Motorsports has become a $6 billion dollar industry in North Carolina, with greater Charlotte serving as its primary hub. There are more than 700 companies focused on NASCAR, including racetracks, racing teams, car builders, governing organizations, car builders, and third-party suppliers of technology support and software.
Racing cars is about far more than managing mechanical parts: these local companies are creating new digitized systems that have helped transform racing into a data-driven sport. “We’re all about winning on Sundays,” explained Matthew Cochran, manager of Information Technology for Hendrick Motorsports. “Technology has gone from being a nice-to-have to a competitive advantage.”
With plenty of forward-thinking technology initiatives underway, tech pros who like racing have more opportunities to break into this competitive industry. Most tech careers in motorsports fall into these major categories:
Business Technology and Support
While there’s debate about whether auto racing is a sport or entertainment, everyone agrees that it is a business. Some tech pros have been able to bridge the gap to their first racing-centric job by leveraging experience with ERP, technical support, network management and firewall administration.
Because these racing IT teams tend to be small, professionals who have worn multiple hats in a small- to mid-size company have a distinct advantage in the hiring process. At the very least, you need to emphasize your ability to multitask from the get-go.
“One of the biggest mistakes candidates make is not making a clear, concise case for why they should advance in the hiring process,” explained Ginny Huffman, director of recruiting for NASCAR. “We’re willing to consider people from outside the sport, but it’s not always clear what they intend to contribute. Employees can make a big difference here.”
Racing Team Operations
Today’s racers leverage analytics. Behind every successful racing team is a group of data scientists, systems engineers, application and software developers, architects, and performance engineers who collect and interpret performance data to make advantageous adjustments before and during the race.
For example, racetracks pump real-time telemetry data to the cloud, Cochran said. Racing teams build analytic tools and leverage machine learning to gain insights that improve performance.
In that context, skills that will make a great impression on potential employers include remote networking, cloud and VMware, database development and data virtualization concepts. Diagnostics, Big Data analytics, and machine learning are likewise vital.
However, you don’t necessarily need experience with custom racing applications or niche software to get your foot in the door at NASCAR, Huffman said: “We can train for those skills.” There’s an emphasis on soft skills such as teamwork, the ability to shift focus, and problem-solving—all of which are vital, given the breakneck speed at which NASCAR moves both on and off the track. (Read more about NASCAR’s digital transformation here.)
Networking, Communications and Support
If you’re into high-performance networking, communications and technical support, motorsports could be the perfect industry for you. Not only do race teams install, test, optimize and de-rig their networks for every race, explained Chris Chomic, market manager with Charlotte recruiting firm AccruePartners, but NASCAR tracks are in the process of upgrading from WiFi to fiber-optic networks. That’s creating new job opportunities, especially with third-party providers. (Read more about NASCAR’s track upgrades here.)
Because it can be hard to find developers who know engineering programs such as Siemens PLM Software, NX Nastran, CAD and STAR CFD, Cochran handles specialized programming needs by teaching mechanical engineers to code. Indeed, adding niche skills to your toolbox can make you more attractive to racing-related employers. If you’re interested, most software vendors offer online training courses.
It’s no secret that NASCAR has been overhauling its fan experience over the last few years. If you have experience building native, web or hybrid apps, improving UI/UX designs, creating digital dashboards, or deploying digital platforms and live video streaming, your skills could propel you across the finish line, job-wise.
Additional Tips for Breaking In
What is the biggest barrier to landing a job in the motorsports industry? Most jobs are filled by employee referrals or word of mouth, according to Chomic. There’s a strong link between handshakes and hiring.
Forge valuable connections by attending local tech meetups, user groups or sponsorship events. Alternatively, develop niche skills to set yourself apart. For example, you could master some of the sport’s complex algorithms through a learning partnership or by participating in an internship or co-op. “Having knowledge of the sport is helpful,” Huffman said, “But we’re also looking for fresh ideas and solutions that often come from outside the industry.”