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Making Tracks: Tires Are Only the Beginning for Jackson

In Addition to Serving as IMSA’s Michelin Tire Distributor, Jackson Is a Diverse Marketing Agency in Motorsports and Elsewhere

By Holly Cain

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Even to the casual onlooker, the all-day, everyday work that went on at the Michelin tire three-garage “workshop” during the Rolex 24 At Daytona was clearly a well-oiled, highly synchronized assembly line.

The 70 workers handling tires at Daytona International Speedway in late January – employees of South Carolina-based Jackson, the motorsports marketing company that manages the Michelin account at IMSA races across the country – are in complete sync: taking the used tires delivered by team carts, placing them on a moving belt that will replace the old tires with new Michelin rubber and ultimately be mounted onto wheels. The newly mounted tires are balanced, double-checked and then loaded back onto corresponding race teams’ carriers on the other side of the garage – ready to go, ready to race.

Every two minutes, a set of tires is mounted. During the course of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session and the twice-around-the-clock Daytona race, that meant approximately 10,000 of the nearly 19,000 tires at the track were put through the Jackson assembly line. The tires are so carefully maintained, they are carried to the compound on a handcart – never a forklift – from the tractor-trailer rigs that transported them to the track.

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Those rigs – 34 of them at Daytona – were parked in the garage area just beyond the tire workshop, ready to transport some unused tires three hours south to the next stop on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, historic Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 19.

The work is so efficient, dependable and masterful – it’s almost taken for granted. And that’s arguably the ultimate compliment for the Jackson staff.

“I start losing sleep about Daytona in September, trying to make sure we have the right people to do this,’’ explained Scott Taylor, Jackson’s executive director of motorsports marketing. “It’s not incredibly technical but it’s technical enough and it’s incredibly serious and there are a lot of logistics.”

More remarkable is that this tire operation is only one facet of the Jackson corporate offering. It is an unusual hybrid – in motorsport and in business.

Jackson prepares and distributes Michelin tires at track for multiple IMSA series and meets its other corporate goals representing multiple brands in marketing – from NAPA auto filters to the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. The list of can-do for Jackson is long, varied and perpetually yet-to-be-completed.

“Someone who was doing some work with us asked, ‘Who are your competitors?’ and I really almost have to break that out into a variety of companies,’’ said Darrell Jackson, president and CEO of Jackson Motorsports and Marketing Events.

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“There’s not someone exactly like us in all scopes.

“It took a lot of explaining in the beginning,’’ Jackson continued. “How are you a race tire distributor and a marketing company at the same time? And that was the part that was one of the hardest parts internally for me was I did not want two different cultures here.

“We needed to have the marketing side, but we also have the motorsports marketing and race tire distributor piece of it. So, we decided, let’s grow the race tire distributorship doing more than race tires. Short of installation, we try to be a one-stop shop for most of our customers.”

Being so eclectic is a source of pride for this family business. The motorsports component was a later addition.

Jackson’s father, Larry, a former Ford Motor Company employee, founded the company in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1987 primarily doing marketing, communications and product launches.

“His focus in Greenville was really to get a marketing agency going and we had to have a lot of dinner table conversations to talk him into doing this motorsports thing,” Darrell Jackson said. “Fortunately for us, it’s been a success and I’m very thankful he was even willing to give it a shot and try it.”

In many ways, it represented coming full circle both from a business standpoint and the bond between father and son. The vision acumen clearly was multigenerational.

“I was working for a sporting goods store, and my father said there was an opportunity for a courier position and asked me if I would like to come interview,’’ Darrell recalled of his first chance to work for his dad’s growing company, 30 years ago.

“I said, ‘Interview?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to be interviewed just like anyone else is interviewed.’

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“And despite trying to get my mom on my side to help avoid an interview process, it did not happen. And I started out as a courier. He would tell me, ‘Nothing is going to be handed, you need to work your way.’

“My very first project I worked on with Michelin was a junior account person,’’ Jackson recalled of the irony, “so it was kind of neat. Most of the guys and ladies I used to service as a courier, delivering, have now also climbed the ranks too and they are happy to point out they remember when I used to deliver them things.

“It’s been good and I’m excited to see where we are, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the team. “

That sense of family is genuine and the connectiveness between employees embodies that – a vital and valuable component of the company considering the wide range of services and support it offers across industries.

One of Jackson’s unique tools at the racetrack came about in exactly that kind of authentic way. It’s a computer program called “Cardboard” that tracks tire distribution.

Cardboard Art By Jordan Fretz 2022 03 04

It evolved from the rudimentary way an employee originally kept track of the tires trackside by marking the distribution on a large piece of cardboard. As the tire program grew at Jackson, a computer program was developed. As a nod to the “original,” the background or setting on the program resembles brown cardboard.

As for genuine cardboard, it turns out Jordan Fretz, Jackson’s associate creative director, is a talented artist and uses scrap pieces to create beautiful racing artwork.

It’s all a sign of how ultimately integrated and innovative Jackson is committed to being. The willingness to try new things and streamline established practices is what has elevated the company in business and bonded its employees over generations.

“I love when people walk in this place from IMSA or the racing crowd and say, ‘Oh my word, you are so much more than tires!’” Jackson said. “And I love it when the marketing people come in here and say, ‘Oh my word, you are way more than just marketing!’

“It shows we do a lot.’’