Autotrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing Team member David Evans is a pillar of the JGRMX operation. The business owner-turned sports marketer was instrumental in helping Coy Gibbs get the motocross race team off the ground back in 2006. He's still heavily involved with the racing effort, although these days his time is split between the JGR NASCAR program and the JGRMX team.
In this week's Autotrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing Team spotlight we talk with David Evans about getting a race team off the ground, attracting outside sponsors, the current state of the sport, and what it's like working with Coy Gibbs.
David, you owned your own company, which was completely unrelated to motocross, yet you end up as one of the main figures at the Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross team. How did that come to be?
I used to be in asset management, specializing in pension plans, 401K, defined benefit and contribution plans. I raced, or rode, almost my whole life. General Motors was one my clients, and I ended up traveling to Detroit to visit them pretty regularly. It wasn't too long after Jeremy McGrath did the 1-800-Collect commercials and outside sponsors really started taking an interest in the sport that I began thinking that Chevy Trucks would be a perfect fit for Supercross and motocross. I started working on trying to get Chevy as a sponsor for our sport. I made a few calls around the industry, but no one seemed to believe in the possibility of it happening, aside from Kawasaki. They were very receptive to the idea. It took a long time of working at it to get the deal done. I worked with Bruce Stjernstrom and some folks from Chevy Trucks–most of them were motorcycle enthusiasts. That helped speed things along. With some pretty major effort on the part of a few people, we ended up getting the deal together. I was still in the asset management world at that time. I had so much fun working on the Chevy Trucks deal that I began thinking about making a career change. I had sold a company that I was running to Trans-America, and as part of the deal had to stay and work there for about a year and a half. When the time period was over, I decided to pursue Sports Marketing on a full-time basis.
Can you name a few of your clients once you ventured into the Sports Marketing realm?
I went out on my own in 2004 and ended up doing work with Kawasaki right away. Not long after that, I worked with James Stewart. That was an interesting time. It was a lot of work, but I did have fun working with the Stewart family. I met Coy Gibbs in 2006. We started putting together a business plan for creating a professional motocross race team. We were fortunate that Jeremy Albrecht was almost immediately on board, and he was able to use his solid list of contacts to get the ball rolling.
How did you meet Coy?
I was working with James Stewart at the time. J.D. Gibbs, Coy's brother, had heard that James was thinking about possibly racing NASCAR after he retired from moto. The Gibbs had started the diversity program in NASCAR in the 1990s with Reggie White. That began the diversity movement in NASCAR. Because of that JGR had a budget to try and help minorities who were interested in racing. As luck would have it, JGR was right up the road from where I was working. I ended up meeting with J.D. He gave me a tour of the shop. I had no idea how big and impressive the operation was until then. Unfortunately, I had to break the news that James really wasn't that interested in NASCAR. Somehow that rumor got out there, even though it wasn't true. James and I talked about the opportunity. We decided that it was good for his persona because publications like Sports Illustrated were interested in the news. We kept an open mind, but I knew that nothing was going to happen. Upon meeting J.D., I let him know that James was going to keep his focus on motocross racing. I felt like J.D. and I hit it off, despite the fact that I had told him James was not likely to pursue a four-wheel future in NASCAR. Then, about five months later, I unexpectedly got a call from J.D. He said that his brother, Coy, wanted to start a motocross team. He asked if I could help Coy. I'll never forget what I said. My exact words were, "I'll talk him out of it in ten minutes." Not long after that, Coy called while I was at the Stewarts. My luggage had been lost on the trip down and my phone was dying, but we chatted for a few minutes and agreed to get together.
What did you think about Coy the first time you met him in person?
The first time I met Coy was at the JGR Cup Shop. He was down from coaching the NFL's Washington Redskins. I didn't know what to expect, but I was really pumped the first time I met him. He was wearing jeans, tennis shoes and had a baseball hat on. I was expecting more of a stuffed shirt, difficult person. We hit it off and began putting together a plan. He was full steam ahead about starting a race team, even though I told him making money was not likely.
How difficult was it that first year? You were basically starting from scratch.
We started getting resources together in 2007, with Jeremy [Albrecht] coming on board. Jeremy then recruited the people that were needed to fill the various roles. We started racing in January of 2008, and shortly after that was when the bottom fell out with regard to the economy. It got pretty scary. A number of banks would have failed if it wasn't for government intervention. The motorcycle industry obviously took a huge hit. We've had a few challenging times over the team's lifespan, and 2008 was one of the worst.
Quite a few motocross race teams have come and gone in the past ten years. How has JGRMX been able to keep going, despite all of the challenges the team has encountered?
For starters, Coy is really passionate about motocross racing. He grew up around athletes and appreciates the physical effort that it takes. The one thing he really liked about this sport is that you have the athlete and the machine working together. The fitness level for motocross is among the highest in the world. We are fortunate that Coy enjoys fielding the team, even with the financial challenges we faced at times.
Are there any reasons why the team was able to weather the storm, so to speak?
Aside from that, the personnel that we put together in the very beginning is nearly the same as it was a decade ago. Now we've added some new members, thanks to the Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing addition to the program. We have a great group of people. One of the secrets to our team's success in continuing to go racing is that we care so much about the people and companies who sponsor us. We bend over backward for Autotrader, Suzuki, and all of our other sponsors. We understand that we live and die by the satisfaction of our partners. That is one of the reasons we have been able to survive as long as we have.
Can you provide an overview of what you do for the JGRMX race team?
It's funny, because one minute I'm throwing out the food from the weekly Monday bible study, and the next I'm talking with a client about doing a multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal [laughter]. What's so cool about our group is that everyone does whatever needs to be done. If I had to provide a job description, it's that I'm trying to bring in new sponsors and keep the current sponsors happy. Lately, I have been spending some more time on the car side of the house. We hope to integrate our efforts more with them. That's something Jeremy and I had been hoping to do since the race team began. If I had to sum up my number one responsibility, it's that I'm trying to make sure that we're here ten years from now.
What is it about this sport that should really interest potential sponsors?
The demographic is highly sought after. This sport has a young, predominantly male, very active audience. Monster Energy is huge in the sport, and that's their audience. Toyota likes the idea of extending their brand to a younger group of people. At the same time, on average we do have a pretty high household income. We're a group that can buy trucks and cars. Our audience is a trend-setting group. If you want your brand to be looked at as forward-thinking, then we're a great place to be. Television ratings for Supercross were up 9 percent the year before last. In 2017 the ratings were up 22 percent, which is amazing right now. If you read the Sports Business Journal, you can see that everyone is struggling. The NFL, MLB, and all of the other stick-and-ball sports are down in viewership right now. They're all hurting. Supercross, on the other hand, is up in the ratings. That's a great sign for our sport. Our young audience is in tune with the digital evolution that we're seeing. Digital media is becoming increasingly important to sponsors. Even though our audience isn't as big as other sports, fans are so digitally savvy that they provide outstanding engagement. That's a big bonus for us. It's interesting, too, because Supercross is entertainment. Whether you ride dirt bikes or not, you'll still enjoy the show. The race program is easy to follow, and the night show is the perfect length of time. Younger folks seem to have shorter attention spans, which is a challenge to all marketers. The Supercross program has lots of action, but the races aren't drawn out. We're a small, niche lifestyle type of sport, but there are a lot of positive things going on when you look at how audiences are evolving.
What do you foresee changing in the sport within the next decade?
We have some challenges ahead. I've been riding since I was a kid. For one thing, most of us could ride dirt bikes right out of the garage when we were kids. Either that or you could load up, drive 20 minutes, and ride on some property where you might not have even known the property owner. Those days are over. One of the biggest hurdles is to have areas where riders can participate in safe, legal riding. We have noise issues. There's also the liability, where it seems everyone wants to sue someone else if they get hurt. We're the least expensive motorsport that you can get involved in, which is a major plus, but it's still an expensive hobby. As much as I appreciate the wonderful job that Feld Motor Sports and MX Sports are doing, we're going to have to figure out a different financial model as we move forward. When Supercross was born, the manufacturers were happy to shoulder the entire bill. Looking ahead, we have to find creative ways to share the wealth. What we're also finding at JGR is that the business-to-business aspect is evolving. That will continue to happen. We've had a lot of success integrating our partners with one another because it creates value. That way we can justify to those sponsors that they should continue funding our programs.
You have worked closely with Coy Gibbs since 2006. Do you have any funny or interesting stories about him?
Coy is a really laid-back guy, and he enjoys getting his hands dirty. I still remember when we put in the irrigation system at the motocross track. Everyone on the team showed up to the track and there was an 18-wheeler stacked with PVC piping. It was around two miles of pipe [laughter]. Spencer Bloomer dug all of the trenches. We hauled pipe all around the track, and Coy figured out how to do the wiring. Coy is extremely hands-on when it comes to anything with the business. Coy likes operating heavy equipment at the track, excavators, dozers, you name it. He used a tractor to cover the irrigation system with dirt, and he pulled me out when I got one of the other tractors stuck. You wouldn't expect someone in his position to roll their sleeves up and do the kind of manual labor that he does. He's also the first guy in and the last guy to leave, which is just like his father. Joe and Coy make it easy to work hard, because if the leader is putting in the effort, then it encourages us as a team to do the work, too.
Be sure to visit www.jgrmxraceteam.com in the coming weeks for news, biographies, and videos. Keep on the lookout next week for our feature with another member of the Autotrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing Team.