Orbit Racing: The business of motorsport

Why do some race teams thrive and others fail? The players at Orbit Racing believe the winning formula is a triple blend of passion, teamwork and smart business strategies. Passion and teamwork are exhilarating, but the business component has...

Why do some race teams thrive and others fail? The players at Orbit Racing believe the winning formula is a triple blend of passion, teamwork and smart business strategies. Passion and teamwork are exhilarating, but the business component has the most profound effect on team futures.

Orbit's team owner Rodger Hawley has watched promising teams falter, not because of their track performance but because they missed essential business details. "I've seen many teams fail by being poor businesses," he said. "I saw first-hand why a lot of situations failed - personnel, money, management, planning - and I thought if I could address the core issues, there was a chance I could manage a successful race team."

Armed with a mechanical engineering degree, Hawley began his career on two wheels, racing bicycles. The competitive bug bit and he was hooked. "The main reason people stay involved in racing is because it becomes an addiction," he acknowledged. "Racing is not the most profitable profession I may have chosen, but in a way it chose me. I am very lucky to have found a way to turn my love for racing into a career."

Hawley's dedication translates into long hours in the shop, expertly managing the minutia of a fast-growing business. In addition to its successful sports-car team, Orbit houses a race preparation and parts store, a high-performance Porsche parts distributorship and an engine and chassis building and tuning facility. Hawley's staff shares his passion.

"The people here have made a commitment to what they love to do," he said. "The core goal of almost any company, big or small, is to get the people happy and productive. Once that happens, everything else falls into line. When you're doing business with us, you're dealing with people who have taken it beyond the 9-to-5 job mentality."

Hawley found a kindred spirit in Leo Hindery, who drives the No. 43 YES Network Porsche. Hindery says the passion and teamwork of racing are a welcome relief from his high-pressure Manhattan world, where he logs long hours in a fascinating whirl of industries.

He was the leading force in developing cable sports television and now heads the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network. He also has an ownership interest in Petty Enterprises, is a broadcast advisor to NASCAR and is co-author of THE BIGGEST GAME OF ALL: THE INSIDE STRATEGIES, TACTICS, AND TEMPERAMENTS THAT MAKE GREAT DEALMAKERS GREAT.

Hindery recognizes the benefits that accrue from sound management.

"Racing is all about relationships," he noted. "To be successful, you need to have the support of the entire automotive industry, from the car manufacturer Porsche to lubricants to brakes to seats. The fact that Orbit is both a racing shop and a very high-end automotive shop with an emphasis on Porsches greatly enhances the capabilities of Orbit to access the companies, the parts and the personnel to make the racing successful.

"Rodger has a love affair with sports-car racing and he has the respect of his sport and the automotive industry. He hires with sensitivity, motivates with thoughtfulness and knows what it means to have a team effort."

Peter Baron, Hindery's co-driver, also mixes racing and business skills. He holds degrees in finance and economics, backed by experience in financial analysis and applications in several industries, including pharmaceuticals and high technology. He has managed corporate finance operations from North America to the former East-European bloc.

His background is a perfect fit with Orbit Racing, where he contributes to first-rate team operations. "We have hard-core financial applications," he said. "We can tick and tie to the penny where we spend our money, and we can pick and choose where to spend pennies better. We can keep budgets down, just knowing where we spend money and how we can spend it more effectively."

Although some racers believe the key to quick laps is testosterone, Baron knows it's an extension of the business focus: "What makes one driver faster than the other is pure mental power."

Joe and Jay Policastro, drivers of the No. 42 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, have a wealth of corporate experience and insight, as well as track expertise. Their company, Classic Industries Inc., is a hotbed of innovation, providing contract design and manufacturing for Fortune 500 medical-device and pharmaceutical companies.

"The business philosophies that we employ right now can also be used in our racing activities," Joe Policastro explained. "We try to be very neat, well-organized, well-positioned in where we're going and what we're doing. We don't want to play defense. We want to be ready for the next challenge. When we're ready to go, there's nothing else we can add.

"Racing is a pretty structured event. When you look at what it takes to put a team together and to race competitively, it isn't any different than it is in business - you have to be well-prepared. You have to have goals and objectives, you have to work those plans to be successful. That's been our philosophy all along - plan our work and work our plan."

Jay Policastro agrees. "The fundamentals of organization, teamwork and professionalism are a recipe for success in any business," he said. "There are no one-man or one-woman heroes on the team, which may in short bursts give you a feeling of success but long-term it's actually a detriment because the power of one is never greater than the power of many.

"As in any business, you're only as good as those you surround yourself with. Rodger may not have surrounded himself with people you would know walking down the street, but the combination of all those people together has evolved into one hell of a force."

So is it working? The results indicate a resounding YES! Orbit Racing has marked a steady progress from top-10 finishes to top-fives to podiums and victory in just two seasons of racing. The team scored an impressive second-place GT finish in the 24 Heures du Mans this year and ranked third in the 2002 American Le Mans Series GT standings.

The results drew the attention of Porsche Motorsports, which looks for suitable teams to give its factory drivers GT driving experience. Orbit Racing met Porsche's strict criteria, not only in fielding competitive race cars but in presenting an ultra-professional operation. As a result, Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb joined the team for seven races this season.

Cars, equipment and technology all contribute to a team's success, but the human element - that elusive 'chemistry' - is the magic link.

"The key is inherently in the word team, it's the group of people that comprises the team," Hawley stressed. "The most important asset a team can have is great people. You have to keep increasing the professionalism and the level of commitment, you can never hold back. You have to start high and aim higher."

Hindery says that's what makes racing so compelling.

"I've never, ever enjoyed anything recreationally like I enjoy racing. It's the team aspect - the person who changes the tires is as passionate and important as the person who has the privilege of driving. In so many other parts of our lives, we encounter people who are there because they have to be. Nobody is here who doesn't love racing. That's truly unique."

Management, passion and teamwork - it's a powerful combination.

-sp-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Leo Hindery , Peter Baron , Marc Lieb , Joseph Policastro Jr.