5 Questions with Senior Vice President, Mike Arning
What are your current job responsibilities?
I run True Speed Communication, overseeing its direction and its staff, which includes clients in NASCAR, Formula One, NHRA, the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. I personally handle the communication efforts for Stewart-Haas Racing, Haas F1 Team and Tony Stewart.
How did you get started in the racing industry?
As a kid, I was a fan. I was always drawn to motorsports, despite there not being any kind of influence to direct me toward racing. My dad was a stick-and-ball guy, and I enjoyed playing baseball and basketball and soccer, but racing was my passion. I finally figured out how to be more than just a fan when on a trip with my dad to Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, we saw a display for the Little T Speedway and its Quarter Midget club. After truly not knowing how drivers got started in racing, I found out that it was in karting. Unfortunately, I found out way too late, as I was a sophomore in high school and I was racing against kids who had been running Quarter Midgets since they were five. Undeterred, my goal remained to become a professional racecar driver, and after graduating high school, I left for North Carolina to attend college and pursue a racing career. Reality bit hard when the costs of going racing and going to school didn’t add up. I focused on college with an eye toward to making myself more marketable to sponsors, because once I got a sponsor, I could go racing. Easy, right? My work in college didn’t put me in a racecar, but it did embed me within the racing industry. I landed an internship at Cotter Communications in the summer of 1996 and kept in touch with those contacts. When I graduated from college, some of those contacts were representing Square D and Kenny Wallace at a new agency, and by the summer of 1997, they needed help with their hospitality program. My first race where I was actually getting paid to work was the Bristol Night Race. I gave pit tours and then picked up dirty plates and empty beer cans. But by October of that year, they needed a PR rep for Kenny Wallace and the No. 81 Square D-sponsored FILMAR Racing Team. I got the job and it was the springboard to where I am today.
Who are some of the clients you have worked with?
Answering this question will date me. While I was at Cotter, Western Auto had a massive motorsports sponsorship. They sponsored Darrell Waltrip in NASCAR and three prolific drag racers: Randy and Shelly Anderson and Al Hofmann, who was John Force’s main rival. Square D with Kenny Wallace, of course, which led me to representing The Home Depot for nine years with Tony Stewart. During this time, in fact after Tony won his first championship in 2002, he and I formed True Speed Communication. Home Depot was our first client, and then Joe Gibbs Racing became a client where I served as the team’s director of communication. Along the way, we began representing Interstate Batteries, Texas Instruments, Sirius Satellite Radio, GlaxoSmithKline, Z-Line Designs, SunTrust, Wayne Taylor Racing and many others to build the company we have today.
What piece of advice would you offer to someone starting in the sport?
You have to put in the hours. Anyone who is successful in this sport doesn’t look at the clock. They simply look at their work and when they feel it’s ready and that it’s right, then they’re done…until the next day when a new challenge must be met. And this sport is like the Internet – it’s always on, 24/7, 365 days a year. That means you’re on, too. Work will need to be done on holidays and on weekends, usually at unorthodox hours. This is an entertainment sport, and people want to be entertained at night and on weekends and on holidays. So, if you work in an entertainment sport, you’re working when people are being entertained, but you’re also working “normal” hours so the event that’s there to entertain the people goes off without a hitch and delivers the proper ROI. Lastly, but just as importantly, you have to – HAVE TO – know how to write and write well. That means knowing AP style and writing creatively, but concisely. Technology will always change how we communicate, but the written word will always live on. Even if you’re writing in 140 characters or less, it better be good writing, for it’s a reflection of your personal brand and that of your clients.
What is one of the best things you have been able to do working in the sport?
I am constantly challenged. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I see something new. I know to expect the unexpected. It’s easy to fear change, but change is a constant. By being challenged and successfully meeting that challenge, it’s given me confidence I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In fact, my first challenge came when I raced a Quarter Midget for the first time. Beyond not having driven one before, I hadn’t ever done anything mechanically other than putting gas in the lawn mower before I cut the grass. But now I was in charge of a car that I had paid a lot of money for that was carrying me at a high rate of speed. I needed to up my game. I went from being pretty ignorant – I used to fill my tires with a basketball pump and then push them with my thumb to see if they were “good” – to knowing the exact pressures I needed in each tire, but also the kind of tire compound I needed for the track conditions. That newfound knowledge gave me confidence that transcended other aspects of my life. I became a better hitter in baseball because I wasn’t afraid to take a swing. (I went from worrying that I might miss the ball to thinking how I was going to hit it once I saw it leave the pitcher’s hand.) I became a better soccer player because I had the confidence to be more aggressive and attack the ball. After only going cross-country skiing, I decided to give downhill skiing a try… and I loved it. Racing gave me confidence back in grade school that continues with me today.