By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer — Photo courtesy of LakeSide Media
Have you ever wondered where the news comes from? As media, we work tirelessly to provide an in-depth knowledge of motorsports, breaking NASCAR news with teams and tracks, and providing a closer way for fans to connect with their favorite drivers.
There are three ways our team at Kickin’ the Tires evaluates and prepares racing news for you. First, our team gathers information from eye-witness accounts. Physically being present at the races, in-person or over-the-phone interviews and touring with the series are the most common ways to achieve this task.
Secondly, all media research sources, whether it be through private investigation, press releases, or documentation released by the government or a private organization. These sources may differ from social media, which can become easily misleading or share an opinion that either assumes a result or prematurely creates a conclusion that may not be entirely accurate. Just this week, when Austin Cindric’s merchandise disappeared from several online stores, it was presumed by some that he had been fired from Team Penske. Others speculated he was either an alien or never really existed at all. So, you can see it can be dangerous and damaging to a driver or a team’s reputation if something is published too soon or without the proper research.
By the way, Cindric is fine, he doesn’t have green antennae hidden under his helmet and will be racing this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
But the third way is something unique to a few industries. In motorsports, relationships are built with the drivers, teams and tracks and interviews are often set-up through a Public Relations representative or PR for short.
At face value, most think this is just a glorified secretary, who schedules calendar appointments for the journalist and interviewee, and sponsorship appearances during race weekends. Others think it is just a person who carries a driver’s race helmet and water bottle during the weekend. But the level of management goes much further. Learning the reputation of media outlets and journalists can greatly impact their driver and team in its ability to get their news in the right hands. Understanding if they are open to questions makes a PR rep stand out above the rest within the industry, and can only truly be achieved when they are involved in the day-to-day hustle alongside the team.
Meet Mac MacLeod, Public Relations Manager for Front Row Motorsports. He’s worked with many media outlets in NASCAR, and has built a strong reputation of giving his team and drivers the right spotlight, even when others wouldn’t seek it. His dedication has allowed this mid-pack team to receive the publicity they deserve after strong finishes throughout the 2020 season, including Michael McDowell’s top-10 finishes at Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Daytona Road Course. Sometimes, he gets his driver as much, or more, publicity than some of the top tier and better-funded race organizations.
MacLeod has a unique background and journey into NASCAR, and his presence in the sport is invaluable.
College Connections & Internship Networking
MacLeod started building connections while studying for a degree in Motorsport Management from Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college just outside of Charlotte. Erik Arneson, now Vice President of Media Relations at Fox Sports, is an adjunct professor at Belmont and taught one of MacLeod’s classes. The Canadian native introduced himself, and discovered his teacher worked at Fox Sports. During his studies, Arneson saw potential in MacLeod and mentioned an opportunity for an internship with Fox Sports.
At the time, MacLeod had solid experience already in media management with Canadian motorsports. He worked with a successful and growing NASCAR Pinty’s Series race team, Canada’s Best Racing Team (CBRT), advertising their successes, race results and sponsorship announcements. He worked with Rockstar Energy OTSFF Yamaha (Ocean Transportation Services Freight Forwarding Inc.), which won the 2017 Canadian Motorsport Racing Club championship. And with this, he found his first United States motorsports chance – working with Fox Sports as a social media intern.
From there, he made his stride into NASCAR, a step that would take him on his dream journey.
“When I was in high school,” MacLeod said, “I never knew how people got into motorsports.” Yet, here he found the biggest chance of all.
McDowell: “I’ll Give You the Shot”
Just as he did in his college classes, MacLeod continued to network and meet new people in NASCAR. One of those was Jeremy Lange, president of Leavine Family Racing. During the 2018 All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600, Lang was in need of a PR for two races. He reached out to MacLeod to fill in, giving him his first experience working with a NASCAR Cup Series team and setting the stage for MacLeod’s career.
From there, he took advantage of every chance he could find. While balancing motorsports in two separate countries, both utilizing his skills and adapting to changes with the races and teams. What made him feel at home was being surrounded by others who loved racing as much as he does.
“Meeting so many people that have a strong passion for racing was one of my biggest joys,” MacLeod shared. “Showing up to work with other people who absolutely love what you collectively get to do put a huge smile on my face. It made me feel like a part of a family.”
And with that came one of his biggest chances yet. In the same year, MacLeod received an email from Shari Spiewak, who worked at Front Row Motorsports as the Head of Communications and later transitioned to the Public Relations Manager for Denny Hamlin and FEDEX, one of the longest-lasting sponsor-driver relationships in the sport. Hamlin, with 43 career victories in NASCAR’s highest series, had one of the strongest fanbases within the sport. Spiewak noticed what MacLeod was able to successfully accomplish for a small and growing team at Charlotte Motor Speedway for those two weekends and shared the chance to work with Front Row Motorsports. That along with a shout-out from Ian Moye, who was working with Ryan Blaney at the time, backed up Spiewak’s word, and MacLeod landed a social media job with the team, updating fans on the driver’s weekend during races.
As the year went on, MacLeod proved his talents could help the team in more ways than just posting on social media, and the idea of promoting him to a Public Relations Manager position began to build with the team. For drivers, a change in PR can be an unsettling experience, especially at the top level. But that didn’t faze McDowell nor David Ragan, two respected veterans racing at NASCAR’s top level. Ragan brought Front Row their first career NASCAR Cup Victory, winning the 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
McDowell, who holds a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory, stepped in to say, “I’ll give you the shot to do it for me.”
Since then, MacLeod has been the right-hand man for all the breaking news, interviews and post-race comments media outlets need to connect the fans with the team and build vital exposure for its sponsors.
With our team at Kickin’ the Tires, a small-budget independent media outlet, we face unique challenges to get the stories out to the fans consistently. Not all drivers are interviewed on television or over the radio, so people like MacLeod are important assets to allow journalists access via phone or other technological means to get the stories that fans and sponsors must-hear.
“I have worked with Mac for several years and he has always been open to setting something up when we needed an interview or just a confirmation on a story we were working on,” said Jerry Jordan, Founder and Editor of Kickin’ the Tires. “But that isn’t all. Some media outlets may not care but to me but to our team and to me personally, it is important that they trust us enough to pitch their story ideas. Even if it is just a sponsor plug, we are all in this together and who knows what a brief mention of ‘Sponsor X’ might do for a team or a driver. Mac is always there when I call and just a few weeks ago set-up an awesome last-minute interview for me. Those are the type of people you want to work with.
“This is a complicated and close-knit sport and the connections you make are valuable. I am very pleased to know that Front Row Motorsports, its drivers and public relations team trust us to get their stories out to the fans and to do it right.”
Who knows what stories would be missed without Public Relations Managers, and who knows how some drivers would be able to connect with their fans personally. But even more so, it is unknown where many independent and niche news agencies would be without sources like MacLeod.
Follow Mac MacLeod on social media.