By Tripp Mickle
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
After spending more than 20 years guiding Roush Fenway Racing's evolution from a small, 70-person shop to a 500-person operation, longtime Roush Fenway Racing president Geoff Smith is retiring. This is his last week with the team.
Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday that Smith, 64, will be replaced as president by Steve Newmark, who joined the team in April as senior vice president of business operations. Newmark spent 12 years as an attorney with Charlotte-based law firm Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson. He was part of the legal team that worked with the NCAA, CBS and Turner to complete their 14-year, $10.8 billion media deal earlier this year.
"The task this organization has before it has never been more difficult," Smith said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, but we've got the right guy. He complements the people we have here and will do a great job."
Jack Roush founded Roush Racing in 1988 and hired Smith to run it in 1990. Smith was an attorney in Michigan and had done contract work for Roush for more than a decade.
Roush managed the competition side of the team while Smith oversaw business operations. In that role, he secured additional sponsors that allowed the team to add a second Cup car in 1992, Nationwide series cars in 1992 and 1994, and a truck team in 1995. He managed the team's relocation and consolidation from shops in Liberty and Mooresville in North Carolina to its current location near the Concord, N.C., airport.
Through the years, Roush Racing distinguished itself from other teams and earned a reputation for running its team as a business. It was a pioneer in developing a multiteam operation that shared resources and information across multiple cars in order to improve performance.
"Geoff is one of the most well-rounded presidents of a race team," said Zak Brown, CEO of Just Marketing International, which has represented UPS, Crown Royal, Subway and others in sponsorships with Roush Fenway. "He does sponsorships, contract negotiations with drivers and helps run the team on everything except the technical standpoint. I kept going back to them (with sponsorships) because Roush had a culture of over-delivering."
Mark Martin, who drove for Roush Racing for 19 years, said, "Geoff is really, really classy at putting deals together that work. He and I did an awful lot together through the years. Most of the time, we never even involved Jack. I have a lot of respect for Geoff, and I wish him well."
When Roush sold a stake in the team to Fenway Sports Group in 2007, Smith signed a three-year contract to manage the team. He added an extra year because of the recession and put plans in motion earlier this year to step aside.
Newmark will oversee the business operations of the team and be the primary liaison between the team and its ownership board. He spent the last eight months learning the business and dealing with an array of issues ranging from a licensing issue with a sponsor around a video game to the team's relationship as a service provider for Richard Petty Motorsports, which recently changed ownership. He believes the organization is structurally sound and doesn't plan to institute any major changes after taking over as president.
"We are fortunate to have one of the largest sales and marketing teams in the industry, and the caliber of individuals in that group is actually one of the reasons that this opportunity was so appealing to me," Newmark said.
"That said, as with any leadership transition, there will be certain cultural changes, and we do have a number of new initiatives that we intend to pursue, which are primarily designed at enhancing the value of our programs to our partners."
The 2011 season will be an important one for Roush Fenway Racing. The team is seeking full sponsorships for Nationwide Series cars driven by Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and a partial sponsorship for the car driven by Carl Edwards. It also will be working on renewals with its biggest Sprint Cup partners, 3M, Aflac, Crown Royal and UPS.
Tripp Mickle is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal