Alex Fennig recently joined JHE from Roush Fenway Racing. As client services manager, Fennig’s responsibilities at JHE include serving as announcer manager at select IndyCar races and assisting with various special events such as Freightliner hospitality and the NASCAR Garage Bar and Grill.
I was thrilled to join the JHE team two months ago. My previous experience had been exclusively at Roush Fenway Racing where I served as events and hospitality manager overseeing the hospitality for all sponsors, both at track and at the headquarters, in addition to managing two sponsor summits each year. During the four years I worked there, I learned so much but was ready for a new challenge.
So far, the transition from one side of the NASCAR business to the other has been positive. Two of the biggest lessons I learned at Roush was to always make your clients happy and never, ever let them see you sweat. Those tips for success are something that I’m able to apply to the production side of the business as well.
Having so many assets under one roof has been a welcome change at JHE. The in-house abilities of the company make executing each project a bit simpler since you can work with your colleagues, as opposed to outside vendors, to make the entire production come together.
I’ve also transitioned to IndyCar which has been a huge change for me. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was the first IndyCar race I had ever watched or attended. The sport is a different beast than NASCAR with a different crowd and an overall more laid back feeling. As someone who traveled to 34 NASCAR races last year, it’s been a nice change of pace. When I am traveling, I love the family feel of JHE. The team that travels is smaller and younger which makes each trip that much more enjoyable.
So far, my proudest moment at JHE took place at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix when I was able to serve as announcer manager on my own for the first time. It was a “do it” moment and went exactly as planned. I can’t wait to experience more moments like that in the future at JHE.
– Alex Fennig
Alex Fennig, Roush Fenway Racing, Freightliner, NASCAR Garage Bar and Grill, NASCAR, IndyCar, Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Growing up in Indiana, my family attended the Indy 500 throughout my childhood. My father and I have traveled and attended numerous races on the schedule and still do to this day. As a longtime fan of the sport, I was thrilled when we won back the opening ceremony production contract for the series earlier this year.
I wasn’t working at JHE when we worked with IndyCar previously so this was a new experience for me to be behind-the-scenes at the races. While the sport itself is a different style than NASCAR, the production of opening ceremonies falls right in JHE’s wheelhouse.
When I arrived at the first race, I was excited to embark on my new journey into IndyCar. New title sponsor, Verizon has created a layout for the pre-race entertainment with the focus on fan engagement. Driver interviews, VIP speeches, flyovers, sky divers and more have become a staple each race weekend. JHE’s role is to support IndyCar as much as possible throughout race weekend which includes audio packages, coordinating TV coverage and managing the fan entertainment.
John Sheppard and Brad Baker are the dedicated truck drivers for the program and both worked with IndyCar at JHE years ago. Their knowledge has been invaluable in helping us get ramped up this season. JHE came onboard last minute this season so it has been a quick learning curve for most of the team members. However, our experience in opening ceremonies for other sports has made it an easy transition.
Our first logistical challenge came during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. After the Stadium Super Truck race concluded, we had 25 minutes to bring the stage on track while maneuvering it under two crossover bridges and several tire barriers. We then had to build and raise the pre-race stage. At the conclusion of driver introductions, we had only 10 minutes to tear down and lower the stage to clear the two crossover bridges and exit the track before the skydivers jumped. Thanks to hours of practice that weekend and similar experiences during NASCAR opening ceremonies at Martinsville Speedway, our team was able to complete the task in less than six minutes.
Our reception during IndyCar race weekends has been wonderful with everyone from clients to track representatives showcasing their support of JHE returning to the series. I’m excited to see how our influence can continue to grow in one of my favorite sports.
– Cody Kauffman, @TheVanWilder27
Cody Kauffman, IndyCar, Indy 500, opening ceremonies, John Sheppard, Brad Baker, Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, NASCAR
While my job in the special events department holds many responsibilities, one of my favorite roles to fill is announcer manager. Now what is that you might ask? As a member of the opening ceremonies team, the announcer manager manages everything the opening ceremonies emcee says from start to finish.
Prior to the race, the event producer feeds information to me, and I develop a script for the announcer. On-site, I finesse the script, make changes as they occur throughout the weekend and meet with the announcer to walk through the script before each race.
Once it is race time, the intensity increases quickly. I’m wearing a radio and listening to both the NASCAR and JHE teams. With communication coming from two sources, people are constantly talking to me and changes happen quickly. It’s key to stay on your toes for whatever is thrown at you. Being “in show” with so many moving parts is the most challenging part of the job but also my favorite aspect. Managing the momentum and anticipation of a live event is thrilling and becomes second nature with practice.
Though the job can be intense, it is also a nice break from the norm. I love traveling and exploring new cities as well as the opportunity to work with employees I don’t usually interact with and see faces that are always on the road. Occasionally known as the “road mom,” the job sometime calls for a random trip to the infield care center with a sick co-worker or an attempt at helping our hauler drivers make a meal. I’m no chef, but I can make a mean PB&J.
One of my favorite memories as an announcer manager is from Texas Motor Speedway when Eddie Gossage was serving as announcer for an IndyCar race. I was staring at Eddie’s toes while cueing him from the flagstand. It was definitely a different take on the role! Through a variety of different settings and challenges at the track, I’ve cemented a fun relationship with the permanent track announcer who is always up for a few practical jokes.
Everyone at JHE wears many hats, and this role is no different. It’s important to be flexible and willing to jump in wherever and whenever help is needed. When the opening ceremony ends, you feel a huge sense of accomplishment for being a part of the team who created such an impressive show.
– Kristin Thompson
Kristin Thompson, announcer manager, opening ceremonies, NASCAR, Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage, IndyCar
Our employees have several travel options for getting to the next live event. As the Fleet Administrator for JHE, yours truly opted to travel in style via one of our 18-wheel tractor trailer units. What better way to get a sneak peek of what it’s like to work an opening ceremony at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup AdvoCare 500 race.
Riding in a big semi gives you a new perspective on traveling down the highway. Seeing and experiencing firsthand some of the challenges a professional driver faces on today’s busy interstates has provided me with new insights to help strengthen our safety program. In addition to viewing road safety and compliance challenges from the driver’s perspective, there was also the fun side of traveling in a big rig. My driver for the day tells me, “Did you know you can see perfectly into the car traveling beside you?” This makes for very good people watching. Another perk? “Ladies – with all that room inside the cab you can also take as many suitcases as you want.” This was only a three day trip so I didn’t need that option. Besides with all my years of air travel I’ve learned how to pack but it is nice to know the option exists.
Once the equipment is parked the drivers work is not done. They now have to face the challenge of building the stage at the race track regardless of weather conditions. We lucked out in Atlanta and had no rain but the heat was definitely a factor. However, the JHE staff didn’t miss a beat and watching the events unfold over the course of the weekend was a thrill. Military-like precision dominated from the execution of the build to the run of show to the tear down making the ceremonies seem effortless. The comradery and professionalism were palpable and made you proud to be part of the team (even if only for the weekend).
Montgomery Gentry was the lead act of the weekend (Frank and William, if by sheer coincidence you are reading this, after meeting you and watching your performance you have made me an even bigger fan. Thanks for injecting some fun, humor, and excitement into a long day!). But after watching the JHE team members in action, the headliners were not the only rock stars in Atlanta. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to experience up close what JHE does so well.
In a blink of an eye, the show was packed up and ready to head back to Harrisburg, N.C. My trip back commenced and I didn’t worry as I knew I was in good hands. My chauffer for the evening, along with his entertaining steering wheel drum solos, had 14 years of “over the road” experience and had logged over 1.5 million miles. As hard as I tried to be a good ride buddy and stay awake somewhere along that long stretch of I-85 my ride turned dreamlike… Do I see a Vegas trip in my near future?
– Julie Alascio
Fleet, Julie Alascio, Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR, Sprint Cup, Montgomery Gentry