Posted on: Thursday, August 18th, 2016
Eric spotted a small oil spill on an otherwise pristine floor and grabbed a rag to take care of the mess. “You know, it was easier when I just had to fly to a race, get off the plane, and drive the car!” But as Eric McClure (’00) stands chatting in a garage filled with cars at the headquarters of recently formed Martin-McClure Racing, you can hear his excitement for his new role as owner/manager. Eric rose to fame as a NASCAR driver, but a series of health issues (concussions being high on the list) he decided that he may want not want to be a driver forever, but he knew he wanted to stay in racing, and in a way he is still in the driver’s seat.
Eric and friend Hal Martin were on a vacation trip to Disney with their families (Eric has 6 daughters, by the way) when they started talking about a partnership. Eric’s family has always been involved in racing, and he grew up watching Morgan-McClure Motorsports run the Kodak car and build up the Sprint Cup Series. He had wanted to be a driver from a young age, but his mom told him he couldn’t race until he got his education. On the evening of his Emory & Henry Commencement he competed in his 3rd race (his second race was the last day of exams). “I thought that ceremony would never end. All I could think was, ‘I need to get there in time to qualify!’”
Nowadays, he doesn’t regret postponing his racing start, and his gratitude for his education – and his mom’s encouragement – is never far from his thoughts. At a recent press conference announcing the formation of Martin-McClure, and in casual conversations, he gratefully explains that much of his success in racing is not because he was “good at making left turns” (although, in fact, he quickly rose to the top tier of racing once he got started). “My mass communications degree from Emory & Henry made me far more prepared to deal with marketing, the media, and sponsorship negotiations than a lot of other people in this profession.”
A liberal arts education promises flexibility and an ability to problem-solve. Eric is finding that promise to be the truth. He is making the switch from driver to owner, and he is doing it on his own terms. “When I was growing up, I watched the team at Morgan-McClure interact with other teams, and everyone seemed like a big family. But by the time I got into racing the competition was so fierce and the need to win was so intense that people were afraid to talk with each other for fear of giving away a secret and losing an edge. What we’re trying to do now is different.”
Eric says he wants to build a team of racers who can enjoy the work as much as the winning. And he wants to train young drivers on how to handle all aspects of racing – not just the driving. “These young men and women need to know how to handle the press, how to talk with potential sponsors, how to keep a sponsor – if we don’t train them on how to do that, who will?” He wants to train a team of drivers who understand that it is as much about the whole team as it is about the guy behind the windshield. “And, I want it to be fun again.”
He also wants Martin-McClure Racing to be a business that supports the region. “We have drivers and marketing professionals and a legacy in this region that are every bit as good as what you find in Charlotte.” He is currently building a company with local talent and with young minds – looking for fresh ideas and new perspectives. He wants to give young professionals their first start.
He recently hired a young E&H grad for that very reason. “Christina came to me about an internship opportunity, but after one conversation we knew we wanted her on the team – so we hired her as an employee. She’s good enough that she could rule the racing world one day – if we don’t lose her to country music.”
Christina Druen (’16) was no stranger to great internships when she went to talk with Eric McClure about doing some marketing for the newly formed racing team. A proven self-starter, Christina had already done an internship with Erick Long (’91) who is the Senior Vice President for Operations and Events at the Academy of Country Music in Los Angeles. Erick was back on the E&H campus to receive an alumni award in 2014 and she tracked him down afterward via email. “That was the very type of work I wanted to do! How could I not ask?”
As a kid, Christina had thought that being a country singer might be the life the she wanted, and she even pursued entrance at Belmont College in Nashville so she could be close to the music scene. In the end, she ended up at Emory & Henry. But she says she has no regrets, and is a bit surprised at how things turned out. She has been a leader in numerous student organizations, recently toured South Africa with the College Choir (“…every day I thought ‘nothing could top this day’ and then the next day was even more amazing!”), performed solos with the choir, and did an internship with the popular band Annabelle’s Curse doing marketing and promotions. She has not been sitting idly in her room in MaWa. “When I commit to something, I really commit – and I want to do it well.”
While Christina has reconsidered a life as a singer, she is still passionate about the country music industry. So after introducing herself to Erick during his visit to campus, she sent numerous emails to him asking about an internship. He agreed to hire her as a summer intern for the world-renown country music organization. Christina was able to intern in Los Angeles for the summer, and in the spring she went to Dallas to help with the ACM’s 50th anniversary awards show.
Erick Long says Christina has a sense of calm in a frantic environment that will serve her well wherever her career goes. “Things would be nuts, and people would be running around frantically, and I’d ask her to take care of something and she’d nod her head and say, ‘OK!’ That sort of composure is a real asset in this business.”
Eric McClure says when he started adding staff members to his new company, he thought of E&H immediately. “I knew how Emory & Henry had prepared me for what I’m doing. I still remember lessons from my public speaking class with Mr. Pickrell. I know that Dr. Keller is teaching the same lessons now that she taught me. And even though media and marketing change every day – and new grads know about things I never considered – I knew current E&H grads and I would share core values and a strong educational foundation.” It says a lot about his confidence in an Emory & Henry preparation that he is giving Christina so much responsibility. “We’ve put a 21 year-old in charge of the execution of media relations & communication initiatives for our motorsports partners – in one case, a company that deal in billions of dollars annually. We strive to maintain a certain standard and image with our programs, and I had great success in this area as we managed my driving career. Christina is quite prepared for this responsibility in our new venture; she’s flexible and a joy to be around. And we’ll definitely keep going back to Emory & Henry to look for team members.”
At the press conference to announce the new partnership, Eric seemed nervous about how things might go for the new venture. But that event happened only a few days before the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway – when two of his drivers took the checkered flag. Since then, business has grown rapidly as other would-be drivers look to enter racing through the K&N circuit. “It’s been wild. Sometimes we’ll be in the middle of something and we’ll just randomly stop and say, ‘We won Bristol!’” It is a very big deal, and it is leading to some very big opportunities for Martin-McClure.
Eric and Christina are at different places in their career climb, but they are both very passionate about their work. And they are both using their liberal arts background to turn ideas into projects that will make the community a stronger & better.
-- Eric McClure: “I didn’t start in racing as young as most of my counterparts…but when the doors of opportunity opened, I was prepared to walk through them.”
-- While chatting for this story, Christina and Eric realized they had one more thing in common than just Emory & Henry. “I had a concussion, too” says Christina. “I got hit in the head with a flag during marching band practice.” Eric initially seemed impressed, but then smiled and said, “Mine’s cooler.”
Cover photo: Christina poses with Eric a the press conference announcing the formation of the new Martin-McClure Motorsports team. At the event Eric introduced drivers and he talked about his vision for the company as he transitions from driver to owner.
Top: Eric poses with his partner, Hal Martin, after their big win at Bristol in 2015.
Above: Christina poses in the pit at Bristol Motor Speedway with Kevin Anzenberger ('16) -- just one of the many E&H alums who were at the fall Bristol race covering the action. Christina was busy all evening sharing social media updates, creating video, tweeting, organizing press coverage -- and, in the end, sharing the excited "WE WON!" news.