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Notre Dame team takes NASCAR checkered flag

by Carol Elliott

November 20, 2009

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A team of four University of Notre Dame undergraduate students finished first in the NASCAR Kinetics: Marketing in Motion competition. Final results for the semester-long competition were announced Thursday (Nov. 19) in Miami, site of the NASCAR Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The team included Enrique Gonzalez, a junior marketing major and captain of the team; Caitlin Hefele, a sophomore majoring in marketing and journalism; Nathan Durkes, a senior business and theology double major at Holy Cross College; and John Crowder, a senior economics and computer applications major.

“We have all worked on this competition all semester,” Hefele said. “And the three months of effort ended up really paying off.”

The original field of competing schools included Notre Dame, Winston-Salem State University, Howard University, Central Michigan University, Clark Atlanta University and Coastal Carolina University.

The purpose of the competition was to give students a hands-on marketing experience in the motorsports industry. The teams competed in four case studies that started in September, presenting them via phone conference to NASCAR representatives. After the preliminary rounds, the top three teams – Notre Dame, Howard and Coastal Carolina – continued to the final event in Miami.

The final case competition asked the teams to come up with a marketing plan for NASCAR to reach an audience demographic of people between the ages of 6 and 24 years. Hefele said the Notre Dame team broke the group into three age ranges – children, teens and young adults – and pitched marketing ideas that ranged from a NASCAR Web site for kids, to TV placements in popular teen shows such as Hannah Montana, to Facebook marketing. Their presentation lasted 15 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer session. The grand prize winner was selected based on case study performance throughout the semester, phone presentation, onsite presentation and creativity.

“We had to come down to the lobby for the announcement of the winner with our bags packed – very ‘Apprentice’ style,” Hefele said. “And two teams were sent home. But we stayed.”

Gonzalez estimated that the hours of work that went into the effort about equaled what they would devote to a three-credit-hour class. Even though he is not planning a career in sports marketing, the experience was definitely worth the effort, he said.

“You learn so many problem-solving skills,” Gonzalez said. “The competition provided the perfect opportunity to take novel ideas from all the team members, to brainstorm and come up with a plan. It was a great business experience, and definitely fun.”

As the winning team, the Notre Dame students received an expenses-paid, three-day trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where they had the opportunity to meet some of the drivers, ask questions of the NASCAR executives and experience behind-the-scenes activities of the final NASCAR event of the season.

“All along in the semester, I’ve kept updating my résumé,” Hefele said. “At first I said that I participated in the NASCAR Kinetics. Then I could say I was a finalist. Now, I can say, ‘winner.’”