Check out this in-depth interview on Trackdown on Shakedown with the always well-spoken Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan, who discusses with his old friend Leo Parente a wide range of subjects, including the 2014 United Sports Car Racing (USCR) series racing at Le Mans, Corvette marketing, and the ingredients for a successful Corvette Racing driver.
When asked the biggest challenge to making the upcoming USCR better than the status quo, Fehan compares it to a three-legged stool consisting of safety, the technical inspection, and the registration process.
“To me, there’s a three-legged stool from which everything is stacked upon,” Fehan says. “The first is safety. And although it doesn’t fit the NASCAR template, having our own self-contained, dedicated safety crew is of paramount importance. To me, that should just be plug and play. We have a great program that runs here in ALMS, and it should follow over. My opinion.”
Fehan says he’s not been overly impressed with what Grand Am has presented from a technical inspection standpoint.
“And, this ought to be plug and play, again, with the ALMS,” he says. “It’s a streamlined program. The competitors respect it. It’s efficient. And it gets the job done. There’s no reason, really, to change it. And it certainly would be an upgrade from what I’ve seen at Grand Am. And by the way, they recognize that there’s always room for improvement. And that’s the important thing. You have to recognize that you can improve, and then the willingness to improve.”
The third leg is the registration process, and Fehan says anyone who has gone to Grand Am knows that sometimes it can be challenging, as opposed to the ALMS, which provides a far more welcoming atmosphere.
“And if you’re bringing a potential sponsor, or an executive from your company, and you start swimming uphill in a big hurry, that’s the first eyes on that those people have for your organization,” Fehan says. “So registration process needs to be improved. We have a great program here, and hopefully that will be plug and play. Those three things, to me, are the fundamentals, which is an odd position to take. Others are going to talk about other things. Those are the three things I find to be the most important.”
Shifting gears, Fehan talks about how well Chevrolet knows its Corvette customers.
“We stay in constant touch with our customer, more so than anybody else,” Fehan says. “When you look at other manufacturers, and they talk about knowing their customer– you live in the marketing world. You know it’s, he’s between 45 and 52 years old. Annual income of $102,000. He’s got two kids, both in college, married, with a pet. That’s knowing your customer.”
But at Corvette, it moves well beyond that.
“We know the people individually,” Fehan says. “We know it’s Charlene and Jim. We know their son, Trey. We know he’s graduating this year from USC. And we know their dog Rover, because we’ve signed his little vest. That’s knowing your customer. So we have the ability – and Harlan Charles does a great job, and along with Tadge Juechter, in relating what they take and learn from our customer. I mean, from our customer’s lips, and putting it into the vehicle. There’s nothing in the new car that the customer hasn’t asked for. So we don’t guess at what they might want. We know what they want. And that’s what makes Corvette unique in all the automotive world.”
Parente points out that when Chevy and GM prop Fehan up in front of crowds at the corral, he gets that same kind of feedback. “So, I don’t want to turn it into an infomercial, but it connects the dots between the racing and the real car,” Parente says.
No question, Fehan admits. “When you can relate to your customer on truly a firsthand basis, believe me, you have that customer captured,” he says. “And you have that customer far more than just Corvette. You have that customer for Sonic, or Silverado, or Cadillac ATS or CTS. They buy more than just a Corvette. They have more than one car.”
Parente asked Fehan how Corvette Racing evaluates its drivers and what criteria goes into making a great racer.
“The first thing, foremost, the foundation from which we build, is the ability to bring the car up to speed and not make mistakes behind the wheel,” Fehan explains. “You can’t go brain dead in a racing situation. That’s the platform. So first you have to qualify there. There’s nobody here that can’t go fast enough. Then you need someone who has a personality that allows him to check his ego at the door, to understand that he is no different or no more highly valued on this team than the guys who drive the truck, or the guys who are working on the car. He has to understand that he is part of this family. He lives here, all the time. And you only have to look around. I can find these guys in 30 seconds. They’re not off romancing something down the block. They are here. They live here. They have to be willing to subscribe to that. And probably the second most important thing is the ability to relate to our customer, and to appreciate what that customer means, and what that customer brings to the party. Because without our customer, he’s not working. He needs to know that. And I think when you look across the board, and you watch our guys interact, number one, they’re trainable. And number two, they’ve been well trained.”
Fehan proved to be right when he told Parente that he was expecting good things to happen in the July 21 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“We never bring all this equipment and all this manpower to a race that we don’t think we can win,” he says. “OK? It’s 25% great car. It’s 25% great team. And it’s 50% good fortune. If we get a little bit of that good fortune rolling our way, we should end up with a good result here.”
Fehan proved prophetic as Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner scored their second victory in the American Le Mans Series with a hard-earned effort in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.