Race Weekend Central

Forward Together for 23XI Racing in 2023

In part two of our Q&A with Steve Lauletta (find part one here), the 23XI Racing president discusses the way the NASCAR Cup Series team operates and does business, the new shop and lessons he learned from his long motorsports career.

Danny Peters, Frontstretch: You recently announced a new HQ for 23XI Racing What will that give you in terms of growth?

Lauletta: We’re hoping to break ground in the coming weeks with the goal to be in the new shop for the start of the 2024 season. Right now, we’re in two separate buildings. We rented one building as a one-car team, and when we became a two-car team we took the sister building next door. So we’re not very efficient. There are people with offices over there [in the other building] so we have to go back and forth. We’ll tear down cars over there and have to bring them back over here and we’re limited for office space.

Denny [Hamlin, co-owner] has a vision for building a race shop to this new form of NASCAR racing with the ways the cars are from a single-source supplier standpoint, less being machine shop-type places and building it to this new model. Making it a place that is comfortable and an inviting place to come to work not just a big shop of bending metal and hundreds and hundreds of thousands square ft. It’s going to be a really special place for all of us to go to work, allowing us to be more efficient.

And hopefully we can keep building. To be big enough for us to grow as an organization to be three or four cars, who knows down the road? But we have a hard time in doing more here, so it gives us a runway.

Peters: Any plans for an Xfinity car? And is it cost sustainable?

Lauletta: I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. No, at this point we’re focused on Cup racing. We’re focused on this plan to become even more competitive on a consistent basis and potentially growing in the Cup Series, so no talk about it at this point.

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Peters: Any chance of Hamlin in a third car with his own team next year with his contract up at Joe Gibbs Racing this year?

Lauletta: That would be a Denny question. I don’t see that happening. … I know he’s very happy at JGR and he’s got his whole Cup career history there and he’d like to keep seeing that move forward, but I’m not involved in his driving. He’s driver Denny down the road and he’s owner Denny for us here at 23XI.

Peters: Was it a weird moment for you seeing Hamlin chase down Bubba Wallace at Kansas?

Lauletta: Yeah, just as weird as Denny being in the lead at the Clash and [Martin] Truex [Jr.] hitting Bubba and Bubba hitting Denny and moving him up. That was one of those uh-oh-the-boss-isn’t-going-to-be-happy [moments.]

Peters: 23XI recently won the Team Award in the Drive for Diversity Awards. You’ve talked about creating a more diverse fan base and workforce that better represents the community. How important is that to you, and what do you have lined up?

Lauletta: It’s tremendously important to 23XI as a race team, to our ownership, to all of us that work here as part of our mission and values as an organization. I believe we’ve started the journey – and it’s a journey, not a destination – with some really strong success metrics so far in terms of how we operate, our hiring practices and how we are trying to reach out to new potential fans and to introduce them to the sport in some new creative ways.

All our partners believe in it as much as we do. Hence seeing programs from Dr. Pepper giving away 23 $5,000 scholarships to diverse students who might want to work in motorsports, on the engineering and competition side or on the business side. Some of the programs we’ve done on HBCU campuses with Money Lion and McDonalds, Toyota with their Dreamers program, they all really believe in it. It’s a big part of when we talk to partners currently and potential partners — how do we bring that all together.

We’re racing under the banner of Forward Together, you see that on our haulers, on some of our clothing. The whole purpose of that is we’ll only make the difference we want to make if we do it together. We’re trying to have everybody focused on this journey, focused on programs and ideas and messaging that will resonate.

We have a couple new announcements coming, programs that will show we’re continuing to move down this road as we enter our third year. That’s our goal to keep it top of mind in everything we do with our team, our partners to have a more inclusive fanbase and employee base not just for 23XI but for the sport in total.

Peters: In an Inc article last year, you said, “We want people, who will come in and say, ‘Why do you do [that]?’ as opposed to, ‘This is how we did it when I worked for [that] team.’ That helps us find different answers, different methods, and hopefully push the envelope.” Can you talk about that as an ethos and give an example of where it’s come to life?

Lauletta: You need some level of experience, particularly on the competition side, people who know what a NASCAR is going to do at a certain track and in a certain instance. On the business side, you need people who know, for example, where the credentials office is at Darlington [Raceway] but you also want to bring people in to both sides of the organization that have a clean view, who are not predisposed to, “well, I did that this way last year.”

When I talk to people on the business side they say, “well, I don’t know anything about racing,” I say well, that’s good, that’s what I want. There’s 70 people here that know racing. If I have a racing question I can go and get an answer, but I want someone who’ll come in and say, that doesn’t make sense to me, why are we doing it that way? Have you ever thought about going and doing this? Let’s do that, let’s try that.

We’re trying to innovate and do it differently than most, if not all, teams. A successful day for me is everybody is piled up over here and we’re standing over here by ourselves. And the over-here-by-ourselves might not be the right place but we’re by ourselves because we have to separate ourselves from the rest, what everyone else is doing. We challenge everybody, whether it’s setting up the car, preparing to go to the race, how we go to the race, what our clothing looks like or how we manage and work on programs with our partners. Doing it different in a way that will stand out, hopefully that different is positive.

But you know what? If it’s not, we learn something, and that’s just as valuable and we do it differently the next time. That’s the approach I try to instill in people here.

Peters: In that same Inc article, here’s a quote from Hamlin: “I want to have two cultures. Our employees will say it feels like we’re a family. The other culture I’m trying to build is that we also win, and we work our butts off to win. The last thing I want is a culture where we all love each other… but we’re running 15th. Our culture is family and winning: We’re a family that works hard for each other, and that’s how we will succeed.” Can you talk about how that comes to life?

Lauletta: What he meant is that he doesn’t want to have everyone feel great with each other and we finish 17th each week. That’s not the purpose here. We want to feel like we are working together and be honest with each other and have that family atmosphere and have fun.

But we also have to deliver these results. But sometimes when you’re not delivering these results, guess what, there’s some tense conversations that need to happen. Doesn’t mean we’re not still a family, just like families have to have tense conversations. It’s not that they can’t coexist it’s just you’ve got to have both of those balanced so you’re not leaning more towards it’s great to come to work and we finish 17th. No, we don’t want that.

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Peters: What did you learn from your decade with Chip Ganassi Racing that you’re applying differently at 23XI?

Lauletta: I learned a ton from Chip Ganassi. He was about racing. To really learn the ins and outs of the competition racing part, he was and still is the master at doing it. A lot of what I learned about watching him interact with the team, I’ve taken the thought process of and brought it here in a different way. The way he managed his relationships with his partners was second to none. Twenty-seven years with Target.

I told him when I said I needed a break I’d never work for another race team, and here I am. I still say to him I feel bad about that. But this is different. His name is on the door, he runs that business and he does it fantastic. He’s had people with him for as long as he’s been there. And this was a clean sheet of paper. And while I think I helped his business for the 10 years that I was there, it’s going on today and it was going on before I got there.

But this is one that I’ve got a real fingerprint on. It wasn’t here before I got here. I was the first one to say, OK, here are my thousand things on a spreadsheet we’ve got to get done starting Oct. 6 to get ready for Daytona [International Speedway]. That was not what I did before. That’s why I’m still here, because it’s so fun to have all these things you’re doing for the first time and then seeing it come to fruition and having some success and continuing to build on the momentum — it doesn’t come along very often in this sports business.

Peters: What does success look like in 2023?

Lauletta: Success is what this is about. It’s delivering value to our partners, number one, so they see the investment in this team as a great thing to do for decades to come. It’s building this brand of 23XI, which is only 2 years old. What does the brand mean to more people? Attracting more fans and employees. Putting both cars into the playoffs whether they each get one win or seven wins, as long as they get one and we’re in, then roll up your sleeves, throw your best at everybody and hope we’re as deep into the 10 races as you can get and build on that for 2024 and build on that for 2025.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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