While winning is the ultimate objective of any race, so is completing a race the way you started, without a scratch. To that end, one partner has offered new and veteran drivers of the Skip Barber Racing School, as well as racers across the...
While winning is the ultimate objective of any race, so is completing a race the way you started, without a scratch. To that end, one partner has offered new and veteran drivers of the Skip Barber Racing School, as well as racers across the country the best protection possible for the last 13 years. Bob Zecca, founder of Driving Impressions, spoke with us recently and shared some insight into his company and its longtime association with the Skip Barber Racing School.
Originally a retailer of auto accessories in stores and shopping malls in the 1980s, Driving Impressions has evolved to become the exclusive motorsports safety supplier to the Skip Barber Racing organization and other prominent racing teams. Located at three retail stores, and based out of a NJ headquarters, Driving Impressions maintains a wholesale operation nationwide. Among the most popular equipment they traffic is the OMP saftey and accessories line from Italy. The line, which encompasses nomex racing suits, gloves, shoes, seats, belts and helmets, is used by some of the top drivers and teams in the world including Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari F1 team, Max Papis, and Kyle Petty.
Driving Impressions has partnered with the Skip Barber Racing School since 1987, when it was asked to be a supplier of safety equipment at the SEMA show [Specialty Equipment Manufacturer's Association]. The request provided an opportunity for Zecca to evaluate his current business model and consider new opportunities. He decided to change direction, drop the mall retailing and focus on retail sales of safety equipment, selling directly to the track. The pilot store for Driving Impressions was at Lime Rock Park, the home of the Skip Barber Racing School.
"We decided to get out of mall stores and concentrate on safety equipment and take the concept to the race track," said Zecca. "We opened up the Lime Rock store in 1991. We could take our products and sell right to the public, get a feel for what they were looking for and how to develop lines," he added.
In discussing the benefits Driving Impressions draws from its partnership, Zecca is emphatic. He notes the potential for Skip Barber customers to eventually become his customers.
"The people in the racing school program see that we're a sponsor… that we're the people Skip Barber has turned to as a supplier. It gives us credibility. Our product is pre-sold, so for us it's an easy sell. [and] usually a customer will stay with us for 3, 4 or 5 years," notes Zecca.
Track business was strong and justified an expansion in locations over the past two years. In addition to the Lime Rock store, Driving Impressions recently opened shops at Summit Point Park and Virginia International Raceway.
But life as an auto retailer is not without challenges. Zecca concedes that market conditions have limited a portion of his business.
"A few years ago, there were more performance enthusiasts [Ferrari, Porsche, BMW club drivers] likely to buy from us. These people were sport enthusiasts, they followed the motorsport industry closely and would purchase artwork, videos, books and models. That segment of the market has gone away. There's a lack of enthusiasm for the actual racing going on at tracks."
Zecca attributes this change to an absence of racing heroes in the U.S. but feels the falloff is temporary. For now, he'll remain focused on safety equipment. It's a formula that seems to be working.
"Over the past 10-15 years, people want better equipment from a safety standpoint and are willing to spend for it," said Zecca. He continued "We've decided to stay with the best products available and not go to the lower price points. What we have is the best and that's where we're going to stay in that end of the marketplace."
- Andrew Torres