The comfortable 4-second lead is gone. Zane would have to endure a restart and hold off the pack of hungry drivers behind him. The green flag is out, and he jumped back out to the lead. 5 to go, 4, 3, 2, white flag…holy cow…Zane wins! We celebrated with the crew as he crossed the start-finish line, and Jeff grabbed us and said “c’mon, we are going to victory lane”. My friend and I looked at each other and said “wait, what?”
We took off, speed walking alongside the crew (and about 10 steps behind Jeff who was almost running) straight to Victory Lane. We stood off to the side as Zane pulled the winning truck in and climbed out to celebrate with the crew and do his radio interviews. All the while, Domenic and I kept looking at each other and saying “how are we here?” In NASCAR, when a driver wins the race the driver does what they call “the hat dance”. This is where they stand with the trophy and have their picture taken wearing the various sponsor hats. Jeff was coordinating the hat dance, tossing Zane hat after hat as he posed and smiled for the pool of photographers, and then Jeff turned to Domenic and me and said “your guys’ turn!” As we had done all day, we looked at each other in disbelief, but we hopped up with Zane and the trophy. Zane looked at us and said “how ‘bout that boys!?” Domenic took this opportunity to remind him that he did give him the winning advice before he climbed in the truck. We shared a laugh, got our picture taken with the trophy, thanked Jeff for everything, and we finally headed back to our camper. We were smiling ear to ear and couldn't believe the day we had. And we still had one more day of being VIPs left.
We woke up Sunday ready to see what kind of surprises would be in store as we set off to the garage area. Now, the Cup Series race on Sunday is the big show. There are more celebrities, more people, and a lot more buzz going on compared to Saturdays. We met up with Jeff who was busy hosting some of their team sponsors, and he told us where to meet up with him before the start of the race on pit road. Domenic and I wandered up and down pit road and managed to meet a few more drivers.
I looked over and saw a big man with a mustache and a Hawaiian shirt. It was none other than the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid. As a huge Chiefs fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Big Red himself. He was very gracious and gladly took a photo and shook my hand. Just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, it did.
We proceeded to walk up and down pit road, had conversations with the Front Row Motorsports drivers, made a background cameo on the Fox Sports broadcast, and stood with the team during the national anthem and flyover. We watched the start of the race from the pits with Jeff, said our thank yous and goodbyes, and we made the trek to the grandstands to watch the race. Our dream weekend was coming to a close.
I never could’ve imagined that working at Storm Cloud Marketing would put me in Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway, but then again, you never know what you're going to get into with the Storm team. I will forever be grateful to Jeff and the whole Front Row Motorsports team for the opportunity of a lifetime. Fingers are still crossed that someday soon we will be able to get a client involved with NASCAR, and we can continue the awesome opportunities. I think the moral of this story is if you partner with Storm, you may just end up in the winner’s circle.