Business Strategy in Motorsports: Why it’s high value, what it entails, and how you can implement it

Race strategy is a vital component to winning on track. But are we applying that same strategic rigor and fine detail off track?
Samuel Pawlak
Owner of Grand Prix Studio
December 15, 2021

Just about everyone in motorsport considers in-race strategy to be a vital component to winning on track. But are we applying that same strategic rigor and fine detail to our business off-track? And if not, how can we?

What is Strategy? What’s even the point? It sounds boring…

Let’s just get right to the point on this. Yes, strategy is a service. I would say the term “strategy” is almost interchangeable with the term “consulting”. What’s the difference you ask? No one truly knows. But strategy sounds cooler. In all seriousness though, strategy is ultimately a long form discussion between the strategist and their client wherein the strategist helps leads an in depth conversation in order to understand and uncover how best to reach the client’s goals. Here’s what the actual process looks like:

It's about taking someone from being totally unaware of their problem, > to aware of the problem itself, > to aware of a potential set of solutions, > to the product / solution implementation that’s best suited to achieve the outcome or solve the problem they're facing. That’s the journey.  

A lot of people like to take a short-cut and just focus on the final step in that process, implementation. But to always jump straight to implementation and executing is a bit like jumping straight out onto the track having done zero setup or tuning work and expecting to put it on pole. It’s not gonna happen. And you’ll have wasted a set of tires and fuel in the process for nothing. In other words, you’re operating on lower information.  

But Couldn’t I do this myself?

Yes, but not to the same level. The clear and unobstructed outside perspective brought to the table by an external entity is actually a large factor in what makes strategy sessions so valuable. So much so that even Grand Prix Studio itself needs to consult with outside agencies too. We all become so ingrained in our businesses that we lose the ability to objectively see things for what they truly are.

A great analogy, and one we’ve used before to describe brand identity, is that you can’t truly know your own personality. It’s something only people other than yourself are capable of truly knowing. The same goes, albeit to a lesser extent, to one’s business. We get so entrenched in the systems, operations, workflows, and habits we develop that we eventually lose sight of the decisions that actually created the state we find ourselves in, why we’ve become successful in certain ventures, and have failed at others. The entropy build-up clouds our vision over time, but an external agent is devoid of this mental baggage and comes in with default clarity (and a lot of questions).  

Business therapy and actionable solutions

The process of strategy and discover is not too dissimilar from personal therapy. A not-so-secret industry secret on that front - 75% of therapy is actually just letting the patient speak freely. You can think of strategy then as a form of business therapy. Simply letting business owners, decision makers, and executives speak freely in response to otherwise obvious sounding questions can warrant surprisingly profound results that end up creating deeper and more insightful topics to dive in to while in discussions. Again, taking people from problem unaware to problem aware, to solution aware. And from these jumping off points, we all get to have much more meaningful discussions about business operations, opportunities, and areas worthy of additional attention.

Learning and deploying strategy with your own partners, clients, and motorsports sponsors

What’s great about strategy is that unlike most marketing and design services, it doesn’t require any hardware, software, or a degree, etc. It can most certainly be learned with a healthy amount of real-world practice. However, just like racing, you can study onboard footage all you’d like before hitting the track, but until you turn those first laps behind the wheel, you will not have truly learned anything (i.e. the difference between understanding something and knowing something for certain). The same goes for strategy, it takes a lot of practice in the field before it’s something you become highly competent at.

Once you are competent at deploying and holding strategy sessions, it’s a service I highly recommend people engage in with their sponsors and partners more often. Here’s why…

Why holding strategy with prospects is high value

By offering strategy first before the deal itself is actually discussed, you achieve following. First, it establishes that you have their best interests in mind, and not your own. Strategy helps both parties get far more granular in understanding each other while constructing deals or building solutions that are far more productive for all involved.  

Secondly, if they’re a non-motorsports business, you can become their “motorsports in” to the industry, and a person they can trust moving forward, regardless of whether or not they decided to partner with you. And building those types of relationships with marketing teams outside of motorsports is one of the most beneficial things a team, racer, or business can do, as those relationships can turn into partnerships longer term.

And lastly, you’re helping them determine if you’re the right fit for them, and if it is, how best to deploy their capital such that they can truly meet their intended goals.

Strategy Wrap-Up

Now, everything we just mentioned above is what we already do. However, it’s my belief that every team, driver, rider, or business in motorsports acquire these skills at some level. Not only will it benefit your own endeavors, but it will also help you find and work with businesses on a much longer-term basis and on a much deeper level.