The business consultant called it a “mountaintop experience.”
JTG Daugherty team owner Tad Geschickter would eventually call it visionary.
Geschickter and his wife/team co-owner, Jodi, were at a crossroads several years ago, unsure of what their future held and thus, what they wanted to do with the race team. The business consultant took them up to a mountain and had them perform a variety of exercises.
One exercise in particular, proved to be extremely telling.
“One of them was draw a picture of your building 10 years from now,” Tad Geschickter told NASCAR.com from the floor of the JTG Daugherty Racing shop. “… We (had) crayons and (I thought), ‘I’m spending my weekend doing this.’ But I drew a picture of a white building with windows and big trees in front of it.
“It’s kind of freaky that’s what we have now.”
• • •
The JTG Daugherty race shop is, indeed, a large, white building framed by trees in Harrisburg, North Carolina. The team fields the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars of AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher, whom the team added to the lineup this season. There’s a tire room, pit-practice area and, of course, plenty of race cars inside this spacious, white-floored facility.
Geschickter proudly calls this shop “pretty.” Nearly 30 years ago, owning a racing team in NASCAR’s premier series was more of a wistful aspiration than reality for Jodi and him.
“I think the fact that we’re in Cup racing is pretty improbable,” Geschickter said. “I started out selling soap for Proctor and Gamble and in the ’80s, they decided they were going to sponsor a car. Probably the first consumer-package good to look at racing as a viable marketing tool. So, running the Southeast for sales for them, I learned a lot about the sport, especially the business side of it. … I played stick-and-ball sports in college and really missed that part of my life and decided at 30 that I didn’t want to move to the country and sell soap anymore. (I) really kind of wanted to follow my passion, which was team sports.
“Probably naively thought, ‘Well, I understand how sponsorship works, I’m sure we can figure out how to make the race team side of it work,’ ” he added with a smile.
Geschickter and Jodi began working to make the dream of owning a race team a reality. Like most great things, it began small and humble for the couple — with a barn, a toolbox and a big dream.
“Started kind of like ‘Days of Thunder’ with a barn and dirt floors and a toolbox,” Geschickter said. “Every time we found a dollar we’d spend it back on the cars. Really just bootstrapped for 23 years and now we’re really fighting to get to the next level in Cup racing.”
But the road to success isn’t always fully paved — Geschickter learned the importance of trailblazing early.
And also that a little prayer and doing right by people can go a long way.
• • •
Geschickter knows what it’s like to live with uncertainty. That’s part of starting up any small business — there are highs and there are lows. There’s the cold, hard reality of bills, hiccups and the notion that things don’t always pan out as planned.
Sometimes, though, little miracles creep into the equation.
He can still pinpoint one vivid memory during their first year running the race team.
“It was a Monday and we didn’t quite have enough money for payroll on Friday and really struggled to figure out what we were going to do,” Geschickter recalled with a chuckle. “Said a lot of prayers. Turns out that we were due a royalty check for die-cast cars — we didn’t know that much about the business, didn’t know that check was supposed to be coming.
“Lo and behold, on a Wednesday night, it shows up for the exact amount of payroll. So, there are definitely times with any small business when you look at it and say, ‘How do we make it to the next step?’ I think it’s a miracle that that check showed up. So, I think if you do the right things for the right reasons, and work hard, things are positive.”
Through the journey, Geschickter hasn’t been alone — his wife, Jodi, is his partner, both in life and on the team as a co-owner.
“This sport is so all-encompassing,” Geschickter said. “You never have a day off, you work really hard 12 months a year. I don’t know how you could do it without working together. It’s just the way we’ve always done it. She’s been an equal partner in it. I’m a really big-picture person and I know that about myself — I’m not very good with the details. She’s very detail-oriented. So, as long as we understand what each others’ strengths are and we work toward those strengths, it’s been fun.
“We try to do that every day.”
• • •
Back at the shop, JTG Daugherty Racing is in the midst of preparing for that weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway. Allmendinger and Buescher won’t be racing for a championship this season, but that doesn’t matter much — racing is racing.
This season was one of growth and education for the team. They made the decision to expand to a two-car operation at the end of the 2016 season, bringing on young Buescher to pilot the No. 37 Chevrolet. In his first year with the team, the 2015 XFINITY Series champion has earned three top-10 finishes.
“Chris has been a welcome addition to the family,” Geschickter said. “He’s our kind of person — he’s very sincere, very humble. He’s 24, just starting his craft, has certainly got a ton of talent — already won a NASCAR championship. …
“(We) kind of thought we knew what we had in store for us, but we definitely had some growing pains early in the year. You’re never going to double the size of your organization and get it all perfect. But I really feel like we’re kind of hitting our stride now and feel like we’re getting stronger every week.”
The addition was the most recent change at the ever-growing JTG Daugherty Racing shop. NASCAR analyst and former NBA star Brad Daugherty became a co-owner of the team in 2008, and the team expanded into NASCAR’s premier series the following year with driver Marcus Ambrose. In 2016, Gordon Smith took an ownership stake in the company after developing a deep connection with the Geschickters.
Ultimately it boils down to the team’s — or family’s, as Geschickter calls it — employees.
“It’s business like any other business; it’s all about people,” Geschickter said. “You want to continue to be cared for, to love where they work. This is their passion — how we let them play their passion, how we know their ideas are valued. Certainly you have to have a strong leader like Ernie Cope, who makes the call at the end of the day. But you also have to have the ability for people to give their input and their ideas to feel like they’re not just putting parts and pieces together, and trying to make it better every day.
“To me, that’s the exciting part of the sport — how you get 100 people who touch your car to do their job perfectly and do it with passion, so you have the best product possible. I feel like we’re getting there — I think we’ve got a great group. It just gets stronger with each person we hire.”
Behind every team though, are great leaders. Leaders, Allmendinger says, like Tad and Jodi.
“What they do for us is unbelievable — the best owners I’ve ever worked for,” said No. 47 driver Allmendinger, who earned the team’s first win in 2014. “The biggest hearts. They’ll bend over backward – whether it’s for the race or just for you personally — for whatever that you need.
“To be able to work for people like that is pretty amazing.”
• • •
As Geschickter looks around the shop of JTG Daugherty Racing and reflects on its roots in racing, he’s smiling.
It’s been quite the ride to get here.
“I wish we took more time to celebrate that (journey),” Geschickter said. “The odds were so long — we didn’t know it at the time with us doing all this.
“But you know, (on) hard days, it would probably do us some good to say ‘Look where we came from, look how far we’ve come.’ “