20 years at JGR: Meet "Pern"
Dave Alpern, Vice President of Marketing, is currently in his 19th year here at Joe Gibbs Racing. Dave began his career at JGR as a recent college graduate, working out of a broom closet as a unpaid project intern. Currently he oversees all aspects of marketing for the team, including customer products, branding, marketing activation, social media and assists in driver management and negotiation. Dave’s integrity, sense of humor, and strong ability to communicate are a few reasons why he is one of the longest tenured marketing executives in the sport.
What do you do on a daily basis?
Joe’s been trying to figure that out for a long time. I work on everything that doesn’t have to do with competition, or making a car go faster, or anything technical. So everything from driver contracts to toys to social media and public relations. I have people that handle each area so technically I don’t do anything except make sure the people who are doing those things are doing it right.
What did you do before you came to Joe Gibbs Racing?
I was a college student at George Mason University and came here right after college. I got my degree in communications and broadcasting with the dream of becoming a Sports Center anchor. So, I failed miserably in my life goal.
The only jobs I had before I came here were your typical college jobs. I worked every summer at Nordstrom’s selling ladies shoes. As a matter of fact, I was a personal shopper. I also worked at a surf shop and that was where I met my wife.
What is your connection to the Gibbs family?
JD and I went to junior high and high school together. I met JD in 7th grade and he actually spent the night at my house the weekend his dad fell to 0-5 during his first season coaching with the Redskins. I remember telling him too bad you’re not going to be here very long because I figured his dad was going to get fired and he’d have to move somewhere else. Luckily I was wrong and things turned out well.
When JD and I went to high school, although I loved football, unfortunately I was not gifted with size and didn’t play on the team with him. We would play flag football and stuff together but I never played on the team with him. He was still nice to me even though he was the quarterback. He actually was the starting quarterback as a sophomore on the varsity team- that was kind of a big deal.
We went to different colleges and just kept up throughout the years and would see each other when we were home on breaks. When I graduated, I actually graduated before he did because he was on the 5-year plan, so they asked if I could help as an intern when I still lived in the DC area for this new race team they were starting. I figured it would last about 6 months and look good on my resume, and now 20 years later they still haven’t gotten rid of me.
People ask me all the time what it’s like essentially having your best friend as your boss? It’s definitely different, but the Gibbs family is like nobody I’ve ever met. Of everyone I’ve ever met in my whole life, I would put JD and Joe at the top in terms of character. I am around them more than anybody except their wives, and they are the real deal. They are as solid and as genuine as you can get. JD and his dad are completely different, other than the character part. Joe is very fiery, he is a coach, he can be emotional and he doesn’t get mad very often but when he does you definitely take notice. JD is steady Eddie. If you could picture me holding my fingers an inch apart, JD’s excited and depressed are about an inch apart. There is no wavering. He is steady, steady, steady all the time. He doesn’t get rattled up and is so even keeled which is good in this business. Joe and JD approach every decision in a very prayerful, clear way and are able to look past emotions to make very sound decisions.
They are great to work with, and are competitive and expect a lot, but at the same time, JD is a lot like me in that there is the work hard, play hard mentality. We like to snowboard and mountain bike, and coach our kids, and experience life. At the same time we want to win at work. Joe has a motor like no one I’ve ever met, because he never stops. Joe can take a red-eye and come straight to work and work all day. He literally never stops and has a capacity for lack of sleep that I’ve never seen in anybody else that he learned from coaching. It’s really incredible.
Why did you choose to stay at JGR?
There have been a lot of opportunities for other things just because you meet a lot of people and work with a lot of companies, but I tell people all the time it’s not what we’re doing it’s who I’m doing it with. We could be selling coat hangers and it wouldn’t really matter to me. I’m not here because of racing. I like racing, I believe in racing, so that’s kind of a bonus but it’s more about the people I’m doing it with. I’ve been here long enough that I feel like when I watch those cars, that they are my cars. I look at those just as though it was my race team and the thought of watching a race without having any skin in the game would kill me. When that feeling ends, and I don’t have that passion for it anymore, I’ll know I’m done. Hopefully that won’t ever happen.
Do you ever think about pursuing a career in sports broadcasting?
No, I’ve realized that train has probably left the station and I’m okay with that. I have no regrets because if you know you’re where God wants you to be then you feel good about it. I know this is where I am supposed to be. We started “The Show,” (on joegibbsracing.com) so I can get my little broadcasting fix and feel like I’m using something that I spent four years of college learning to do. I talked about having a show for years before Boris (JGR webmaster Bryan Cook) got here. Once we had someone that could actually put it together, package it and put it on the internet- skills that I didn’t have- it became a reality. It’s just a little show on the Internet but we have a lot of fun filming it.
“The Show” was really inspired by our Christmas video, which is something we started doing about 11 years ago, that was supposed to be just team highlights for the Christmas party that we have for JGR employees. The first Christmas video was five minutes of highlights and a couple skits. Now it has turned into a 45-minute video that just happens to have some highlights, but it’s all skits. It’s like an episode of Saturday Night Live, which is our inspiration for a lot of the skits. We get the drivers involved but it’s not released to the public, nor does it go on YouTube, so the drivers know that they can make fun of themselves and no one is going to see it.
Every year the drivers come up to me and ask what they are doing in the Christmas video. Our old drivers will still ask me in the garage area when I am going to ask them to film something, because they really love filming it and have a lot of fun with it. Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte were in it last year. The drivers get really into it and they are a lot funnier then you may think. Anyway, “The Show” is a toned down spin-off of the Christmas video because we thought it would be a fun thing for people to see. The drivers are also on “The Show,” and each episode will usually have one of the drivers doing something. Whether it’s Kyle having his wife straighten Boris’s hair, to Joey driving a showcar on the street, or Denny talking about his crew cut- we’ve had a lot of different driver interactions.
What was your first year at JGR like?
I worked in a broom closet. When they hired me I had finished college and wanted to get engaged but first wanted to figure out what I was doing with my life. The plan was either to go into full-time ministry with Young Life or I was going to do something else. I got the call from JGR on a Thursday asking if I could move to Charlotte on Monday and figured that was my answer.
We had this little building that had no offices left and so they cleared out a broom closet that was honestly 8 feet by 8 feet and had no windows in it. I think they felt bad for me because they put trim stuff around the floor to make it look like a room and barely squeezed a little desk in there. So I came down and worked in a broom closet and didn’t have a job description because I would really just do anything. It was Todd Meredith, JD and I, and JGR had a general manager the first 6 months while we were still in college and that person left and we were all three hired for less than that one guy was making. They figured that between the three of us, we’d at least pick up the business so we each split up the duties. We would push speakerphone, Todd, JD and I, and say, “What are you working on? You need any help?” We would just go into each other’s offices and try to figure it out. There was no blueprint. There were no job descriptions. It was a brand new race team and no one knew what they were doing, so we just made it up. It was awesome. Back then we were in a tiny building with nowhere to go eat, and now we’re in a 250,000 square-foot building with restaurants all over the place. Now there is too much to do and at that time there was not enough to do. We’re all three still here, although those guys go to more races than I do!
I do recall, and I’m still living it down to this day, that one day in the early years, JD and I had a typing contest to see who could type the fastest. We made the mistake of telling our wives so to this day, when things get busy, they’ll say something like did you have a typing contest today? However, I’m sure that I won the typing contest.
What has been your favorite part of working at Joe Gibbs Racing?
My favorite thing is probably getting to meet a lot of different people. You make a lot of relationships with the sponsors that we deal with, at the racetrack you get to meet a ton of people.
My favorite story about meeting people would have to be at a Daytona 500 when the Passion of the Christ was about to come out on film, and Interstate Batteries painted their car up to promote the movie. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, came to the race and we were in charge of hosting him. My wife and I were hosting him and his wife. So we are walking around the Daytona 500 with Jim Caviezel. President Bush was also at the race and the security was really tight so you couldn’t go anywhere. I remember at the national anthem you had President Bush standing right in front of our pit wall, and there was an armored suburban with a gunner in the back holding a machine gun and of course all the secret service agents. So you have that, and I have Jesus, Jim Caviezel, standing right next to me, and Kid Rock was Tony Stewart’s guest at that race so he was right there as well. Within a 10-foot space, you had Kid Rock, the President and Jim Caviezel. I remember thinking to myself, “This is a great sport. I love this job.” That is probably the only time those three people will ever be in the same spot, and probably never will be again. That’s the kind of thing that you take for granted, it’s a pretty cool job.
What moment will you always remember from JGR?
My favorite memories stem around the championships and the feelings of accomplishment. The best part about the championship is not the racetrack experience but when you get to celebrate it. I’ll never forget that first one when we went to The Waldorf in New York City and at one table it was my wife and I, the Gibbs’ and the Meredith’s, and we had a better seat then Jeff Gordon did. My wife’s head was actually blocking Jeff Gordon’s view of the stage and I was like “I bet he’s ticked off thinking “who are these people?” and why am I not sitting there? It was really then that you realize how awesome it was, and I know everyone at our table was thinking how the heck did we do this? There was a sense of accomplishment sitting at that table at the first banquet and remembering this is what the banquet is supposed to be like. We go to this thing every year and celebrate somebody else, but when it’s your team it’s really special. We’ve won three of them and celebrating at the championship is really the peak of what we do. It never gets old.
What is something that you’ve helped change since you’ve been here?
We didn’t have a PR staff until a few years ago when we hired Joe’s PR person from the Redskins after he finished “Coaching Part 2”. After that JD thought I was crazy when I told him we needed to bring in another person to be in charge of social media-and were by far the first team to hire somebody where that was their full time job. The idea behind it was originally our lowest traffic day on our website was Sunday and we thought that didn’t make any sense because that’s our most important day of the week. So, we discussed sending someone to the racetrack to be the hometown broadcast and give the play-by-play for our fans and our sponsors. We had a bunch of candidates, but we picked Boris. He does an awesome job with that- honestly I can’t imagine watching a race now without following Boris’ feed. And beyond that he’s created apps and done a lot of other things so I definitely take credit for hiring Boris.
What has been your greatest accomplishment here at JGR?
You know, since I tell my kids all the time I’m more interested in who you are then what you do, I will try to base my answer on that principle. I’ve done a lot of “stuff”, but I am most proud that after 20 years in the business world I can look my wife, my kids, my employers, my counterparts, and our customers in the eyes and say I’ve done things with integrity and with the interests of others in the forefront. I have zero regrets.
If I had to pinpoint a single accomplishment, I would probably say it would be something that is almost unrelated to my day-to-day job, but I take credit for Tony Stewart. In 1998, we were talking about expanding to a second team and in one of our management meetings I said the guy we need to get is this open wheel kid named Tony Stewart. Joe said, “Who?” And as Joe started asking around about Tony Stewart everyone said if you can get him he’d be phenomenal but you’re not going to get him because he’s the Indy Car champion and he’s not going to come race full-time over here. I went with Joe to all the recruiting trips to get Tony, and the rest was history. I feel like I had a small part in that course of history when he chose to come to NASCAR and here to Joe Gibbs Racing and won us two championships.