There is a time-honored tradition in Indiana: fathers take their children to the Indianapolis 500. It happens so often and so regularly it is probably not even recognized as a tradition - you just do it. In 2002, it was my turn. And my 15-year-old self was MAD. Why on earth would you want to go sit in the sun for four hours and watch cars go in a circle? What a waste of a Sunday.
And then we arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I have long-maintained the position if we can just get people to the track, we’ve got them. That’s how my fire was ignited. The colors and the sounds and the people - it is impossible not to get swept up it. I had never seen anything like it. It made me feel alive.
I did not give the Indy 500 another thought until the next year. The day before the race, I came home from my first day at my first job (Fazoli’s breadstick passer-outer) to find out my dad had sold our tickets. After listening to the race on the radio (as I had no idea it was blacked out), I went to the internet. I learned there was an entire series of races just like the Indy 500. I wouldn’t have to wait a year for the next race, I only had to wait two weeks. Remember Texas Motor Speedway night races in the early 2000’s? I was immediately obsessed.
From the time I was five years old, I wanted to study volcanoes. As college grew closer, the reality set in that there were no volcanoes in Indiana and I really didn’t want to travel. But I had no idea what else to do with my life. Through the din of speeches at an FBLA state conference my junior year, I heard these words: “Find your passion. Build your career around that. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” It felt like all of the lights in the world came on.
I was going to work in Indy car racing.
Way to set that bar high, Brie.
I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do this, but I knew I loved IndyCar and wanted to share it everyone. I changed my senior year class schedule the following Monday. Physics classes were gone, business classes were added. At the time, only one school in Indiana offered a Sports Marketing program, so I applied there. Instead of staring at rocks in Washington state, I found myself in the School of Business at the University of Indianapolis.
Racing is very much a “who you know” industry. Me? I knew no one. I was just a fan (albeit an extremely vocal, passionate one), popping up at several races each summer. I got to know people, due in large part to be being such a boisterous fan. Just after the 2008 Indy 500, the PR guy at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing offhandedly mentioned he needed to fill an intern position. At this point, I had been an intern at the 500 Festival for a year and a half and was ready for something more. I must have nagged him for a month straight, asking (begging) for an interview. Finally, I got one. I hopped on a charter bus full of fans and headed to Iowa Speedway with resumes, work samples and transcripts in hand. Less than five minutes into the interview, I was shooed out the door of the transporter. I was gutted. It felt like that was my shot and I blew it. Now, I understand how much of a gift those five minutes on a race day were. Another month went by, then I got a text asking when I could start.
I began sitting at the front desk of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in July of 2008, checking the mail and answering the phones for an internship that was supposed to run through the end of the season. When the season ended in October, they put me on payroll. In February, team co-owner Robbie Buhl told me I did not have to come to work in a business suit. I admitted I had been coming from job interviews - I was graduating college in three months and needed a real job. He looked confused and said, “Stop doing that.” Within two weeks, I was hired as a full-time employee.
For the next six and a half years, I worked my way through client services, ticketing, credentials, hospitality, contract fulfillment, at-track entertainment and event planning at DRR. I taught myself graphic design, video editing and social media (Twitter did not even exist when I started in racing). I prided myself on the ability to continually push myself to learn more and grow within the sport and was rewarded time and time again with more responsibility. I was asked to manage the entire hospitality and client services program in 2012; in 2013, I was handed public relations.
In April of 2013, Dennis Reinbold, our sole team owner at that point, told us the Indy 500 would be DRR’s last race as a full-time team and we would not participate in the rest of the season. I interviewed with a handful of other teams, but ultimately decided to remain with DRR. I was farmed out a Global Rallycross team for the 2014 season and while I appreciated the learning experience, my heart wasn’t in it. One thing I had not yet accomplished was winning an Indy car race. I wanted to know what that was like so badly, it felt like a white-hot urge burning inside my soul. It was right around this time the formation of CFH Racing was announced. “What the heck,” I thought. “It’s technically a new team that hasn’t told me no yet, I’ll take a swing at it.”
A few weeks later, I found myself across a conference table from Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher. The irony of this moment was not lost on me. I used to ask them for their autographs; now, I sat across from them asking them for a job.
And they picked me.
The next thing I had to do was have one of the hardest conversations of my professional career. I sat down with the team owner that not only gave me my first chance, but also kept me employed year-round even after we became an Indy-only team, and told him it was time for me to leave DRR. I (tearfully) said to Dennis, “I need to find out if I’m really good at my job or I’m just good at it here.”
I’m sure I closely resembled a newborn giraffe those first few months at CFH, teetering around with no sense of direction and falling down more than once. Truth be told, I had no idea what it took to be a public relations representative for an Indy car team. I didn’t go to school for this; there’s no handbook or manual. But like I had done at DRR, I figured it out. Only four races into the 2015 season, I finally found out what winning a race was like. A couple months later, another win, this time in the form of a 1-2 finish. CFH transitioned back into Ed Carpenter Racing prior to the 2016 season and I settled into my new home.
I’m now in the midst of my fourth season with the greatest team I could ask to be a part of. I realize it may sound like I am saying it just because my paycheck comes from here, but I am truly fortunate to work for and with the individuals that I do and represent drivers like Ed, Spencer Pigot and Jordan King. The white-hot urge that inevitably led me to ECR still burns, but now for something much more specific - winning the Indianapolis 500. We were soclosethis year. Second is an amazing accomplishment and something for us to be incredibly proud of - but it also feels a bit like getting punched in the gut because you were that close. Ten years into this, I’ve been a part of fourth (2012), third (2016) and second (2018) place finishes. First is coming soon. I can feel it.
My dad never missed watching a race once I started working in the industry. He passed away in 2013, 44 days after the Indy 500. If he hadn’t done what Hoosier dads do in and taken me to that first race in 2002, I’m not sure if I would have made it to this point. I went from “wanting to promote IndyCar” to the Communications Director of a Verizon IndyCar Series team. I get to do exactly what my 17-year-old self would have told you was her dream job. The teenaged kid who chased drivers around the Midwest with a Sharpie now hands drivers Sharpies to sign autographs.
I found my passion. I made it my career. It may be my job, but I’ve still yet to work a day of it.