Vrooooom. Just like the drivers on the track, the pr professionals behind the scenes of auto racing are also used to fast-paced action. From traveling across the country for different races, to ensuring positive stories are published in the press, the life of a public relations director in this industry is anything but easy.
I had the opportunity of meeting Kelly Hale this past June at the Salhen’s 6 Hours of the Glen race at Watkins Glen International. She gave me some great pointers on how to land a coveted job in this business and also agreed to let me interview her when we both came home to Kansas City.
Me: So many young public relations professionals, including myself, hope to work in the auto racing industry, but what most don’t understand is how fast-paced the industry really is. Can you briefly explain your daily responsibilities as director of public relations at Kansas Speedway? And how do those daily responsibilities change during a race weekend?
Kelly: First, this is one of my favorite questions. Unfortunately, (but sometimes fortunately) no two days are alike. The two things I try to do every day are reading the latest local and national news, and I try to reach out to 2-3 reporters each day. From there, it really depends on the time of year. I could be promoting one of the events that we will have staff, I could be assisting with promotion of an event at the track, an upcoming driver appearance, etc. On race weekend, in addition to handling media relations for the Speedway, which includes setting up on site interviews, answering media questions, making sure the media center and press box are staffed and media have the appropriate credentials, I also am responsible for our pre-race activities which include driver introductions, pre-race concerts, post-race concerts, scheduling color guard, invocation and national anthem, making sure the appropriate people are introduced at the driver’s meetings, escorting VIPs and assigning driver/owner motorcoach spaces for the weekend. Fortunately, I have a great media center staff that can essentially run the media center without me! The staff is able to answer about 95% of the questions we get, which helps me be able to focus on the large items that need to be taken care of during a weekend.
Me: Wow, that sounds exhilarating! I’ve noticed that you have worked for NASCAR in the past and now work for an individual race track, Kansas Speedway. What would you say is the biggest difference and similarity between these two jobs?
Kelly: The biggest difference for me personally is the travel schedule. When I worked for NASCAR I was on the road 30 weeks a year. Now, I travel to a couple of races a year to assist other tracks and then a couple of times a year for meetings. Also, when I worked for NASCAR, I typically helped pre-promotion of an event so I wasn’t always around to see how those efforts went. Now, I see the efforts of our staff not only on a daily basis but in the results we get on a race weekend. The similarities aren’t that great but both at the Speedway and NASCAR, I was promoting a product/facility as opposed to an individual driver or series.
Me: So it seems to me that if you don’t enjoy traveling for work, this is not the right career path for you! Now, auto racing is an industry in high demand, in which several recent graduates hope to land a job. When interviewing interns and new job candidates in this industry, what are the top three qualities you look for in an individual?
Kelly: The first thing I look at is how much of a fan is the applicant. Because of the nature of this position in which I work with drivers and other VIPs on a pretty regular basis, I can’t have the uber race fan working here. I need to know that even if the applicant is a fan, that the person can separate that fandom and be professional. I also look at organizational and multi-tasking skills. I also need someone who is willing to put their ego aside and step in and help the team out. I never ask anyone who works for me to do something I wouldn’t do myself. If the applicant isn’t willing to do even the small things, they won’t work here.
Me: I had a behind-the-scenes look at the auto racing industry at Watkins Glen International this June and I have to say, it looked like a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. What is your favorite part of your job?
Kelly: This is a tough one. I’ve gotten to do some really cool things through this job and met some amazing people. I really like the interaction with people, both good and bad. The good reminds you of how great people can be and with the bad, you learn not to take things personally. The bad can also keep you on your toes!
Me: And last but not least, which is your favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup series race to watch and why?
Kelly: Kansas, of course! All kidding aside, I’m not sure if I can pick just one. I enjoy watching Daytona and Talladega to see what strategy a team will employ. The short track races provide some much action, with a lot of tempers flaring. The intermediate tracks allow to appreciate the precision of the pit crews and the strategy. Road Courses are just so unique.