20 YEARS at JGR: Robin
As we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, we want to take the time to recognize those who have been with us since the beginning! They have some great stories to tell and provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of our team. We hope you enjoy this series. Our third installment focuses on Robin, who has worn many hats at JGR:
What did you do before you came to Joe Gibbs Racing?
I studied engineering and mathematics in college. After college, I moved to Alaska to do short term mission work. I worked out in Kodiak, Alaska with juvenile delinquent Eskimo and Indians in a residential treatment center for two and a half years. I also taught fourth grade there for a year.
After that I had the chance to travel with the music ministry team. I traveled all around the world for about a year and a half. Then my parents said it was time to come home, settle down and use my college degree. I came back here to North Carolina. I grew up four miles from the race shop, so this is home to me. I taught school and worked construction for a general contractor, because I had some engineering in college. I did that for about three years. Then a British company bought them out, and the British company wanted to downsize and lay off. I was in the first group to get laid off, since I was the low man on the totem pole. I was actually unemployed for fourth months before I came to Joe Gibbs Racing.
How did you come to work at Joe Gibbs Racing?
There was a friend of a friend that knew they had an opening for a secretary. I came over to interview for the secretary’s position, and it had just been filled. They did need a bookkeeper, and because of my math background they hired me to do the bookkeeping. The first year I was here I did the bookkeeping.
When was that?
It was September 1991. I think I was one of the fourth or fifth people hired. It has been fun to be here from the beginning.
What have been your responsibilities here at Joe Gibbs Racing over the years?
I was the bookkeeper for the first year, and then the secretary left. I said I would rather work with people than with numbers and figures, holed up in a room all day balancing the budget. I moved into that position, and it was kind of like a one girl office. I answered the phone, greeted people, ordered office supplies, did the race travel uniforms, NASCAR licenses, paperwork entries and all that stuff. I also helped the guys create worksheets and checklists for all of the cars. I did that for a few years. I did the paperwork for the company vehicles, DOT, OSHA and workers comp. Then we started the Ladies Night Out, which met once a month, and I was organizing that too. It grew and grew.
By 1995, we had Cindy Magnum and Fran Jordan, and the three of us shared all of the administrative duties. We kept growing and adding more people. I was also the event planner, if we had blood drives or fundraisers. We didn’t have a crisis committee yet, if there was a need we just passed around the hat and took up money. We bought things and did things to help. We found a family on the coast after Hurricane Andrew and collected money and bought appliances for them. Anytime there was a situation where we wanted to help an employee or a member of a community, I was the point person. When we started the crisis committee, it helped a lot because that took care of that function.
Fran and I were the souvenir people. As we started selling souvenirs, Dave Alpern came to do the licensing and needed an assistant. I became the licensing assistant to help him with approvals and things like that. Dave was in charge of making them and getting them processed and approved. Fran and I sold the hats and t-shirts out of the drawers in the lobby as best as we could, because we didn’t have a real gift shop yet.
In 1999, we bought Diamond Ridge Motorsports. We took on about 40-45 employees at once. I had been the HR person so to speak, so we were processing paper and doing things for 40-45 people at once. We were so busy. By 2000, JGR decided they needed a full time HR person and a full time assistant to the crew chiefs and engine builders. I could either stay in HR or do the racing side. I opted to go with the racing part, because I wanted to stay connected to the sport. I figured I could be doing HR for a corporation anywhere, but as the admin assistant, the duties would be unique to racing. We hired Gwen and she developed the HR program. I have probably done about every job that a female has done in being here.
Why do you choose to stay at JGR?
I love it here. There is nowhere else I would rather work. I cannot imagine being anywhere else, unless I was in full time missions. That would be the only thing that would take me away from Joe Gibbs Racing. I look at this as my mission field for the time being at least. My husband teaches school, and he is happy where he is. He is not ready to go anywhere. There is really nowhere else I would rather be.
What has been one of your biggest challenges?
I think just trying to keep my head above water with all the growth. We would add more to the company, and it would require more hours and more energy to get things going. I think in the late 90s we decided we would do our own dental reimbursements instead of doing dental insurance. Every Friday one of my jobs was to reconcile every ones dental bills, calculate what they should get back and go issue checks to everyone on Friday afternoon. That’s just an example of trying to keep up with the growth and trying to maintain good customer service inside the company despite the number of people we have working here.
What moment will always remember from Joe Gibbs Racing?
Our very first win was the Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett and that was a huge deal to be here. We were the dark horse and no one expected us to win our second year out. We celebrated for a week. We had flowers and gifts, but I don’t think I appreciated it so much because it was the first win. Our next win was October a year later. We got a few things, but I didn’t realize what a great accomplishment it was to win the 500. I would like to win that one again, because I know I would appreciate it so much more this time around. Also, Bobby Labonte’s first cup win at Charlotte was good, because it was our first win with him and his first cup win ever. It was real exciting because it was a local race. I got to be there and go to victory lane. Of course the championships also, in 2000 with Bobby and 2002 and 2005 with Tony. I think those five things stick out in my mind as wow moments. Also getting to go to the Super Bowl in 1992. Joe Gibbs took all of us. Getting the chance to attend a Super Bowl was a once in a lifetime experience.
How have you seen Joe Gibbs Racing change over the past 20 years?
Our first shop was a leased warehouse about 17,000 square feet. Then a few years later we built a new shop that was designed by Jimmy, and it was 34,000 square feet. In 2000, we moved into this shop, which is 250,000 plus square feet and a state of the art facility. Physically, there has been growth going from this modest little rented space to where we are now. I just never imagined it would become what it is. Personally, it has changed by going from a group of 15 to 18 people who worked our guts out to a company of 450 plus people where each department is so specialized. Everybody is working so hard, but you can’t honestly say you know everybody who works here any more. Before everybody knew everybody and it was really tight nit. Now within departments there is community and family.
How was the first year at Joe Gibbs Racing?
We worked our guts out. We had none of the government holidays. We got a couple days at Thanksgiving, a couple days at Christmas, and that was it. There were so few of us, and there was so much work to be done, especially starting with nothing. We bought two tractor-trailers of junk from Hendrick, and they sifted through it and built some cars from it. We hit the ground running. It was a challenge. Having not been in racing, I had no idea of the task before us, because it was all new to me.
I will never forget the first year, it was Memorial Day, and we had been working really hard. At that time the break truck came early in the mornings. We would stop and meet in the common area as our team meeting time. It was my time to get insurance forms signed, to give announcements and hand out uniforms. When the break truck came that was our time to stop and to communicate. We didn’t have voicemail or anything like that, it was just word of mouth. We were coming up on Memorial Day and the guys asked if we were going to be off. I didn’t know, and being naïve I thought we might get Memorial Day off, because that is a real holiday in the rest of the world. One of the guys told me to ask Jimmy. Well, Jimmy’s nickname at that time was Mad Dog, and he earned every bit of that nickname. I asked him about Memorial Day, and he just turned around, slammed his fist on his desk, glared at me, and in some colorful language told me that I could pack my belongings and go work at the bank down the street if I wanted banking holidays. My mouth dropped open and my eyes welled. I just back out of his office, went out to the guys and told them that we were working.
To have seen him and his days of Mad Dog, and the team and everyone just working so hard to try to get the cars to the track to make Joe proud. It was fun. I have never worked any harder in my life then I did that first year, because we wanted so much to be successful, and to make the sponsors and owners proud. It was a lot of fun.
What has been your favorite part of working at Joe Gibbs Racing?
Definitely the people. I have been here for 20 years now. It is almost like my extended family. Just being able to come to work and feel like you are among friends is the best part for me. Also, it great to meet the fans who come in to talk. The people are really what have kept me in this business.
What memories will always bring a smile to your face?
It would be some of those funny stories like the Memorial Day question. I know the first year I was here, Joe Gibbs was still in DC coaching the Redskins, Don Meredith was in Florida with his ministry, and they would converge here one day a month and do business. Depending on how things were going and what the budget was looking like sometimes when the came to town they may be eliminating a position or having a talk with an employee they didn’t think was performing like they should. Also the sponsors are giving us money and expecting great things, knowing that we are a fledgling team, and it was going to be hard to produce.
One of the times Joe was in town, he was pacing by my office, because he is a very driven person. Now it’s a one girl office, so your answering the phones, greeting people, selling whatever souvenirs there are to sell, while working on travel arrangements and typing a report for Jimmy. So I am doing all this stuff, and he comes by and says, “Robin, get Lou Holtz on the phone,” and he kept walking. I thought, “OK, who is Lou Holtz?” But I knew if I asked him then he will think I am stupid and would fire me for sure. My husband is a teacher, and I got on the phone real quiet and said, “I can’t talk really loud, but who is Lou Holtz?” He tells me the coach for Notre Dame, and I hung up. I thought, “Ok, Where is Notre Dame?” I don’t know where Notre Dame is, and this is before the Internet. I called my husband back and said, “One more question, where is Notre Dame.” He tells me Indiana. The whole time Joe is pacing back and forth and asks “Have you got him on the phone yet?” Finally, I ask him if he has a number for him. Of course he did, but he is just so use to the admin assistant at the Redskins who could read his mind. I was just like, “Oh my gosh, I have to call somebody, and I don’t know who he is, I don’t know where he works, I don’t know where he lives. How am I going to get a hold of him?” Now I just ask if he has a number, or to tell me who the person is. Then I was just so afraid of disappointing him or losing my job. I still get nervous thinking about that. Just wanting so much to please and do the job. I have learned now to just ask questions and not stress about it.
Another big thing for me was seeing the transition in Jimmy Makar from Mad Dog to the person he is now. That has been amazing to see how he has mellowed, how he became a Christian in the process, got married, had kids, and became a dad. The growth in him as a person has been really neat to watch from the sidelines. He has been the glue here and the backbone that brought the racing expertise and knowledge to this company. When it came to the decision to stay in HR and build that department or move into the racing side. I just valued my work and relationship with the guys too much to give that up. It has been fun to see the growth and be a part of it. At the same time I am humbled to know that I have been a part of it, I have experienced different jobs and responsibilities and have worked for the Gibbs family for so long. I always say if they get out of racing, then I will sell bananas on the side of the road, I will run the Gibbs fruit stand just to be a part and to give my gratitude back to family for allowing me to work at such a great place. It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years.