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Catholic college helping students rev careers in motorsports

Originally Published in Gaston Gazette Jan 12, 2017

Catholic college helping students rev careers in motorsports

A Benedictine Catholic college has slingshot to the forefront of the region’s motorsport education programs.

When its motorsport management degree program began a decade ago, Belmont Abbey College wouldn’t have necessarily been flagged as the place that would help more than 100 students to turn the ignition on their careers across the motorsport industry.

Today, the program places upward of 90 percent of graduates directly into careers with the leading teams and companies in NASCAR, IndyCar and other racing series, many of them in the Charlotte area. Some are doing cutting-edge jobs that didn’t even exist when the program began, like managing social media accounts.

“We’re placing kids in jobs that didn’t even exist five years ago,” said Patrick Wood, executive director of motorsport at Belmont Abbey College. “I tell our kids all the time, this is the best time to get this education because there’s a big need out there for young, excited people coming into the industry who want to work.”

Of the teams participating in NASCAR’s most recent Daytona 500 race, 67 percent had an affiliation to The Abbey’s motorsports program.

Students in the program take courses with a particular emphasis on the business, management, cultural and legal characteristics of the motorsports industry. It’s a one-of-a-kind curriculum that Wood says is largely unrivaled in the region.

And the program will celebrate its decade of success on Tuesday, when the college hosts the inaugural Motorsport Symposium and Wheeler Awards. The event is free and open to the public.

“It’s to really highlight the program to a broader audience of people that are stakeholders in the motorsport world but also to make it an annual event that we can kind of plant our flag the week of Hall of Fame (inductions) which is coming up, so that this is kind of kicking things off,” said Wood, who has worked in sports marketing and media for over two decades.

It all begins at 7 a.m. with the Charlotte Sports and Business networking group, followed by a session “Millennial Marketing in the Social Age” featuring young NASCAR drivers Ryan Blaney, Jordan Anderson and Justin Marks.

The symposium will feature a VIP panel of team presidents and leaders from across the world of motorsport. Panelists will discuss various topics vital to the industry such as the state of the racing industry and the promise of a great future in its youngest drivers.

It will also be an opportunity for students to network with professionals in the motorsport industry. They’ll hear from a panel of Belmont Abbey College alumni who graduated from the motorsport management degree program and are now veterans in the motorsport industry. Panelists include Jennifer Gibson of Wix Racing, Ian Moye of Chip Ganassi Racing and Dan Guffey, the program’s first graduate in 2010.

“The things that the program and the school teach you from an all-encompassing perspective…pushes you to be well-rounded…it definitely helps you to wear those many hats, and be prepared to take on a full load,” said Guffey, director of social media for Jeff Gordon Inc.

Thomas Rowzie, a freshman at Belmont Abbey College, will attend the symposium as a requirement for his introduction to sport management class. Rowzie, who plays tennis for the college, says he is considering a career in motorsport and is especially looking forward to speaking with the alumni panel.

“Just to ask them what they did to get to the point in their career of being so successful, what they did here,” said Rowzie. “Excited to talk to everyone who hasn’t gone to Belmont who is successful in any kind of career in sports just to get an idea of what they all did in common to get to where they are now.”

The motorsport management program began as the brainchild of Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder and racing legend Humpy Wheeler as a way to both differentiate the college and connect students with the education necessary to work in the motorsport industry.

Thierfelder and Wheeler announced the program during a motorsport forum in New York City in 2006. The news made the Wall Street Journal — a copy of which hangs in Wood’s office — and took off from there. Students enrolled from not only North Carolina, but Canada, England and across the United States.

“It did what it was really designed to do, it made a splash nationwide,” said Wood.

In the final session of Tuesday’s symposium, Wheeler will present the inaugural Wheeler Award for Excellence in Motorsport, an honor bearing his namesake, to legendary promoter, agent and team owner Cary Agajanian for his lifetime contributions to motorsport.

Wood says he is hopeful the symposium will help to drive the program forward by connecting more students with the industry, and the industry with students.

“We’re really wanting to caste a wider net, doing things that are going to get young people interested and excited,” he said.

You can reach Eric Wildstein at 704-869-1828 or Twitter.com/TheGazetteEric.


Want to go?

What: Motorsport Symposium and Wheeler Awards

When: Tuesday, Jan. 17

Where: Haid Ballroom at Belmont Abbey College, 100 Belmont-Mount Holly Road, Belmont

Schedule: 7 to 7:30 a.m. – Charlotte Sports & Business Networking Group, Bojangles breakfast and coffee, and welcome from Belmont Abbey Executive Director of Motorsport Pat Wood and Belmont Abbey College President Bill Thierfelder.

7:30 to 8:30 a.m. – The State of Racing: A View from the Top, featuring Steve Lauletta of Chip Ganassi Racing, Dave Alpern of Joe Gibbs Racing, Chris Traeger of NASCAR, Ben Geisler of World of Outlaws, and Jonathan Gibson of Penske Racing.

8:30 to 9 a.m. – Networking break.

9 to 9:45 a.m. – Motorsport & Millennials: Next Generation Racing, featuring Ryan Blaney of Wood Bros. Racing, Jordan Anderson of Jordan Anderson Racing, Justin Marks of Ganassi Racing, Matt Dusenberry of Dusenberry Martin Racing.

9:45 to 10:30 a.m. – Belmont Abbey Motorsport Alumni Panel: 10 Years Strong, featuring Dan Guffey, Jennifer Gibson, Ian Moye, Chris Galde and Kate Beran.

11 to 11:45 a.m. – The Wheeler Awards. Cary Agajanian will be recognized for lifetime contribution to motor sport excellence. Most outstanding student and distinguished alumni award will also be presented.

Noon – Program ends.