Brent Dewar’s Twitter biography leads with his heart: “Car guy.” How he got there is the story of life-altering exposure to speed from his childhood, what started as a proving ground for the future President of NASCAR.
His father was a high school principal — a great man, Dewar says, “but probably the biggest non-car guy you would ever meet.” As a boy growing up in western Canada, nearby circle-track racing was scarce. But as he transitioned to his middle-school years, Dewar savored two experiences that fueled a lifelong passion.
A morning airing of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” introduced him to his first sight of auto racing, with Chevrolet Corvettes flashing across his TV screen. Along the same time frame, a classmate brought Dewar to a local drag strip, providing the true sensation of speed and the accompanying sensory overload to go along with the visuals.
“That kind of got the bug in my blood,” Dewar says.
RELATED: Dewar named President of NASCAR
Years later, Dewar has taken the next stage in his devotion to the automotive life with his promotion last Thursday to President of NASCAR. The move follows his background in helping chart the course of General Motors as a senior executive with global oversight. And Dewar’s role in helping shape modern stock-car racing even pre-dates his hiring by NASCAR in December 2013.
The responsibilities of his job are extensive, requiring deft coordination of all facets of the NASCAR industry. But at the heart of his role is the love of cars, competition and the need to dutifully pass that enthusiasm on to a new generation of fans.
For Dewar, that duty has started at home, bringing his 10-year-old daughter and her schoolmates to the races.
“I still get a kick out of it, seeing people experience all the sights and sounds and smells for the very first time at a track,” Dewar says.” And I know if we can do it right, we’ve got a shot at making them a fan for life.”
Dewar has made a life’s work from those earliest experiences. When General Motors came calling on a college recruiting trip, he answered. Realizing the moment might provide the opportunity to inch closer to his Corvette dream car, Dewar cinched his tie a little straighter and ramped up his attentiveness. Several interviews later, he got the job.
His three decades with the company eventually exposed him to the global workings of GM. It also helped Dewar realize his dream of overseeing the launch of the sixth-generation Corvette. But his time there also gave him a connection to the company that ran deeper than a simple employer-employee relationship.
“You realize the sense of responsibility and custodianship of nurturing the brand. You’ve got to harvest it, water it, grow it and all those kind of things,” said Dewar, noting the influence of racer Louis Chevrolet, who co-founded the company in 1911. “I liken that to the same here. NASCAR is an amazingly successful American brand, but it’s also a global brand.
“That history was found on the American spirit in 1948. Our sport was founded on faith and country and patriotism and obviously, family. Those core values are as true today as they were in 1948. So being in this position and being one of the leaders of the company is to make sure that we keep us true to that, but also in a very modern and reflective way.”
Part of the modernization effort has been to instill a binding sense of cooperation for the industry’s stakeholders — teams, tracks, drivers and automakers. Dewar indicated that it starts by listening, soliciting feedback and then working together for the betterment of the sport.
The goals may be common ones, but finding a consensus among all the voices, Dewar says, takes time, effort and compromise.
“I would say across all the councils, to be candid, it’s much harder to do it this way,” Dewar said. “It’s much easier to be in a vacuum and make your decisions, but if you get the right inputs, not everyone’s going to agree, but you have a chance at making a better decision. We’re all legs on a stool of this great sport. That’s been my passion, and collaboration is the operative word for myself and my team, and I think it’s genuine.”
With his pedigree in the automotive world, Dewar’s recent work with NASCAR’s three manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — has been a natural fit.
“(Our manufacturers) want to beat each other, and they want to beat each other in the marketplace and on the track, but we come together as a group to plan the next steps. You’ll see that as an ongoing process, but you’ll also see us come together as we plan the next-generation car.”
Though Dewar’s ascension owes plenty to his time with Chevrolet, he’s also learned to be impartial as part of his role with the sanctioning body, which boasts three manufacturers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The prospect of bringing more carmakers into the competition would entail change, something that has required a delicate balance for NASCAR’s upper management in recent years. In a relatively short span, the sport has shifted entitlement sponsors, racing procedures and postseason formats. Other car-specific alterations have brought new dimensions to the racing, and the season schedule is set for a significant overhaul in 2018.
While reaching out to new fans has been a vital mission, keeping NASCAR’s diehard “core” fans engaged has remained an equal priority. And for fans who may have lapsed during the recent advances and enhancements, Dewar says the invitation to the sport’s offerings is just as open.
“If you haven’t been around NASCAR for the last five years, you probably don’t know us,” Dewar says. “It’s probably one of the hardest things that any company or brand goes through is perceptions, and so we have some perceptions through history that can be not only positive but can be less than positive. This is a very innovative company, an innovative sport and I think that surprises people, not in just America. If you’re living in Europe or Asia or anywhere else, we can be a sport for you.
“I think that’s what I’d like them to know, that if you haven’t been around us for a while, don’t judge us, come see us. I think the racing today, and I’ve been watching this for a long time, is as good as it’s ever been. Just seeing the screaming of my daughter when Ryan Blaney won at Pocono, it’s true joy. It’s like for me growing up in Canada when my team won the Stanley Cup the first time and that feeling I had, I saw in my daughter. It’s raw emotion, and it’s something special with this sport.”
From one generation to the next, Dewar’s role as both a fan and a leader of the sport has made a full-circle trip. Those earliest days of yearning for Corvettes and drag-strip afternoons have sustained him, sparking his rise to become just the fourth person to be named NASCAR President.
Though it’s been barely a week since his appointment to the post, Dewar said the well-wishes in the days since the announcement have been overwhelming. So, too, is any possible burden that comes with knowing that his predecessors’ last names are France, France and Helton.
“I would say the outpouring of e-mails and notes and to learn that I’m the fourth president, it is humbling and it’s a great honor to be given this opportunity by the France family and being embraced by the industry,” Dewar said. “It’s very gratifying.”