How an ad in SpeedSport magazine changed my life!

It was one of those ads that literally changes the direction of your life. I know, it certainly changed the direction of mine at the time.

There I was tootling along, if not quite aimlessly, at least without any obvious direction bar wondering what I was going to do next after resigning from my post as part-time (I suppose you could call it) ‘secretary’ of the Scott Dixon Trust, when an ad for a ‘class marketer/sponsorship coordinator for the then new SuperGT category’ appeared in an issue of SpeedSport magazine.

To say that this was a rare and (in my mind anyway) auspicious occasion was an understatement. If, for no better reason, than here these sorts of positions were (hitherto at least) almost always filled by volunteers and were NEVER advertised.

The reason, of course, you advertise, is to attract a wider pool of applicants; rather than the ‘usual group of suspects’ who always seemed to know in advance when an ‘opportunity’ was imminent and who to talk to about ‘filling it.’

I used to find this way of doing business frustrating in the extreme and it seemed to be all pervasive in NZ at the time.  After leaving journalism school for instance, I set my heart on being a ‘motoring writer.’

Yes I know, several of my colleagues at the time simply hopped on an aeroplane to the ‘home of motoring and motorsport publishing,’ Great Britain and – by the simple expedient of answering ads in the trade press once they got there –  got themselves ‘on the ladder.’

Having visited the place twice  – including a quick ‘lap du Europe’ on an ex-London Courier VT500 Honda motorcycle – I, however, had no desire at all to return to ‘live’ there, and was arrogant enough (ah, the folly of youth!), to think that I could do it much better ‘at home.’

Sadly for every opportunity I created (for several months for instance I was the official motoring writer on the Sunday Star-Times……not that you would ever have noticed the fact because my tenure coincided with a mini-recession – apparently – in the motoring trade) there always appeared to be a stumbling block.

In this case it boiled down to $$$$$$. So hard was it to snare any sort of proper advertiser – or so the reps claimed – that only once or twice did they manage to sell enough space to allow a half a page of ‘editorial’ to be incorporated into the weekly supplement.

To his eternal credit the paper’s Editor at the time, Geoff Bayliss, kept paying me, but when some of the car company PR people started questioning me about when they could reasonably expect to see my write-up of their new Misford Lapulcer (or whatever) turn up. And because I couldn’t in any conscience tell them that I didn’t know……I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to find a new gig.

I theory that was the Auckland Sun a ‘start-up’ daily  morning newspaper staffed mostly by imports……with not a motoring or even motorsport specialist amongst them.

So it was up to me to show Features Editor Paul Thomas, and Sports Editor, Andrew Sanders, what I was capable of…which I did until a year almost to the day, word was delivered to Editor Peter Pace from on high that – ‘they’re closing us down…..’were the only words I could make out before emotion overcame the poor bugger……

And all the work I had done – in rebuilding bridges with the car company guys (and gals) not to mention the creation  – from scratch –  of a contacts book full of landline, mob and fledgling email addresses of the country’s best racing drivers, motorcycle racers, mechanics, tuners…….plus the odd event organiser, appeared to be for nought, again!

Which, as it turned out, came in very handy when the time came to reply to the ad in SpeedSport magazine.

As I found out when invited to the next committee meeting of the (drum roll please) New Zealand SuperGT Association to discuss, ‘the job,’ should I want it, and should the committee want to offer it to me, I discovered that it could in fact have been written specifically with me and my specific skillset (comms) very much in mind.

As it was the SuperGT category had already outgrown its original home (the world of Thoroughbred and Classic Car Owners Club, or TACCOC, competition) and with plenty of interest from all over the country tin building and racing fast, marque cars, category coordinator Vern Reeve and I had our work cut out, particularly in that first heady season.

Looking in from the outside it was easy to see the appeal – for competitor and spectator alike of the category. As I said in the marketing and sponsorship ‘proposal’ I produced to ‘sell’ the category to potential sponsorship partners.

‘The beauty of SuperGT racing is that it has something for everyone. No other class has such a wide variety of desirable cars, or such an exciting race format (1 x scratch race on Saturday based on times set in a single qualifying session earlier that day, then two handicap races on Sunday.

Key to the visual (or perhaps a better word is ‘visceral’) appeal of the cars were the tough wide-body/high-wing Porsche 911 Le Mans turbos of Lighting Direct pair Owen Evans and Bill Fulford, (see main picture) the similar Leopard skin-wrap Porsche 911 GT2 of ‘Racing Ray’ Williams plus Carl Hansen’s ‘heirloom’ TVR Tuscan, a late model Holden Monaro built by Derek Mitchell for  Calven Bonney,  and the outrageously quick – if rather fragile – Subaru Impreza 4WD of former NZ Gearbox kart champion Ross Rutherford.

My basic Comms plan used a mix of tried and true tools; pre, during and post event press release ‘faxed!!!!’ to  all key media outlets over a race weekend, a monthly printed (and posted!!!!) internal newsletter and – by far the best received, a professionally catered (wet) BBQ at each track on the Saturday night, functions I organised with the support of Allan Pilbrow of promotional logistics specialist Malcove.

Eventually the relentlessness of weekend work told, and I remember reluctantly writing my letter of resignation. However, it had been four years since I had first seen then responded to the ad in SpeedSport. And as I said to my wife Delia it was time for me to try to make a go of my other passion, motorcycles.

Which is a story for another time.

#17 Small brothers Porsche ahead of #75 Lindsay O’Donnell (McLaren 570 GT4) photo by Euan Cameron

I’d like to wrap this one up with a big ‘two thumbs up’ for Geoff Short of summer motor racing series promotor Speed Works and new NZ Super GT series Championship category manager Grant Smith for reviving the best bits of NZ’s original SuperGT series and repackaging it for a new audience this summer. 

Short and Smith have put together a four-round inaugural NZ championship series for a field of up to 30 cars.

Porsche looks set to be the most popular marque with six late model 997s and eight earlier 991 GT3s plus three GT4 models.

Two Ferrari 458s are set take the battle to the GT3 Porsches while as many as six McLarens, two Aston Martins and  an  AMG Mercedes-Benz will be up against the three Porsches in the GT4 class within a class.

Imagine if Red Bull could be persuaded to put current DTM race winner Liam Lawson in one of their 458 Ferrari GT3s for even just one of the rounds.

Would that be epic or what ?

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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