Auburn University marketing student already in the fast lane of race car driving
He manages his race team's finances. He coordinates team logistics from tracks in California to Canada. He finds lodging for crew members, and even cooks for them. He courts sponsors to help pay the bills. He's even won a time or two.
Andrew Rains isn't your ordinary race car driver. Then again, he isn't your ordinary college student.
Rains, a 22-year-old senior marketing major in Auburn University's Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, has served as team manager at Rains Racing – where he learned all business and driving aspects of motorsports – for the past three years in the Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA.
"It's a circus, a juggling act," he chuckled. "There are a lot of difficult challenges. I can't explain how many times I've looked at a bank statement or analyzed the cost for a weekend and said, 'There's no way. This is absolutely absurd. There are costs coming from every area.' Everything is expensive. Tires. Fuel. Everything has to be accounted for. You have to be able to think beyond that to be successful in racing. To be able to go fast, you can't be worried about how much tires and fuel cost. That's part of the challenge – rising above that."
Rains, a road racer who has driven stock cars, VWs and now Hondas, has five career wins and 13 top 5s, including third place at the famed Laguna Seca on the weekend of Sept. 10-13. He has competed at Daytona International Speedway, Road Atlanta, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Sebring International Raceway. He earned championship trophies in the South Atlantic Road Racing Series, or SARRC, and V8 Stock Cars GTA series in 2014.
Aside from juggling racing and team-management responsibilities, Rains finds a way to keep up in the classroom.
"That's all too real of a challenge," said Rains, who will graduate in December. "I think one weekend last February we were doing a test at Road Atlanta and we were having trouble with the car. I got only two hours of sleep and ended up with just way too much to do. I had a paper due in Dr. (Danny) Butler's class – personal selling – but I wrote it before I left for Atlanta. It's planning in the future. If I have a paper due in two weeks, but I won't have time in the next two weeks to do it – I do that paper right now. A lot of school work is, 'I can get done, turn it in, I can get a 'C' and move on.' But I don't want to look at it like that. I don't want to compromise because school has a lot of value to me. I know that when I walk into the classroom at Auburn, I'm going to learn something that's going to help me."
Off the track, Rains has applied principles taught in marketing classes toward building relationships with sponsors.
"Both Dr. Butler and Dr. (Mike) Kincaid had us read Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' last spring," Rains said. "It's about showing genuine appreciation. You say 'thank you,' you're genuine and you mean it. There are a lot of people that I've encountered in this business that don't understand that. Another principle in that book is talking to people in terms of their wants, not your wants. It's delivering value to somebody and catering yourself, your racing team, your value proposition to that want is critical."
Rains, a former driver with the Auburn Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Formula SAE program, said having an understanding of sales and business is mandatory for success. "It's the single-biggest part of being a race driver," he said. "Driving the car is probably only 10 percent, or less. It's really being able to leverage the relationships around you to put yourself into a position to be in a race car."
Rains' hard work in the car and building relationships put him into position to sign the biggest deal of his young career. In September, Rains Racing announced it would join with Honda Motorsports Alabama for 2016 and compete in a Honda for the final race of 2015. The deal couldn't have come at a better time for Rains, who was stretched beyond his boundaries. It's a good thing he can cook.
"A good friend of mine runs the Honda Motorsports of Alabama Team (Honda Manufacturing of Alabama's own factory effort)," Rains said. "During a race weekend at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (Road America), I actually cooked for his team. I love to cook and I always cook all of the meals for our team to save money. We started talking about working together because we're 40 minutes apart. I made the decision and I called my dad and we sat down with the Honda guys and said, 'This is our opportunity. We need to stop what we're doing and move in this direction. I'm overextended. I can't be successful doing things this way. I need to be able to focus on being the team manager away from the track and the driver at the track. And I need to be able to do what I'm good at – which is raising money.'"
The move paid immediate dividends. In his first Pirelli World Challenge start Sept. 10-13 at famed Laguna Seca, Rains steered his Honda Civic to a third-place finish in the TCA Class.
Instead of dealing with multiple car-related technical issues, Rains will employ a part-time technician in 2016, as he progresses into the new Honda Accord Coupe.
"I will focus the majority of my time on raising the appropriate amount of funding to field a competitive effort, and will perform a lot of marketing/public relations functions," he said. "I will also reallocate a lot of my time towards developing myself as a race driver. Delivering results behind the wheel becomes increasingly important as more team partners become invested in our program, so I have to adapt and grow accordingly to deliver a strong performance at every race weekend.
"I also will perform a development function for Honda, giving them feedback and data to help them make decisions about what changes should be made to the car."
Development function? The Automated Performance Expert, or APEX, data analysis tool, created by Rains Racing partner Deft Dynamics, provides live feedback to drivers taking 4,000 measurements per second to deliver an accurate model of the car's handling capabilities via LED light display.
"It becomes almost like a video game to the driver, attempting to match the strip of red and green lights," Rains said. "This is technology that has not been explored by any existing companies, and has a wide-scale application for the entire motorsports industry, and possibly the automotive and trucking industries."
Rains said his team will perform the marketing and sales functions for APEX before it's delivered to the open market. Honda has agreed to help develop the product, Rains added.
"We will use Rains Racing and Honda's image and credibility to offer credentials to APEX, and avoid being viewed as a start-up to hopefully create a demand for the product quickly," he said. "I'm beyond humbled to join forces with Honda as our technical partner. They are a great company with strong morals, and I'm looking forward to a long and prosperous relationship between Rains Racing and Honda."
Treating people like they want to be treated. Being genuine. Showing value. Rains has mastered the art.
"What's super-impactful in the racing and business industry is to be a person with a strong moral standing, a good, guiding moral compass and one who learns how to make good decisions based on ethical principles – then being a tactful, strategic business person," he said. "That was what I wanted to learn how to do. Now I want to go further. I want to be a championship race car driver."
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