Editor's Note: Klint Briney (below, LEFT, photo courtesy Tom Turke) is the CEO and founder of BRANDed Management, a sports management firm that represents IZOD IndyCar Series driver Jay Howard, among other athletes.
I've never written a public blog item and I don't expect to share one again anytime soon. I've written hundreds of journal entries and even authored a couple books, all in the voices of others.
I've developed many successful branding, marketing and PR campaigns to build the brands of others, while staying closely in the shadow, keeping the spotlight exactly on those who needed it most.
I'll never forget the excitement I felt when one of my clients ended up on a national talk show or how it felt to see a story you've pitched end up on the cover of the No. 1 newspaper in the country. The feeling of landing a multi-million dollar sponsorship program or for an idea to take off from infancy and turn into something bigger than you could have ever imagined, ending up in the hands of someone like Hillary Clinton.
In 2009 I was arranging for a big career change and quite frankly preparing for a divorce from a job I had been involved with for nearly a decade. I sat on the wall in pit lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while my client was qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, listening to the car tour the track and the sound of the engine fading in and out. For the first time, I was actually taking the time to enjoy this month of May, trumping so many I had taken for granted over the years by being too busy to relish the many sights and sounds of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
As I was sitting there at IMS that year a close friend of mine had approached me and just happen to say, “Make sure you are taking it all in because when I was your age, I never took the time too.” This time I was.
It wasn't long after I met a flashy guy by the name of Jay Howard. He walked rather slowly, yet greeted you with the biggest smile I had ever seen. He was as humble as a product from Indiana might be; yet his accent quickly reminded you he was actually from England.
I knew of him from his winning the Firestone Indy Lights Championship in 2006 and thereafter from securing a ride with Roth Racing, who happened to be headquartered right next to my office just off of the famous Gasoline Alley.
I started following Jay's career like I did with Dan Wheldon back before he had secured his IZOD IndyCar Series seat. I really enjoyed the style of racing that the Formula Ford's provided and just after Dan had surprised so many by winning the championship, Jay too followed close behind by winning the title and breaking Dan's Series record for the number of wins in a single season.
I remember quite fondly Jay was easy to like, easy to talk to; his then-girlfriend, Courtney Nicoson, just the same. I must have put 15-20 marketing proposals together that summer of 2009 centered on Jay before one of them finally hit.
We were so lucky Jay and Courtney had thought to approach our team. At the time, we were focused on an oval-race schedule and were quietly looking to fill our road course schedule with a road racing ace.
Jay and Courtney had forged a personal relationship with TBC Retail Group, marketers of the Service Central brand. We collectively went down for a boardroom presentation to Service Central's headquarters just before jetting off to what would become one of Chicagoland Speedway's final IndyCar races.
At this time, I was juggling the responsibilities of my day-to-day job and on top of that, in the thick of executing a grand idea I had had for a partnership to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month through a marketing alliance with Komen For the Cure.
It was shortly thereafter we had closed the deal for Service Central to sponsor Jay for the following season and the close to the current season had finally come.
By this time, I had already met with a dozen agencies across the country to detour my career path outside of professional auto racing. I was also entertaining a job to manage several sports partnerships on a national level for a high-profile corporation. My options seemed endless and yet, as I sat at dinner with Jay in Las Vegas during the SEMA show, I couldn't help but feel like I was slighting him for leaving my position and ultimately, leaving racing altogether.
Come to find out, Jay and Courtney had chosen to go with our team because of me. No added pressure there.
It was at this time, I had to re-think my strategy. I had so many personal relationships in auto racing and it was something I loved so much. I built my first go-kart when I was only 8 and raced it till the wheels fell off – literally.
I started my first business before I was even 10 – KB's Web Design. The first website I did was my own – go figure – on how to build a go-kart. I had never built a website before (let alone a go-kart), but my parents always said if you have fervor and confidence you can do anything you sent your mind to. My mind was set.
It wasn't long after it seems that I met Sarah Fisher and while she was living out her dream by becoming the youngest to race at Indy, she gave me a shot at mine. My web design business was flourishing with a bevy of clients, including Sarah, which ultimately led me to becoming her manager.
It was during Thanksgiving of 2009 that I begin to lay out what would become BRANDed Management. I would provide a portal to athletes – first from auto racing – to come to for representation. They also wouldn't need to hire an outside agency for public relations either; we would have a division for that too, and why not.
Flash forward to January 15, 2010. I'm not really one to get embarrassed, nervous or uptight about pretty much anything but that day was the most nervous I had ever been in my entire life. I was ready to step out of my comfort zone and start my own business, and off I went. I resigned my position with Sarah after nearly 10 years of working together; to say it was emotional was an understatement. And just as Sarah was embarking on the twilight of her career as a driver, retiring several months thereafter, I too was embarking on a new direction with mine.
Jay was my “first” client and I was happy to help him. The past two and a half years I've been very fortunate to have all the opportunities I've been presented with and each year as I head into preparations for the Indianapolis 500, I take time to reflect on the fact that I almost left and who inadvertently kept me there – Jay Howard.
While Jay has “qualified” just once for the Indy 500, he hopes to make his fourth trip this May to the hallowed ground that they call Indianapolis. He made his first trip in 2008 after signing a full-season deal to compete for Roth Racing based on merit. He was ultimately pulled from the car as practice for the Indy 500 began in exchange for a paying driver after just five races into his season-long contract. His dream of racing at Indy, out of reach.
It took him two years to make his way back and in 2010, he had a car fast enough to race in the 500, but it was withdrawn by his team amid concerns it would be bumped. Unfortunately for both of them, it would not have been. His sponsors, his family, and ultimately Jay, were completely devastated (again).
He returned determined as ever in 2011. We managed to put together a program to run for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, hoping the third time would be his timely charm. He got up to speed rather fast, qualifying solidly in the field in the 20th position. He quickly ran up the field during the actual race and while exiting pit lane in the seventh position, his entire tire/wheel assembly came loose from the car sending Jay to the sidelines to watch the race (again).
The 2012 season wouldn't start much better for Jay. As racing goes, it seems as though one day you have enough to race the entire season and are on top of the world and the next you're back at square one. But alas, as a program finally rolls out, all the obstacles and tribulations are part of the journey as long as the end product goes without a hitch – the drive just made you stronger.
And, so here we are heading into the month of May, still hoping for a MOTOR to go racing with! Jay says to stay in this crazy auto racing business you must be determined and focused – he certainly is. And to say he won't relish his time back at IMS if he's given the opportunity would be a lie. I know I certainly will.