The “Indy Summit” is an eagerly awaited events on the Mazda Road to Indy, an unparalleled educational experience in which drivers get to listen and interact with some of the top figures in motorsports. The subject – the hard and fast truth about what it takes to be a racing driver at the top level in today's media, marketing and financial environment.
This year, the Indy Summit has so many aspects it has been divided into two parts, the first taking place at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and including media training, a presentation by the top managers of Mazda's motorsports department on the business realities of motorsports sponsorship, and finally a sit-down with one of the most powerful and knowledgeable men in U.S. motorsports today – Mike Hull, managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
The morning session was conducted at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg. Drivers were coached by a team of professionals on how to deal with the all forms of media, including print interviews, radio and television. Part 2 was the Business of Motorsports Seminar presented by Mazda. Speakers included Jim Jordan (merchandising manager for Mazda North American Operations), John Doonan (manager, motorsports team development at Mazda North American Operations) and Dean Case (communications officer, MAZDASPEED Motorsports). Topics covered included everything from personal appearance to how to configure a sponsorship proposal that will get the attention of top decision-making executives.
"I came to St. Petersburg with a new sponsor, Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches, so I know something about pitching sponsors," observed Star Mazda racer Nick Mancuso. "But what I heard at the seminar made so much sense that I'm going to revise my sponsor proposal substantially before I go after the next one. This was time well spent with people who know what they're talking about."
The final segment was a group meeting with Hull, who – delving into a massive accumulation of knowledge gained in two decades at the top of North American motorsports – gave the drivers his perspective of how they can “brand” themselves, what top teams look for in a driver, and what steps drivers currently in the Mazda Road to Indy program can do to get noticed by top teams. At the end, he provided all of the 30+ drivers at the meeting with his e-mail address and an offer to advise them individually.
"This is an absolutely fantastic opportunity for a driver in my position," says Star Mazda driver Patrick McKenna. "Having grown up in European racing, there is such a confusing number of series and no clear way to progress your career unless you have access to major sponsorship. I came to America to make a racing career because the Mazda Road to Indy provides a clear path, it offers scholarship funding to series champions to help them move up, and it provides access to people at the very top of the sport; no young driver would ever get to sit down and speak personally with the head of a Formula 1 team. It was a big decision to come to another country and try to make a career in motorsports, but I'm confident that I made the right decision."
The second half of the Indy Summit will take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, during the lead-up to the centenary Indy 500. This portion of the program will focus on the on-track and operational aspects of racing in IndyCar and the Mazda Road to Indy, including driver coaching from Indy racing legend Al Unser Jr.