SBD/Issue 185/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With Ganassi Racing VP/Communications John Olguin

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Inc.
VP/Communications John Olguin

DARIO FRANCHITTI's first-place finish at the Brickyard on May 30 gave CHIP GANASSI a rare record, becoming the first team owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year. Ganassi's feat and his drivers' success have generated loads of media attention for his IRL and NASCAR teams, and JOHN OLGUIN is the man directing traffic behind the scenes, serving as VP/Communications for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Inc. Olguin recently took time to chat with Staff Writer Erik Swanson about his early career with the Dodgers, his move to motorsports and handling the massive media attention in the wake of recent success.

Favorite racetrack: IndyCar -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway; NASCAR -- Bristol Motor Speedway
Favorite sport outside of racing: NFL
Favorite vacation spot: Cabo San Lucas
Must-visit websites: ESPN.com, Jayski, SpeedTV.com, among others

Q: You spent quite a bit of time with the Dodgers earlier in your career. Can you talk briefly about your experience there?

Olguin: I was one of those guys with the success story of right place, right time. I started as an intern and there weren't any openings for full-time jobs, which is what I wanted. While I was there I sent a proposal to my boss and anybody who would listen that I thought they needed to create an archive and I was just the guy to do it. They didn't have any real place that they kept their history. When my internship ended, everybody said it was a great idea but they weren't really able to pull the trigger on it. Ultimately I got a call from PETER O'MALLEY, who owned the club at the time, and he said, "I loved your proposal and want to talk to you about it." He said, "I'll give you three months to create it." I said, "No, I want a full-time job," and he said, "Well, I'm only giving you three months." Then after 15 months they hired me permanently. I worked for him directly, and I just ended up going through the ranks until I left as vice president of public relations.

Q: Was that a path you had in mind?

Olguin: Absolutely. I grew up a Dodger fan. I'm from Southern California, and I think in high school I read a book that the Dodgers were rated as one of the 100 best companies to work for. As a kid I grew up a Dodger fan, and when I saw that, I thought, "How can I get there?" And ultimately, it happened. I called them so often trying to find a job, I always joke that they hired me so I would stop calling them.

Q: How did you make the transition from MLB to motorsports?

Olguin: Just one of those fluke things. I got called by a headhunter and heard that they were hiring for a position in North Carolina, a professional sports team. They told me who it was, and I was really honest that I knew virtually nothing about racing. I talked to the person who was the head of Chip's team back then and then I came out for an interview. One of the things I remember really vividly was telling Chip in an interview, "I don't know anything about racing. I gotta be upfront." And Chip's response was, "I know what people in racing know. I want to know what people outside racing know." So that's kind of how that happened, and why I felt comfortable doing it.

Q: Take us through a typical day at the office. What occupies most of your time?

Olguin: Honestly, the PR people report to me, the PR people for the individual teams, and they're the ones that are doing the work and the grind from day to day. They're the ones that are always on the road. It's managing them, and it's a constant search for new and good media opportunities for Chip and the race team. It's a daily kind of, "What media do I want to pitch today? What are the stories that we have to tell?" There are probably a few internal meetings during the day, and then it's also maybe one or two with the sponsors, dealing with the sponsors' PR departments and things like that. And preparing for the weekend.

Olguin Enjoys Diversity Of Being Able To
Work In IndyCar, NASCAR, Grand-Am Series

Q: How do you balance the responsibilities of working in multiple leagues?

Olguin: You know, there's no way you could do it on your own, and to even make anybody think that I do it on my own is crazy, because I don't. I have really good people in our NASCAR and IndyCar PR people, and I rely on them tremendously because they're the ones that have the really good relationships with the drivers and deal with that on a daily basis, getting them to the things they need to get to and getting them to do the interviews they need to do. It actually is far more fun having the diversity of being able to deal with different sports -- one week being able to go to an IndyCar race, and the next race being able to go to a NASCAR race or a Grand-Am race.

Q: Your teams had quite a weekend recently in Indianapolis and Charlotte, on top of the Daytona win earlier this season. How has the success affected media requests?

Olguin: Winning is always really nice, and it brings a lot of media requests for really everyone. In this case, Dario obviously has a lot for winning the Indianapolis 500 for the second time, and it's huge for his sponsor and one of our sponsors, Target. But also because of the uniqueness of Chip becoming the first owner in history to win both Daytona and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year, it also created a lot more interest in Chip. So there's been a lot of requests for Chip as well.

Q: How hectic was that weekend for you?

Olguin: Again, I think for me it's less hectic than it is for the people that are on the ground doing the day-to-day, KELBY (KRAUSS) in Indianapolis and SHAYNA (KELLER) and JARROD (ENGLAND) in Charlotte. They're the ones that are making all the arrangements and doing everything there at the track. So I dealt a little bit more with Chip and the organizational things. But it was fun because we were in Indianapolis, in victory lane, and Chip pulls me aside and says, "I've got a burst of energy, let's go win another race." Winning the Indy 500, we weren't sure whether he was going to want to go to Concord, as opposed to just staying and celebrating winning.

Q: Did you travel to Charlotte with Chip?

Olguin: I only went with him to the airport. We were limited on room -- I had a writer who we had already planned to shadow Chip the whole day, wanting to do this in case he won the Indy 500. So it was more important to have her with him than to have me with him, plus we had a lot of preparing to do for the following day with all the media we had the next morning in Indianapolis.

Q: Was he planning to go to Charlotte regardless?

Olguin: It's always a game-time decision, how things are going. You go to victory lane, you kiss the bricks, you do the parade lap and all these things that Chip did, and then we get back to our hospitality tent and all our sponsors are waiting for him to get there. Everybody cheers and claps when he walks in, we do a champagne toast, and he was like, "Guys, I'm really sorry, but I think I need to get to the other race." And everybody understood. That's part of what you get when you're with our team, is you're across all these different series. So there was not one person that was disappointed, they were like, "Go get 'em, Chip."

Q: Knowing that you already had Daytona under your belt and that you had a decent shot at winning the Indy 500 as well, how much advanced planning did you do going into the weekend in case you did win that rare double?

Olguin: You know, that's always a really touchy subject. For us in marketing and PR, you have to plan, but for those in competition, that's a real jinx, you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself. So you have to have a small core group of people that you get together to plan for all the contingencies of winning, but you can't let it out too much because you don't want anybody to go, "Oh, it's because of you we didn't win." But you just have to do that stuff, so absolutely we did. We did a ton. The Harley Earl (Daytona 500) trophy was there in Indianapolis, and we were kind of driving that ship with the help of a lot of other people. ROBIN BRAIG, the president of Daytona Int'l Speedway, and also the people at Indianapolis Motor Speedway were really instrumental in helping us get that trophy there. So once Chip won, the trophy was there and we were able to take some photos with both the trophies. ... A lot of planning went into it, and it just worked out.

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