Shifting Career Gears
Photography © patrickschneiderphoto.com
The sights and sounds of NASCAR are no less than a double assault on the senses—a sublime sensory overload that fans find utterly irresistible.
There’s the eye-popping array of colors dotting the track, with race cars decked out in dazzling hues and emblazoned with colorful corporate logos.
And then there’s the sound of NASCAR itself—the unmistakable sound of a rolling thunder—grabbing you with its full-throttled force. In what could be called the ultimate in surround sound, the thunderous roar of 43 stock cars whipping by at 190 miles per hour reverberates through the track—and through you.
The NASCAR experience holds a sensory thrill like few others—and one that has become synonymous with NASCAR. Add to that the equally thrilling display of indomitable will and courage exhibited by NASCAR drivers at each and every race, and fans just can’t get enough of the sport.
Fans flock to NASCAR speedways across North America for the ultimate in motor sport theatre—a theatre of high-speed, high-risk, high-stakes competition complete with high human drama—from heart-stopping victories to tragic endings.
It is what undoubtedly draws 75,000,000 die-hard fans to the sport—a sport that commands some of the highest TV viewership numbers in professional sports, second only to the NFL.
It’s what draws mammoth crowds of up to 175,000 to these tracks on race day.
And it’s what initially drew Andy O’Hara, ’91, to the sport—a sport that ultimately became one of the most transformative forces of his adult life.
It was ultimately O’Hara’s love and knowledge of NASCAR that led him on a new career path, away from a full-time legal career to one that promoted sponsorship and awareness of NASCAR as well as other professional sports. Just this past year, O’Hara founded O’Hara Consulting, LLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he handles NASCAR and other sports licensing, NASCAR sponsorship opportunities for corporations and businesses, marketing services to NASCAR race teams and drivers, and other sports marketing services.
In creating this new company, Andy O’Hara squarely positioned himself in the emerging niche of NASCAR marketing and sponsorship. While O’Hara’s company specializes in sports marketing and sponsorship for a wide range of professional sports and sports programs, the majority of his work focuses on identifying and negotiating race car/driver sponsorship opportunities that are the best fit for corporations as well as for the NASCAR drivers and teams themselves.
For sponsorship is, literally, the name of the game in NASCAR racing.
O’Hara explains, “NASCAR racing is most analogous to the PGA in the sense that racing teams, like PGA golfers, operate independently, and not as part of a franchise. They independently decide what races they’ll participate in, which is predicated, to a large degree, on levels of sponsorship. If there isn’t adequate sponsorship, a team can’t race.
“At the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series—the premiere NASCAR racing series—full team sponsorship now averages 15 to 20 million dollars a year for a premiere team. It wasn’t all that long ago, when the cost of racing was decidedly less, that one company would sponsor a car and the car would become synonymous with that company, much like the Dupont car of Jeff Gordon. It was great for branding and great for visibility.
“But the escalating cost of racing necessitates multiple sponsors and is the primary reason why NASCAR cars now have so many corporate logos on them. Sponsorship really is key. Much of what I do centers on this very important business component of NASCAR—identifying companies that could best benefit from NASCAR sponsorship and then working to find the best fit for them among car and drivers. I then help negotiate the sponsorship contract, knowing the complex business environment of NASCAR.”
And O’Hara does know what constitutes a solid NASCAR sponsorship contract. He brings a most unique skill set to his new role, offering his knowledge and love of NASCAR along with his considerable legal talents and expertise honed from years as a litigator and as general counsel.
“I’ve represented a number of NASCAR teams over the years, and understand what is needed and most beneficial in NASCAR team and driver representation and sponsorship,” says O’Hara. “Each and every day I draw upon my background in litigation and contract work as well as my legal skills in negotiation and conflict resolution in the work that I now do as a consultant.”
O’Hara had been a partner at Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte specializing in commercial complex litigation. While there, he had his first introduction to NASCAR, working with such NASCAR organizations as Joe Gibbs Racing (namesake of the former and current coach of the Washington Redskins) and Hendrick Motor Sports (featuring such drivers as Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson), and handled litigation and sponsor and driver contracts for PPC Racing. O’Hara had also been General Counsel to a motor sports marketing agency where he prepared and negotiated sponsorship, licensing, brokerage and services agreements. He then went on to serve PPC Racing as General Counsel and Director of Sponsor Relations, handling licensing, driver and sponsor contracts and generating team sponsorship. While at PPC Racing, O’Hara negotiated and drafted PPC’s NASCAR sponsorship agreement with AutoZone, Inc.
Although he had worked on NASCAR cases and with NASCAR teams for years, his first NASCAR track experience took place just a mere seven years ago—in 2000—while attending a race at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina. “I was immediately hooked,” laughs O’Hara.
“It was the sights and sounds of that day that simply mesmerized me,” O’Hara continues. “To hear the sound of 43 cars rev up all at once—cars of 700 to 800 horsepower—and then hear them roar around a two-mile track—well, it is the sound of rolling thunder. And it’s completely energizing.
“Some of the smaller NASCAR tracks, like that in Bristol, Tennessee, are one-half mile tracks in length. Those tracks are highly banked and have been called ‘cereal bowls’ because of their severe banks. The sound is even more pronounced at those tracks as the sound seems to stay within the ‘bowl’ and completely surrounds you. It is an amazingly overpowering sensation.
“I was also taken with the realization that these drivers compete against 42 other drivers, putting it all on the line—in the purest sense of that word—each and every time they go out onto the race track. I could see their drive, their sense of teamwork, their passion for winning and doing what it takes to win—and that’s what really drew me in. I could identify with that.”
O’Hara instinctively understood what he saw on the track—the roots of which hearken back to his formative years and experiences. As one of 15 children, O’Hara certainly learned the concept of teamwork from a very early age. Whether it was vying with 14 other siblings for the prized toy or the last helpings of mashed potatoes at the dinner table, it could be said that O’Hara began to learn about collaboration and negotiation before he could even read.
Joe O’Hara, ’02, an associate at the Santa Monica firm of Dreier Stein & Kahan, is the youngest of the O’Hara siblings and recalls eating “whatever was left.” But he is quick to point out that older brother, Andy, while highly competitive, always made sure that there was enough food left on the table for the smallest of the O’Hara clan.
From an early age, O’Hara also embraced the notion of competition and the joy of winning. Growing up in Pittsburgh, NASCAR had never been part of his vernacular. But there seemed to be a family predilection for racing—horse racing, that is. In the same way that Andy, many years later, would develop a love of stock car racing after just one race, so, too, did his father develop an instantaneous love of horse racing after witnessing the Preakness win of the legendary horse, Secretariat. His father went on to own and race thoroughbred horses—developing a passion for the sport that was instilled in four of O’Hara’s brothers. It is a passion that has been manifest in each of their careers ranging from track management, to thoroughbred horse training, to involvement in the horse feed and health industry.
In many ways, the roots of O’Hara’s NASCAR passion can be traced back to his earliest family associations. But, perhaps, the seeds of his instinctive appreciation of teamwork and the will to win truly blossomed during his 14-year stint as an active duty Marine. O’Hara acknowledges the correlation himself, saying, “From that experience, I know first-hand the importance of teamwork and what putting everything on the line really means.”
Having first served as a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps for four years, he earned a law school education at Pitt Law through the auspices of the Marine Corps’ “Funded Law” program while serving as an active duty Captain. Upon graduation, O’Hara served six more years as a judge advocate trial lawyer at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, handling criminal Courts-Martial cases.
He left active duty in 1997, subsequently joining the Reserves. Six years later he was recalled to active duty at Camp Lejeune at the start of the Iraq War. After serving an additional year in that post, O’Hara retired with the designation of Lt. Col. USMC Reserve Retired.
No matter how preconditioned O’Hara may arguably have been to the sport of stock car racing, once he fell in love with the sport, there was no turning back. NASCAR permeated and transformed every facet of his life. It helped shape and define a dynamic and fulfilling legal career. It paved the way for a new career and professional focus.
But, perhaps most transformative of all, NASCAR introduced him to the place that saved his daughter’s life.
O’Hara first learned of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2004 while at PPC Racing. As Director of Sponsor Relations, he was working with new sponsor AutoZone, Inc., who, together with PPC Racing’s Greg Pollex, had an interest in featuring the Hospital on one of its race cars. As a result of Pollex, NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace and AutoZone representatives’ tour of the facility, O’Hara came to learn, for the first time, of the care, commitment, and groundbreaking work of this Center—the only such center in the country devoted solely to pediatric cancer.
He couldn’t help but be simultaneously moved and heartened by what he learned.
He learned of a place that saved children’s lives—where children with cancer from all over the country come for treatment, for answers and for hope.
He learned of a place that was dedicated to finding cures for children with leukemias and lymphomas—helping, for instance, to increase the cure rate for pediatric Hodgkins Disease from 50 to 90 percent.
And so, it was the place O’Hara immediately turned to when his middle child—8-year-old McKenzie—was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
There had been subtle warning signs that something was amiss. The once energetic dancer, gymnast and soccer player was increasingly lethargic and was dogged by a persistent low-grade fever.
Tests and biopsies promptly ensued, followed by a mix of disbelief and crushing heartbreak when the O’Hara’s heard that their bubbly, vivacious little girl had cancer. A devastating diagnosis for any family, it certainly was one of the O’Hara family’s darkest moments.
But Andy O’Hara’s initial despair quickly turned to hope—and for one reason.
O’Hara turned to St. Jude, and, in turn, St. Jude turned their attention to McKenzie.
“Having learned about the extraordinary work of St. Jude, I knew that if McKenzie could be treated there, I knew there was hope,” said O’Hara. “That hope comforted us and sustained our family. Eventually, what had once been hope and belief in a cure for our daughter, became a reality.”
After a four-and-one-half-month program of combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy, McKenzie was cancer-free. She returns to St. Jude for annual evaluations—to a place O’Hara calls home. “To this day,” O’Hara adds, “when our family is at St. Jude, it feels like we’re home. McKenzie had an overwhelmingly positive response to all of it—even when she underwent treatments and even when she lost all of her hair. She loves the place. Actually, we all do.
“And that’s because St. Jude has been like a family to us. They treat the child, but they also, in a sense, treat the entire family, addressing all that the family is experiencing.”
It was a fortuitous meeting, indeed, for AutoZone, St. Jude and Andy O’Hara in that summer of 2004. As a result of that initial meeting, PPC Racing ultimately designed a race car highlighting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In an ironic convergence of events, John Andretti drove that very car in a NASCAR race at the Homestead Miami Speedway the same week that McKenzie began her cancer therapy. Certainly, if it hadn’t been for his association with NASCAR, O’Hara might never have known of this place called St. Jude, built specifically to cure catastrophic diseases in children.
It was a meeting that saved McKenzie O’Hara’s life and forever changed the life of Andy O’Hara.
“St. Jude saved my daughter’s life,” said O’Hara. “And for that, there are no words that can adequately convey the gratitude for all that they have done. I try to lend my support, whenever I can, as my way of saying ‘thank you.’”
One of the ways O’Hara supports St. Jude is by providing marketing and consulting services to St. Jude out of his new firm as a way of giving back to the place that gave him and his family so much. He is helping the Hospital develop a new fundraising program, “Racing to Save Lives.” O’Hara’s firm is also helping St. Jude design and implement a capital campaign that will, through O’Hara’s efforts, help St. Jude target the NASCAR fan base as part of its long-range fundraising efforts.
O’Hara’s work with St. Jude is but one example of the range of consulting services provided by his firm. While much of his work continues to center around marketing to and consulting for NASCAR, O’Hara works as a sports marketing consultant to a variety of professional sports athletes, teams and endeavors.
Andy O’Hara’s life has been richly diverse and richly rewarding. As a father of three and as one of 15 children himself, O’Hara has always had a deep appreciation of home and family. His career has been equally enriching, ranging in diversity and scope from a judge advocate and Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps to an accomplished litigator. O’Hara now begins a new chapter in his life and in his career. And while he will be setting his sights on new objectives and new goals, he will be seeing it all through the lens he knows best—NASCAR.