NH Motor Speedway's GM shares business wisdom
NASHUA— Jerry Gappens knows teamwork and communication separate the winners from the rest of the pack.
For Gappens, the executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, every extra second of a pit stop is worth about 100 yards on a speedway, and winners have pit crews with highly tuned instincts for cooperation and collaboration.
Gappens shared that and other key ideas and observations from his 25 years in the motorsports industry Wednesday morning during his presentation "Racing for Success" at Rivier University's President's Circle, a business forum that explores issues that affect commerce and community in New Hampshire.
Gappens spoke to a roomful of business and civic leaders and Rivier business students about strategic and operational planning and the benefits the speedway brings to the New England economy.
"We are the fifth major sport in New England, and we have a $400 million impact," Gappens said. "People come from all the surrounding states and spend their money, and then they leave. That's the great thing about tourism, you don't have to provide any infrastructure."
Set in Loudon, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of nine NASCAR racing tracks owned and managed by Speedway Motorsports Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based corporation publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Gappens was senior vice president of events and marketing for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, before coming north to New Hampshire.
Speedway Motorsports bought the race track for $340 million from former owner Bob Bahre in 2008, and Gappens said the transition came with some bumps along the way.
"I truly underestimated the effect of the change," Gappens said. "New Hampshire people are like people from Missouri. You have to show them things."
Gappens said Speedway Motorsports started with the original workforce of 17 people and expanded that team into 41 full-time employees.
"We did a total makeover of the office and put $12 million of improvements into the facility," he added.
Located on 1,200 acres, the speedway complex includes a campsite to accommodate fans who come for NASCAR weekends. It is the largest sports facility in New England with a total capacity of more than 105,000 spectators, which, according to Gappens, makes it an ideal spot for a business to hang a banner, erect a display or hand out a promotional goodie bag.
"We lead all New Hampshire sports in brand awareness," he said. "It's the ultimate exposure."
While part of Gappens' talk was directed at business leaders in the room, he also described his view of some basic elements of a successful business for the students who came to hear him speak.
Gappens explained that when Speedway Motors first came into New Hampshire, there was some resistance to changes in management, and some complaints about differences in employee benefits, but the important thing is to listen, be honest and see things through.
"You always need to share your vision," he said, adding it's important to establish relationships.
He touted a "fans-first," or customer service approach to his business, and said visitors to the speedway notice and remember when their concerns have been heard and addressed.
But one of Gappens' strongest messages about success was the example he offered with his own enjoyment of and commitment to his work.
"You need to jump in with both feet," he said. "People want to know, 'Do you care?'"