Danica Patrick's inner circle small, efficient
Team Danica is predicated on close ranks and unanimous decisions.
Its simplicity is by design.
While many NASCAR drivers employ squadrons of accountants, marketers and layers of handlers to manage their various business ventures, Danica Patrick has fortified the principals of her business and personal lives inside a small force. Some make decisions, some make sure the golf cart is in the right place. But the six of them, whom she actually refers to collectively as "Team Danica," are tasked with keeping one of sport's most recognizable and sought-after personalities content professionally, secure financially and unfettered enough personally to enjoy a semblance of a life away from her on- and off-track ventures. It can be done with a call, text or boardroom meeting, as needed, but Patrick's commitment to the regimen makes the system work.
"She does a great job staying on top of communication, and she likes to keep things very simple," said agent Mark Dyer of IMG, the global sports, fashion, marketing and media dynamo that represents Patrick. "Despite what people might think, she's the furthest thing from a diva anybody could be. She just doesn't like a lot of nonsense."
The system, said JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, has worked well from the beginning of their relationship in 2009.
"It's a very well-run and well-oiled situation," she told espnW.com, "and because it's a small group, it's easy because you know who to call, and they don't have to turn around and call more people."
The first call generally goes to Patrick's personal manager, Haley Riffle.
If Danica Patrick were president, Riffle would carry the briefcase with the nuclear launch codes. "She's at the helm," Patrick said. "She handles so much stuff, so much stuff, everything from personal sponsors to team sponsors to working out what I am actually going to do, schedule ideas, concepts, in the planning part, too. Travel. ... She's the one that sends an email to my CPA to let them know I won a pole award and, 'You need to be looking for this check to come through.'"
Coordinating with a travel agent is a major task. Patrick went from a Nationwide Series race at Daytona Beach on Friday to driving Katie Couric around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track on Tuesday, to presenting at the ESPYS in Los Angeles on Wednesday, then to Loudon, N.H., for the commencement of race practice this weekend.
"I talk to Haley almost every day," Patrick said. "We at least touch base through text every day. Sometimes we'll call each other a couple times a day. Tuesday is sort of our designated day to get back from the week and get things going. She can start organizing a list, Tuesday we go through the checklist of what we need to do."
A motor coach is a driver's home in microcosm four days a week, nearly 40 weeks a year. It can be a comfortable place to relax and entertain or it can be a well-appointed, tiny apartment in a noisy neighborhood. Patrick has relied on Steve "Hop" Kiefer since 2011 -- when he left the service of Indy Racing League founder Tony George after 20 years -- to keep her coach comfortable and where it needs to be on time. He took over for Patrick's father, and former business manager, T.J. A frugal sort when it comes to transportation -- the Lamborghini notwithstanding -- Patrick likes Kiefer's touches around her rolling home. "The bus is like a plane: You can keep it a really long time if you take care of it," she said. "And that's what he does."
When Patrick signed with IMG in 2009, she took the rare step of turning her endorsement and contractual needs over to one company. Dyer, IMG's senior VP/business innovation and a former NASCAR executive whose projects included the sport's Hall of Fame, became Patrick's liaison to NASCAR when her professional curiosity about stock car racing became more serious. "He knows the NASCAR side," Patrick said. "He knows all the players, he knows the people, he knows the sport."
IMG assumed the last of the official duties Patrick's father held until 2009. Dyer's and IMG's immediate contribution to "Team Danica" was providing the framework that allowed her to explore NASCAR, then transition away from IndyCar. Racing her first full-time Nationwide schedule (third overall) with JR Motorsports and her first partial Sprint Cup campaign with Stewart-Haas before a planned full-time transition next season, Patrick is in what Dyer calls "Phase 2" of her NASCAR career.
"She was in the midst of the final year of her old Andretti (Autosport IndyCar) contract (in 2009), so first we had to put together the strategy of what she wanted to do next, and clearly she wanted to explore NASCAR," Dyer said. "So we had to negotiate the right for her to do that in the new Andretti contract."
While Dyer focuses more on competition and team issues, Alan Zucker has been in charge of endorsement opportunities since Mark Steinberg left IMG last year. Patrick speaks with Zucker regularly, but only if a deal is afoot. "Alan's last name means sugar (in German), so I call him 'Sugar.' If I haven't talked to Sugar for a long time, he gets sad. So he misses me," she said. She doesn't generally learn of deals until due diligence is complete.
"They'll go through the first sort of preliminary check on whether or not it's worthwhile," she said. "They'll check on what they actually want me to do or what the sponsor is or what their ideas are and get it in the dollar range. Once we get it there, we talk about what I'm prepared to do and what I'm not prepared to do, and how they want to use me."
The process can be lengthy. Patrick said nearly a year passed from her camp's first approach of Coca-Cola until the announcement this spring that she would join the beverage's "racing family" in a blockbuster deal to promote Coke Zero.
Dyer said Patrick's sponsorship portfolio is nearly complete aside from "one very important position, as sort of a secondary sponsor to GoDaddy that takes some (Sprint Cup) car real estate," which means Sugar might miss Patrick a lot in the future.
"We're not out there pitching a lot of sponsors," Dyer said. "We don't want to dilute her value to her partners, and we want to strike the right balance, frankly, for her to have any kind of life."
Patrick, who according to Forbes earned $12 million in 2011, employs two private CPAs, one of whom oversees the daily flow of cash and tax obligations. "She's sort of the comptroller of my money," Patrick said, "so she's the one who gets all the payments. She gets all the deposits. She's the one who sets aside taxes and quarterlies and forwards the money I have left over to my financial adviser, who handles my money and invests it."
Honorary team captain
Every decision Patrick makes, filtered down from a pitch to an agent, to management, eventually distills into a conversation with husband Paul Hospenthal. And all final decisions have to be unanimous, she said, a 2-0 vote, though the verdict on opting to speak to the National Press Club six days before her inaugural Daytona 500 was more of a draw.
"My husband is the most important one," Patrick said. "He's not on the team, but you better believe I ask him his opinion all the time."
It's all part of making a complicated career simple.