Racing businesses share strategies for navigating the pandemic

Image by Thacker/Motorsport Images

Racing businesses share strategies for navigating the pandemic


Racing businesses share strategies for navigating the pandemic


Speaking with a variety of racing industry companies about their strategies in dealing with the global pandemic, it’s clear that communication is key – between customers, businesses and staff. EPARTRADE checked in with three racing industry companies – Turbosmart, Rhyne Competition Engines and Steele Racing Products – to explore strategies the racing industry is employing to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

At Turbosmart, based in Ontario, California, Vice President and General Manager Marty Staggs said sales are continuing well for his company’s line of blow-off valves, external wastegates, boost controllers and more. “I believe it’s a bit of a mix, but enthusiasts and racers are definitely using the additional ‘free time’ they have to continue building and upgrading,” he said.

He describes Turbosmart’s overall approach as focused on consumers. “Our strategy was to double down on our consumer-facing marketing efforts – social media, giveaways and promotions, etc. Our communication with our customers has never been greater.

“We also developed a crisis plan and budget to identify areas that could be potentially negatively impacted, and how to adjust our focus to best protect the company and staff.”

The company has not laid anyone off, and has no plans to do so. “Our people are our greatest asset, and we will do our best to keep every single one.”

Taking a look at the idea of races without fans, Staggs feels that “for the short term, it’s going to be the quickest way to get the races back up and running. I do believe the teams can operate safely.” He does not think having fans in the stands can happen until next year, or whenever a vaccine is “readily available.”

He offers this advice for other racing business owners: “Relationships are more important now than ever before. Communication is key,” he stresses. “Focus on the things you can control, and put in extra effort to get to those projects that have been on the backburner. It’s a great time to be extra productive. It will pay off in the long run. For example, we installed another brand-new CNC machine in record time that will increase our production capabilities by a significant amount.” He adds one caveat “And it goes without saying – be smart with your cash.”

Mike McKinney, general manager at Rhyne Competition Engines in Gary, Indiana, says that “Racers are using time on their hands to work on cars, work on race cars and other performance automotive hobbies,” so sales are still there. As a small company that is always scheduling ahead, thing are going fairly smoothly so far for the racing engine builder and performance machine shop, which also offers restoration work and provides in-house engine dyno services.

“We are always scheduling ahead, so it has worked out OK for us,” he said. “Things are as normal as can be, considering the circumstances. Things get slower because of precautions with customers, but otherwise it hasn’t affected us too terribly,” McKinney notes.

Racing without fans is something he says he cannot specifically judge overall. However, even if there is no one in the stands, he points out “at home the people can watch something that’s not from years ago… it’s a step in the right direction.”

He believes that “Optimistically, in July, things should be back to normal, unless there is a set-back on the virus.”

His advice for other racing business owners on how to get through this crisis is simple: “I guess that all we can do is stay positive; keep moving in a forward direction, and hopefully things will get better in the future.”

As a 40-year family-owned business, his company thrives on “detailed personal interaction” with customers, rather than anything online or mail-order. With that in mind, he’s glad “because this is an automotive business, we are still allowed to have people come in, and being a small company, we don’t have large groups coming in anyway, just one or two at a time. It’s very safe for us to do that.”

At Steele Racing Products, in Tucson, Arizona, which offers everything from brake cooling products to radiator fans and helmet pumpers, company President Andy Wagoner says: “Since nearly all the professional and amateur race organizations have been postponed due to COVID-19, we’ve seen different trends in consumer product purchases across the board. The road racing segment has been hit the hardest, while the off-road community seems unaffected.”

He explains that his company views the current pandemic situation as “just another challenge we have to overcome. After being involved for a number of years with NASCAR, we’ve grown accustomed to dealing with changes very quickly. We have taken extra steps of precautions and implemented new policies within our infrastructure to mitigate the spread of sickness for ourselves and others. We’ve been fortunate enough to stay busy during this time, and it’s really a credit to all the dedicated and hard workers at Steele that ensure that.”

As far as racing without fans goes, like Staggs, Wagoner believes “I think that it’s the safest scenario to play, apart from no racing at all.

“From a professional race team standpoint, I believe teams can safely operate under these conditions.” The reason: “These groups are used to adjusting on the fly in so many different scenarios. I believe most would simply just implement another layer of safety precaution before, during, and after races, and handle themselves just fine.”

Regarding a time frame for racing, he views that as a wait-and-see situation.

“It all depends on what guidance our federal and state governments decide in managing this pandemic. It changes the whole planning process, and makes for efforts based off short-notice and unpredictability with what’s happening.

“I think it’s very likely racing will start sooner than later for race teams, but for fans, I think we are all better off practicing social distancing until we fully understand this virus.”

He offers different advice on weathering this crisis to business owners looking at three different areas: risk-management, finances, and communication.

“For other business owners trying to risk-manage this pandemic, my advice would be to acknowledge the existence of COVID-19. Take precautions within your own infrastructure first, with enhanced cleanliness policies to not only manage the spread of the virus, but to also bring awareness that you’re taking proactive measures for your customers. Appreciate them for buying your products and services still, and don’t procrastinate on implementing immediate change.”

From a monetary standpoint, Wagoner suggests extra caution and careful planning in spending. “Forecasting your operating expenditures with payroll and overhead will save you in the long run,” he says.

He points out that it’s wise to “operate as lean as you can, allow yourself a minimum six to 12 months of runway, without jeopardizing the quality and support of your products. The government PPP loan forgiveness is a great place to start looking to fill in the blanks in case you’ve been shut down.”

But lastly, and most importantly, communication is key, he stresses.

“This is across the board: to your customers, vendors, suppliers, and network of colleagues. Acknowledge the challenging times we’re all facing. Although you’ve seen most major companies spamming our inboxes with COVID-19 precautions, hearing it from a small business/shop resonates louder than you know.”

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