This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on JeffGluck.com. Up next: Josh Jones, KHI Management’s director of business development.
Can you describe your current job?
It’s mostly around Kevin Harvick, between Kevin Harvick’s personal racing stuff and life, to KHI Management, the management company he founded a couple years ago, to the Kevin Harvick Foundation. But I would say KHI Management is about 70 percent of my job with all the different clients I have through that management company. It keeps me on my toes.
You are one of the busiest guys that I know. I always see you quite busy walking around. I don’t think it’s for show, I think you’re legit super busy.
But you weren’t always this busy, so I would like to find out how you got to this point in your life. You were once a kicker in college. How do you go from being the kicker in college to this crazy path to where you’ve gotten today? Where do you even start?
I had a great internship program after college that I had to do to graduate, and I worked at a company called Keystone Marketing out of Winston-Salem, N.C., which was one of the first sports marketing firms in NASCAR. I worked for them and I was an intern, basically doing all the dirty work, everything you had to do from press kits — what we used to call press kits, you’d print all the papers, you’d put them in files and you bring 50 little folders to the track.
I used to have a lot of those folders.
Yeah, so I used to do that. I also had to do work for the sponsors that were there, so we had Planters, we had Oreo, we had a lot of different ones. And I had to, as an intern, be the Oreo.
And one time in 2001, when I was doing my internship, I was the Oreo for my boss today. Kevin Harvick won the race, and I was the Oreo. He had won a couple times, but I was the Oreo that year. And that photo was there.
So the photo’s taken back in ’01. Fast forward to 2018. I’ve come a long way in 17 years, but honestly I always tell people it’s true when they say you start at the bottom to get to the top. I’m not totally to the top yet — I want to do a lot more stuff in my life — but right now I’m feeling very fortunate for what I’ve done.
Was your head poking out of the Oreo?
So you were in a full Oreo costume.
You can’t see me. It’s my arms. I’ll admit it, it is me. Kevin has a photo of it from victory lane. But yes, that was me, and to this day I still get cracked on about that. I mean, it was only part-time. I was only an intern, it was wasn’t a job or anything, I just did it to help out because we didn’t bring people to the track, so that’s what I did.
So how many years into your relationship with Kevin did you say, “Hey, by the way, I was actually in victory lane with you?”
I kind of kept it silent. I didn’t start working for Kevin until the end of ’05. I was working for the agency for a couple of years while I was playing Arena Football, going back and forth between both of those positions. Kevin had a New Year’s party at his house in 2006 or 2007, and somehow it came up. I don’t know if it was my wife or if it was me or somebody slipped up and said that. And then from then on out, it’s been, “Oh yeah, Josh used to be the Oreo.” But I was. I’ll admit that I was. But I was an intern, and if you were an intern in your lifetime, you understand you do anything you’re told.
So after the Oreo and after the internship, what was the next step? I mean, you don’t just show up at Kevin Harvick’s door one day and be like, “Hey, I’m going to be guiding your life for the rest of your career.”
No, and I’ve had a lot of people along the way that have guided me. But I took a job full-time with Keystone Marketing after the ’01 season. I worked there from 2002 to 2004, midway through 2005. So about three and a half years. (CEO) Roger Bear and his team worked on many different accounts from Stacker2 back in the day to the Army account — which they had a big presence with Joe Nemechek — to all different stuff.
But I landed my feet as the PR guy for Reese’s at the end of ’04, beginning of ’05. Basically I did all the ’05 Reese’s races between GM Goodwrench and Reese’s. After that was done, I was approached by Kevin and team about coming over and joining the KHI team, Kevin Harvick Inc. at the time. Roger Bear, who was ultimately my boss at Keystone Marketing, was not gonna let me turn it down. He wants to (move) everybody up, so he was very nice and gave me that opportunity. And so about halfway through ’05, I agreed to do it and here we are 13 years later on that side of it and I’m still with Kevin.
So I started as a PR rep, kind of went into the marketing side, still doing the PR, then I went into doing just all of Kevin’s stuff about 2008, 2009, and then kind of rolled out to where we are today.
Over the course of your career, how much of it has been on-the-job training? It seems like you’ve done so much that just sitting in a college classroom can’t possibly prepare you for this. So it as to be a lot of experience that you’ve gained.
Honestly, when I joined KHI, DeLana (Harvick) and Kevin and a gentleman named Fred (Lekse) who’s our company president, the three of them kind of took me under their wing and kind of got me to where I am now. They taught me the fundamentals. The one thing that DeLana and Fred always said is the people skills. You’ve got to have good people skills to survive in this sport. You’ve got to know how to talk to sponsors, gotta know how to talk to drivers, gotta know how to talk to NASCAR and all that. So I’ve learned a lot from those three; not gonna lie, didn’t do it myself.
I’m still learning today. I actually have meetings with Kevin and DeLana and Fred about every week, and honestly I learn something new every week. So I’m learning it as we go.
We have a lot of clients. I have a lot of golfers that I represent now. Kevin and DeLana and Fred have given me the opportunity to branch out to other sports, which has actually helped Kevin both on and off the track with sponsorship and with a lot of opportunities. So I’m learning as we go. I’m still not where I want to be yet. I’m still growing. I want to get bigger, and I want to make KHI Management hopefully down the road one of the biggest agencies out there, not just in NASCAR but in other sports.
When you’re in territory that’s not familiar to you, like say golf or MMA stuff, obviously you can’t show up and you know everybody. It takes time to meet people, even in NASCAR. How do you do that? Is it just a matter of going in there and saying, “Hey, I’m so-and-so,” and shaking hands and stuff?
Yeah, 100 percent. It’s literally that, but you also do a lot of research beforehand. For instance, with the golfer that we have, his name is Jason Gore, been with him for a long time. A couple of years ago, he took me to a golf tournament and introduced me to the right people. He said, “Hey, this is my guy. If you need anything, this is who you call.” Slowly but surely, it transferred; we became a pretty big name in golf and we’re working on signing more golfers. We’ve got three right now, on our way hopefully to four or five.
But when sponsorships start landing on those guys’ collars and shirts and sleeves and you see Michelob Ultra and you see E-Z-Go and you see all these big sponsors, it starts to open doors with guys saying, “Wait a minute, these sponsors weren’t in the sport ever before. Where did these come from?” And then they just started asking questions, and then the phone starts ringing.
It’s the same way in the UFC. We had one UFC fighter that came to a NASCAR race, knew nothing about NASCAR and fell in love with it. But the thing he fell in love with the most was the sponsors that Kevin had on the race car: Budweiser, Jimmy John’s, all this different stuff. And he was like, “I need some of this NASCAR sponsorship.” He had a management company, and when their contract was up, he called us. His first fight, we put major sponsors on his shorts for the UFC, and then all of a sudden UFC champion Miesha Tate was calling and all these people were calling, and it was like, “Wow.”
So it’s not just NASCAR. Whatever sport you’re in, sponsors drive everything. That’s basically it. So that’s how we’ve been fortunate enough. Now we’ve got motocross, we dabble our feet a little with some sponsorship with country music singers and then the NASCAR stuff and the golf stuff. So I mean, it’s incredible, it’s impressive.
But it doesn’t matter what sport we’re in; any independent sport which has an individual athlete — football or NASCAR, golf, UFC, motocross — they’re all in there for the same thing: They want to be seen outside of whatever their sport is, and we’re doing that by bringing sponsors to the table and help activating it outside the ropes or track or anything like that.
How do you earn people’s trust and faith in you? Is it by just showing with your actions and your work?
No. The one thing that we learn and the one thing I’ve learned through the time, through the Harvicks and through anything like that, it’s opening up. So when you go after new clients, you introduce them to your (current) clients, introduce them to your sponsors. They’re not gonna say anything bad — hopefully not. But you tell them what you’re doing for them. So on the golf side, I just say, “Hey, contact our golfers, talk to them,” and they get blown away, like, “Wow, these guys aren’t just in it for the money,” because we aren’t just in it for the money. We want our sponsors in NASCAR and other sports to have other platforms to activate around. So when we can bring more different sports in, it makes it a diverse program for all our sponsors.
So in some ways, you’re saying it works for both parties. You want your clients to benefit, but then the sponsors, you’re trying to offer them different opportunities. So instead of just taking their money and saying, “Hey, put the logo on here,” you’re trying to give them something in return?
Correct. I mean, if you look at it, look at Kevin’s car, Jimmy John’s does way more than just racing with us; they do motocross, they do a lot of different stuff, they do Brock Lesnar’s shorts in the UFC, or now WWE. Busch beer, Anheuser-Busch corporate, all their sister brands kind of come through us and we do some golf stuff here, we do some motocross here, some UFC stuff here, whatever it is.
But my point is, that’s how we branch out. Same way with Morton Buildings, Hunt Brothers Pizza, E-Z-Go, which is Textron Off Road, which is Cessna, selling airplanes in the garage. We try to open it up to a little different area, and it works.
I mean, we’re very fortunate — not to mention our driver’s a wheel man. But we also have Harrison Burton, who’s coming up through the ranks. If you look at some of his sponsors, he’s sponsored by Hunt Brothers Pizza, he’s sponsored by Morton Buildings, he’s sponsored by all these different things. At the end of the day it’s Kevin (who sparks interest), we know that, but we need other sponsors and other athletes to see that it revolves around them, too, it’s not just one person. We open them up to everybody.
People might see you and they say, “Oh my gosh, I want to be that guy. I want to be the next Josh Jones.” Where should people even start? What do you recommend that they get for a first job? What should they study? How can they get to where you are?
People call all the time looking for jobs, and it’s hard to get a job right now in the sport of NASCAR, because everything is coming to a size where it needs to be. The sport got huge really fast, we know that, and just like the stadiums and racetracks that you see, they’re downsizing to the right number, whether it’s 60,000, 80,000, whatever that is — not 160,000. We’re narrowing it down to the good people. Everybody still has a job, and you want the best there is for that position.
If I lost my job right now and I wanted to get a PR position, these PR people would kill me. I’m not a PR person anymore. I was 15 years ago, the old way. The pit notes, the programs, the stuff like that, that’s how we did it, the press kits. It’s totally different now. It’s social media based. If you don’t know social media, you’re not gonna be a PR rep. That’s basically it. You’ve got to learn it all, and it’s a lot to digest.
So I tell people if you’re gonna do it, try and get an internship. NASCAR has a lot of internships here and there, teams have internships. Because that’s the way you get in. I started as an intern and got hired. Didn’t think I was gonna get hired, and they offered me a job, and went from there. Never honestly thought I would get hired by the Harvicks when they first talked to me, but they brought me in and they saw potential and like I said, I owe it to Kevin, DeLana and Fred to get me to where I am today. Now I hope that I can continue growing and get bigger and grow a bigger company for the Harvicks and get more clients and get more sponsors and get more employees and go from there.
Kevin gave you an opportunity, but he’s given other people opportunities probably in his career and they didn’t deliver the same way that you did. So what did you do or what is your attitude to make sure you come through and don’t let these people down?
In my email, I’ve got a thing that says, “If you can’t do big things, do little things in a great way.” So what I like to do and I tell people is don’t have enemies. You don’t want to have enemies in the garage, you don’t want to do all that stuff, you want to be nice to them and kill them with kindness. Everybody always says that, face it. But what I like to tell people is, look to the future. Don’t look behind you, because if you look behind you, you’re gonna fall behind because everything is changing.
Like I’m 40 years old, I’m on social media. I got off Twitter for a long time because me and Kevin, it used to just be me and Kevin four years ago, and we used to go at each other and have fun. I’ve seen a lot of negative stuff (toward) Kevin lately on the social media fronts (after the Las Vegas penalty) so I took it as, “You know what, I still have a lot of followers there on Twitter, and people are seeing this.”
— ???? (@Mother_Function) March 8, 2018
Kevin’s actually a really good guy. What happened (with the penalty) was what happened, I’m not gonna get into all that. But what I’m saying is, I wanted to post that to show people that two hours after the race ended and he won the race, these kids were screaming his name for two hours, and he went over there, high-fived them, shook hands, took pictures. I didn’t get to show the whole video, but the kid was jumping up and down for like five minutes and basically followed us all the way to the hauler until security stopped him, (saying) “You’re the greatest, Kevin!” That’s the stuff we need. It’s all about the kids.
So I’m telling you right now, look forward or fall behind. These kids that are PR guys now, these kids that work for these other management companies, they’re young, they’re gonna be a lot smarter than I am 10 years from now because they’re going to all these seminars and seeing social media. I didn’t know what Snapchat was two years ago, or a year ago. Everybody was like, “Snapchat!” and I was like, “I have no clue.” Now I have a basically teenage son that’ll be 12 here coming up. He does it. I’m like, “Well, I better get on this because I’m gonna miss the boat.” I can follow the drivers, see Kevin, see my fighters.
So these kids that are coming through the ranks right now, they either need to get an internship, start at a local level, go work for the NBA basketball team or local hockey team, minor league hockey team, get that sports job behind you before you start (your career).
I get resumes all the time. People send me notes all the time, and when I look at their resume, it was unfortunately, “Worked at Kohl’s” or “I was a sales guy for AT&T,” which is great, but I actually just hired a guy a while back who was a sales guy for the (Charlotte) Hornets. He already had that professional experience. He knew what it was like (in sports), so we hired him. The other people looked like they had great resumes, but it’s all about the experience.
And it’s hard to get in. It’s hard to get in the sport. I know a guy, mutual friend of my family, kid’s 27 years old, he’s been trying to get in for four years. I’ve been trying to help him, but he’s got no experience. But now he’s finally doing an internship with a local racetrack in North Carolina. That’s his in. Do a local internship, meet people, meet people, move on up as much as you can. So it’s tough.
Do you think it’s still possible to break into this industry if you want it bad enough?
I think the industry right now has kind of leveled off. I think we’re in a good level off period. The TV numbers have been about the same for the last year, which means it’s basically leveling off, up or down a little here and there, which is good. This is what we need to do. We can only grow. They’re making a lot of changes, everything’s starting to go in the right direction.
I think it will get back to where we can get more jobs and more PR people and more marketing people, but right now, you have to have experience every place I’ve checked. I’ve called race teams for buddies of mine looking for jobs, and it’s like, “Hey, has he been in the sport before?” And I’m like, “No, he hasn’t.” And they say, “We’re trying to find someone that knows the garage.” It’s so funny, the word “know the garage.” I hear that all the time. He’s gotta “know the garage.” It’s tough. Unless you’re an intern or you’re very, very new, it’s hard to get in.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your whole career path has been super interesting, so I appreciate you taking the time to do that.
Started from the bottom, that’s all there is. To get to where you’re at, you gotta start from the bottom and everybody needs to do an internship in some way, shape, or form to learn what it’s like.