When Sherri Heckenast bought Team Demolition in 2008, she had grand dreams of turning the Joliet, Illinois, derby series into a motorsports behemoth.
“My vision was to get it to the highest level we could,” she said. Think Monster Jam, and you’re on the right track.
Six years later, each race draws 10,000 adrenaline junkies to the Route 66 Raceway, where teams crash their way to a $7,500 prize. Yet, Team Demolition is hardly the household name she originally envisioned. She told Marcus Lemonis of CNBC’s “The Profit” that reaching a national platform is something only a new generation of drivers can accomplish.
“New blood would grow not only the competition side, but would grow the fan base,” she said.
Lemonis agreed, adding that new people are necessary where such a dangerous sport is concerned. Last season alone saw Team Demolition drivers rack up three broken backs and a multitude of broken fingers and elbows.
Unfortunately, the mere mention of opening the doors to new drivers is met with stubborn pushback. She may own the races, but she has no involvement in the running of the teams. That particular task is handled by the team owners, who in some cases have been there for over 30 years.
“Our team owners and our drivers are not very welcoming to new people,” she said. “It’s like a cult or a gang.”
Lemonis acknowledged that she’s in a thorny position as a female owner in a male-dominated sport full of “good ole boys.” But as the series owner, she’s still in charge, she still makes the decisions and she’s still responsible for the fate of the business. He suggested doing an end-run around the problems by taking ownership of the next available team, thereby starting a talent pipeline all her own.
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“You could say, ‘Okay, I’m going to develop a mechanic, a body guy, I’m going to develop a driver and teach them how to be owners,’” he said. “You could literally, as the series owner, say ‘I think this guy’s ready.’ But if you don’t crack that, it’s never going to get cracked.” He also suggested that she require team owners to take on an intern or an apprentice.
“In order to grow, you have to give people a chance to learn,” he said. “If you close the door and you don't teach people, at some point you're going to run out of good people. When that happens, your business closes.”
Since Lemonis’ visit, Heckenast decided to require one mandatory rookie per team. With the 2014 season now well underway, she and her organization are on their way to change.
Follow The Profit's Marcus Lemonis on Twitter: @marcuslemonis