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XFINITY Series


'Be yourself' resonates with young drivers at seminar

Spencer Gallagher

CHARLOTTE -- Being a race car driver entails much more than getting behind the wheel.

Before the start of a new season, NASCAR walked its younger drivers through different aspects of the sport during its annual Driver Development Seminar. The 2017 edition was held Friday at the NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Through guest speakers and breakout sessions, the assembled group was given a chance to hear from some of the most influential individuals in the sport. Among the featured guest speakers were NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Jill Gregory, Monster Energy Director of Motorsports Dave Gowland, FS1 broadcaster Adam Alexander, Lauren Murray, social media manager for Jimmie Johnson Racing Digital, and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson himself.

"It really is a pretty comprehensive experience," driver Spencer Gallagher said. "I liked it. It's worth getting up at 7 in the morning for."

This was Gallagher's fourth time experiencing the seminar, and the XFINITY Series rookie for GMS Racing called it NASCAR's best one yet.

Among the topics broached was a look at the business of NASCAR, as well as a driver's identity. Gallagher pointed out some of the more interesting sessions, such as being given advice on how to get the most out of social media, what goes into a good interview and a driver's style.

"It's a really informative event, especially about how we as drivers influence the direction of the series and the sport that we're in and how we can be ambassadors to the outside world," Gallagher said. "People have to want to watch us, and we as drivers play a very big role in that. It's really good to see NASCAR putting forth the effort to help train us. They bring in the best in the business and then tell you exactly how they do it."

Matt Tifft was equally impressed. Now a full-time driver in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, Tifft listened as O'Donnell talked about NASCAR's mission of seeing the sport's next superstar potentially come from the assembled group.

With the welcoming of a new premier series sponsor, Monster Energy, Tifft was struck by how NASCAR is looking for drivers to show his or her individual personality this year. Something Tifft, at 20 years old, thinks will not only be a good thing, but also is needed for the sport to grow.

"They want us to be ourselves and resonate (with others) and cross promote and bring people in from other interests and things like that," Tifft said. "I think it's a good idea and I think we probably need to do more of that as a sport."

Tifft missed a portion of the 2016 season following surgery to remove a brain tumor. During his time away from the track, Tifft said it gave him perspective on how drivers need to step out of the bubble they can become trapped in during a season and take a look at how they can better represent themselves on and off the race track.

The seminar drove home that point.

Drivers like Myatt Snider and Chase Briscoe were given plenty to digest as each is set to begin the next chapter of his career. Snider will compete part-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, and Briscoe is going full-time with Brad Keselowski Racing.

"The biggest takeaway I've heard is they're going to let us kind of be our self a lot more," Briscoe said. "I think that's going to be good for everyone; I think it's going to be great for the sport, obviously. Looking forward to that.

"Other than that, it's really cool to see how they're telling us to expand our brand. I feel like as a race car driver your brand is one of the most important things you can do. So building that brand outside what you do in the race car is obviously big and it's big for your future." 

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