Guest Column: How Our Motorsports Business Has Adapted To A Rapidly Changing Environment | Performance Racing Industry
Guest Column: How Our Motorsports Business Has Adapted To A Rapidly Changing Environment
March 31, 2020
With racing on pause, revenue streams have been drastically reduced. This has left many companies unsure of what their future holds. But there is hope.
Guest Column: How Our Motorsports Business Has Adapted To A Rapidly Changing Environment

By Ben O’Connor, Impact Racing, Inc.

In an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, local, state, and federal agencies are implementing drastic measures aimed at “flattening the curve.” While critical to saving lives, the consequences of these actions have led to virtually every form of motorsports being put on hold.

With racing in an indefinite holding pattern, the revenue stream for most small businesses and manufacturers in our industry has been drastically reduced. This has left many companies unsure of what their future holds. But there is hope.

With a severe shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), medical professionals are in need of PPE assets such as masks, surgical gowns, ventilators, and face shields. In some cases, this has led to front-line workers resorting to makeshift solutions that are less than ideal. While major manufacturers have stepped up to fill the void, it is anticipated that there will still be shortages for many months to come. This opens up opportunities for businesses in the performance racing industry to provide a public service by supplying much-needed PPE while also keeping their workers employed.  

On March 20, the company I work for—Impact Racing, Inc.—started an initiative to do just that. As a manufacturer of safety equipment for motorsports, we too were experiencing a reduction in our revenue stream as racing came to a halt. Here we were, watching the events unfold around us and wondering what we were going to do to protect the jobs of Impact Racing employees, as well as how we could serve the community during these difficult times. It was clear that this shutdown was going to last a while, and the economic recovery could take several months or longer. Meanwhile, there were reports of PPE shortages increasing daily.

After a quick evaluation of our capabilities, we realized that we may have the equipment and ability to produce some of the PPE that were in short supply. We didn’t know anything about PPE or the medical industry, so this wasn’t without some trepidation. We knew how to manufacture driving suits, but we knew nothing about manufacturing face masks, hospital gowns, or face shields. We knew major manufacturers had made the transition, but wondered how a small, Indiana-based motorsports manufacturer could do the same.

Thankfully, we received an outpouring of support and offers to help from our existing suppliers, customers, and the racing community. We did some research and found guidelines published by the CDC and the FDA that were developed specifically to help companies like ours produce these much-needed PPE in a crisis. In addition, some of our existing suppliers had experience providing materials to the medical industry. They were very helpful in assisting us with information and tracking down the necessary materials. We also had offers of help from customers and other manufacturers. The overwhelming support we received allowed us to go from concept to the production of face masks in only four working days.

But then another challenge came up: How do you develop a contact base for an industry you have never been involved with in only a few days? We knew that hospitals, as well as local, state, and federal municipalities had a need for the items, but connecting with them was proving difficult. The channels of communication set up by hospitals and municipalities to deal with the crisis had not been established yet, or were so new that they weren’t easily identified. We started by aggressively working the connections that we had through our previous involvement in the defense sector and racing community. It was working, but we wanted to move faster.

We decided to put up a post on our social media pages explaining the challenge we were having making contact with the right people. The response was incredible. In a matter of days it had been shared over 300 times. The outpouring of support from the racing community in response to that post was truly remarkable. In less than a day we were being contacted by local, state, and federal agencies letting us know who to reach out to and where to go. Many of the people that contacted us said the connection came through their involvement in motorsports, or through a racing connection of theirs that had seen the post.   

It’s too soon to know how successful our initiative will be, but we weren’t satisfied with sitting on the sidelines waiting for the market to come back to us. My advice for others in the industry right now is to evaluate your capabilities and resources. Do your research to see what needs exist, and if possible, create a plan to fill those needs. You may be surprised to learn you have what it takes to fill a need in a market you never thought about.

I would also suggest that companies check to make sure they are not what the government considers an “essential business” before closing their doors due to locally or state-mandated shelter-in-place requirements. One issue we ran into during this project was that some of our suppliers had closed, not realizing that they were legally permitted to stay open. Here is a good resource from PRI & SEMA that lists each state’s definition of “essential” for automotive businesses.

Ben O’Connor is the vice president of sales and marketing for Impact Racing, Inc., with 35 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket.