Robin Twyman

Robin Twyman

Consul for Business and Government Affairs

Part of Partners in Prosperity

25th May 2011

British businesses appreciate doing things "The American Way" at Nascar

The following is a guest blog by Spencer Mahony, HM Consul & UKTI Regional Director for the South East US, British Embassy Washington

Any idea what the hottest destination for UK motor sport companies is after Formula 1? Despite the All-American feel, it is actually the multi-billion dollar Nascar racing industry.  After my visit to the home of the sport, Charlotte, North Carolina, with a delegation of UK firms from the Motor Industry Association, the connection seems a bit more obvious.  

The UK is the centre of global motor sport with 6 of the 11 F1 teams based in the UK. Around 4000, mainly small and medium-sized, businesses are based in the UK’s Motor Sport Valley.

While the US has its own distinct styles, the span of the industry is just as broad here.  Nascar and Indy car together comprise the largest motor sport sector in the world. Nascar has the second-highest viewership of any sport in the US. The Daytona race track alone can pack over 250,000 fans– a good illustration of how big the business has become in the US.  

An interesting dimension that UK businesses must appreciate in Nascar is how the fans influence the sport’s decision-making. Like many things in America, fans like US motorsports to be larger than life.  The engines are several times larger than F1 engines with noise levels to match.  Big crowds come to see the big cars reach big speeds.  All while eating big food.  While in Charlotte, I was intrigued by the traditional smoked turkey legs paired with a side of melon-sized fried onions, their delicious aromas competing with the scent of gasoline and burning rubber.   

The appetite for the sport here is surely why UK firms see significant opportunities in the US motorsports industry.  But like a novice in the pit trying to change a tire in record time, understanding the scale of the market and how to gain access to it isn’t always easy. There are hundreds of race types, different approaches to running racing businesses and the actual racing teams are constantly being pitched new ideas.  In short, finding business partners can be challenging.

There are strict guidelines to ensure maximum transparency amongst teams and, in turn, tight competition. The UK’s McLaren Electronics won a multimillion dollar contract to introduce electronic fuel management systems. The key to their successful bid was a good return on investment for strong technology and the creation of US jobs.   But allowing Nascar to have oversight of the technology was also critical to winning.

The fans want close races so new technologies are carefully policed by Nascar officials to ensure no team gains the upper hand. This dynamic is important to understand as selling into the sector therefore does not mean disruptive technologies are automatically the best.   

UK firms already partner on gear boxes, suspension and engine technologies, thanks to excellent products and the ability of our firms to work together with mutual respect. Solid business relationships and trust win business here rather than flashy sales pitches; so our British modesty and understated business development style seems to work well in the Southern states where Nascar is most popular.

The business cultures in the US and UK are not identical, though neither are Formula 1 and Nascar.   But UK Trade and Investment staff are eager to help UK delegates, like those I travelled with last week, to navigate those potholes (pardon the driving pun) in order to successfully do business with American firms and give Nascar fans want they want.

About Robin Twyman

Robin Twyman took up his posting as Consul for Business and Government Affairs at the UK Government Office in Seattle in January 2013. He was previously First Secretary (Trade Policy,…

Robin Twyman took up his posting as Consul for Business and Government Affairs at the UK Government Office in Seattle in January 2013. He was previously First Secretary (Trade Policy, Business Affairs and Agriculture) at the British Embassy in Washington.

Born in Canterbury, Kent, in 1968, Robin joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1987. His diplomatic career has seen him serve overseas tours in Harare, Zimbabwe (1989-1992), and Geneva, Switzerland (2001-2006), plus short overseas tours in Mozambique, Mauritius, Russia, Abu Dhabi, Israel, Jordan, DR Congo, Albania, Zambia, Qatar, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen.

Robin’s assignments have covered a wide range of duties. In Geneva, Robin was a UK delegate to the World Trade Organisation, where his portfolio included the Doha Trade Round’s agriculture negotiations, and trade disputes. Whilst there, he was elected to serve as a chair on one of the WTO’s sub-committees. In the FCO in London, Robin has been a Foreign Office Press Officer (1999-2001), Horn of Africa desk officer, a manager for the UK’s Afghanistan Counter Narcotics programme, and headed up the UK’s South Atlantic Overseas Territories team.