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Mar 17, 2022
In a racing world full of driver development programs, Rod Wortham is working to develop brands.
That might sound highfalutin but it’s legitimately the biggest factor that typically determines whether a young racer is able to break into the highest levels of what is often an unjust pay-to-play sport. To a certain degree, having a tremendous amount of talent is inconsequential compared to the ability to forge relationships, connect with potential partners and cultivate a following.
That is what Wortham has created over the past five years in Race Face Brand Development – an agency that specializes in media skills training, social media engagement, career path mapping and marketing.
"In today's world, it's 40 percent on-track and 60 percent off-track skills," Wortham says. "It comes down to building a fan base and attracting sponsors; doing all the things you have to do to build a program around that talent."
Wortham says he has drawn a lot of inspiration from Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom he believes built more of a fan base on his own than what many give him credit for.
"Everyone wanted to be on his car," Wortham said. "Sure, he got a lot of it from his dad, but he worked for a lot of it too. He has a personality that everyone seems to want to be a part of whatever he’s doing."
Wortham merits Earnhardt and brand manager Mike Davis in what they have created at Dirty Mo Media and the Dale Jr. Download as a vehicle taking fans behind the scenes with their favorite all-time driver even after his full-time career.
The 62-year-old wants to give his drivers the same instincts. A driver that can grow a large fan base while also introducing them to various corporate partners is a driver that will be behind the steering wheel for a long time.
The best example of this approach might be found in Anthony Alfredo -- a full-time NASCAR driver who first connected with Wortham and Race Face as a driver development project in Late Model Stock Cars with JR Motorsports.
Josh Berry provided an engineering and race craft education but Alfredo credits Wortham for refining his ability to connect with potential partners.
"He was the first guy to really teach me how to put together marketing decks, website design and sponsorship relations," Alfredo said. "He still helps me out on occasion. I have a great management team with Austin Craven and Team Dillon, but Rod still plays a big role with my website and with the occasional marketing deck."
Wortham has also worked with Xfinity Series contender and 2020 Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed and Xfinity Series contender and Truck Series winner Sam Mayer. It began with ARCA West champion Jesse Love in 2017.
"He taught me how to interview, which was really important for a 12-year-old already racing in front of a TV audience," Love said. "It’s important to show your personality but also be presentable for sponsors. He was a big part of developing our social media and brand identity."
Love would eventually become a Toyota Racing Development prospect, but he was already a refined driver and emerging brand once he got there in part due the skills imparted upon his family by Wortham.
"I generally know that a driver has talent, but the number one thing I do once I bring in a young driver is interviewing their parents," Wortham said. "I need to know if they’re willing to make the kind of commitment needed for their kids to make it."
At 62, Wortham will tell you he isn’t going to be the first to the latest social media trends or applications, but he has created a family atmosphere within Race Face. His drivers keep him young and digitally savvy.
His current and former drivers have a weekly conference call so they can discuss strategy amongst themselves. Alfredo, one of the best-known social media and streaming innovators, is frequently called upon to offer insight to the generation behind him.
"I’ll jump in when Rod thinks I can make an impact or bring something to the table," Alfredo says. "With interviews, it comes down to teaching drivers maybe not so much what to say, but how to say it and how to simplify your message."
If Wortham is the architect of Race Face Development, Alfredo has laid much of the foundation for his successors’ education.
"I have to give Anthony a lot of credit," Wortham said. "There’s the Sauce Mafia and how he connects with so many people every day. It’s a testament to making personal connections with fans so they want to support you.
"It’s a blessing having him on those calls because I think there’s a lot our drivers can learn from him. If you’re a professional, and are kind and courteous, that takes you a long way in this sport. Anthony is easy to talk to and very gracious with our younger drivers and there’s just so much they can take from him."
Wortham is learning every week too.
"My wife and I don’t have kids, and we run this business, so these kids keep us informed," Wortham said. "We recognized that we needed to do better on social media, and we’ve hired a full-time person to manage that part of the business."
Business is booming.
Wortham is working to enter the NFT space with collectable digital cards featuring his drivers as they climb the Stock Car ladder system. The Race Face Driver Updates streaming program recently debuted on Racing America to spotlight emerging talents in Late Models, Touring Cars, Legends, Quarter Midgets and Karts.
That next generation of Race Face understudies include Connor Mosack, Kaden Honeycutt, Cassidy Hinds and Grant Thompson.
It’s a business but one that Wortham views as part of an initiative to give back to the industry.
"These are things drivers used to not get experience with until they reached NASCAR," Wortham said. "I have seen so many talented drivers over the years that could have been really special, but just didn’t have the tools they needed to find funding and make the right connections.
"We want to make sure that drivers have the experience away from the track that doesn’t come as natural to them as maybe it does on the track. It’s been special to be a small part of a lot of journeys the past couple of years and I hope we continue to build on that with the Race Face Driver Updates show on Racing America."