Chance Meeting On A Street In Vegas Leads To Nascar Sponsorship
In November of last year, Kevin Briscoe emerged from a Las Vegas restaurant. He was wearing a blue hat Ford with the No. 98 on the side, the No, 98 being the Ford his son Chase campaigns in the Nascar Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. The Nascar season was nearing the end and with no funding for the following season, the team was in real danger of shutting down. It was something Chase had faced throughout his racing career.
“My family, in general, didn’t have any money, didn’t really have any money to take me racing or buy new stuff,” Chase said. “There were multiple times where my career in the dirt world was nearly done and we would manage to get a 500- or 1000-dollar sponsorship or whatever and be able to go the next couple of weekends.”
Call it a twist of fate, or divine intervention perhaps but Chase’s dad wasn’t even supposed to be in Las Vegas. Kevin, an accomplished local racer in his own right, had turned his attention to supporting his son’s racing career. Kevin had always wanted to attend the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show focused on performance enthusiasts and racers. But with the show closed to the public, Kevin was never able to get passes. That changed when Chase had to cancel a scheduled appearance at the show. He gave his dad his passes and on the evening of the second day, Kevin went to get dinner.
‘Hey Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas.’ Kevin heard as he exited from that restaurant. He stopped; a stranger walked up. ‘I’m a big Nascar guy, I saw the 98 on your hat,’ the man said.
The ‘stranger’ turned out to be Mike Mendiburu CEO of HighPoint, an IT integration services company that started in the New Jersey home of Mr. Mendiburu over two decades earlier. The company has since grown into a multimillion-dollar business with offices in the U.S. and Europe. Mendiburu was in Vegas for an IT conference and had just come out of a nearby restaurant into the throngs of people crowding the Strip. He recalled the chance encounter with Kevin Briscoe.
“He stops and he looks at me like I got three heads,” Mike said chuckling. “I walk up to him and I said, ‘Hey, are you with Steward Haas?’
“And he goes, ‘no, Chase is my son’. I go, ‘wow’. I go ‘you’re kidding’. And he goes, ‘no’.”
It turned out Mendiburu was a fan of Nascar and in particular the young driver Chase Briscoe. He told Kevin:
“‘Here’s the deal Mister Briscoe. Number One, I love the way you’ve raised your son, he’s a great young man. Number Two, I love the way he conducts himself. He’s got standards, he’s got high moral values.
“He’s great for the sport,” Mike told Kevin. “He’s a great ambassador for the sport and here’s my business card. And if I can ever help him in any way, Have him call me if he wants to learn how to talk to executives or talk about sponsorship or just how to talk about business, he can call me anytime.”
While it may seem random, the foundation for Mike’s enthusiasm had been built several years prior.
Mike’s wife had grown up a fan attending races with her dad and Mike’s oldest son had left the family business and started his own marketing agency whose clients included drivers in the Xfinity and ARCA series. This further drew the family into the sport.
“We’re big Ford people at our house,” he said. “We really latched onto Stewart-Haas racing. And, in the Xfinity series really started to follow Cole (Custer).
In October of 2018, Mike took his younger son to Dover International Speedway for his 13th birthday. A friend gave him two hot passes. While walking around the garage area, Mike noticed a crew member from Stewart-Haas Racing. He asked and the crewman told him the team ran the 00 car for Custer and a second car part-time. Mike mentioned his company and that he was trying to learn more about the sport. It just so happened they were standing outside Custer’s hauler. It wasn’t long before he was introduced to Joe Custer, Cole’s dad. Mike and his son were given a tour of the hauler by Joe, then invited to the grid pre-race and ended up watching the Xfinity race from the driver’s pit box.
“We had a great time, pretty memorable birthday,” He said. But that wasn’t the end of the relationship with Joe Custer. “We exchanged our cards and stayed in touch and had a couple of phone calls and just talked about sports marketing and business.”
As for sponsorship, Mike wasn’t ready to commit. A year later, in October of 2019, Joe Custer again called Mike asking if he would be interested in sponsoring Cole as the driver was making the move to the Nascar Cup series in 2020.
“I don’t think so,” Mike said he told Joe. “Number One, I don’t think it makes sense for us to jump into Cup as a new partner. And number two, you guys already have some IT partners. I just don’t think it makes sense.”
A month later Mike was walking out of that restaurant in Vegas. Out of that chance meeting with Kevin Briscoe, Mike’s business card ended up with the marketing team at Stewart-Haas, who called. This time he was ready to make the commitment.
So, what changed?
“The only reason that happened is because of who Chase is and how he conducts himself,” Mike said. He then added. “You know, if there was a different number on his hat, I might have said something different… I called (Kevin) out because I’m like, man, I’m celebrating what this young man is about.”
HighPoint signed on to be a primary sponsor of Chase for the 2020 Xfinity season saving the team from shutting down.
“The fit is really, really, really aligned between how Chase conducts himself, how we try to operate here at HighPoint,” Mike said. “it’s all about humility and serving others and doing the right thing, honesty, integrity, and trust. And that’s, that’s the way Chase is.”
The fit was right for the driver as well.
“They are almost like family,” Chase said. “The relationship that we have with the entire Mendiburu family especially Mike. He just is a great guy, a great friend, it feels like family and that’s what you want. You want these to not be sponsorships, you want them to be relationships and that’s what I have with Mike, the entire Mendiburu family, and everybody at HighPoint. “
The magnitude of the sponsorship became apparent even before the first race of 2020 while Mike was at Daytona in February.
“I’m standing in the infield on Saturday,” Mike said. “There are some cars going around in the morning for practice, back when he had practice, and I’m standing there in front of the ISM Vision screen, talking to somebody and they, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, Mike, turn around’. I turned around and I see our car is the only thing on the screen, right there, just there zooming in and following our car around the track. That was the first time I ever saw it. I only ever saw a bunch of renderings and emails and all that good stuff. Never actually saw the article. And I saw it on the track, and I like jumping out of my skin. I yelled like a little schoolgirl. I jumped up, said, pinch me.”
Chase would go on to win his first of nine races the following week, ironically, at Las Vegas. The season however would come to a halt due to the pandemic just a few weeks later. A nearly 10-week shutdown would follow. Weeks with no races, followed by races, but no fans. This meant no at-track activities sponsors usually enjoy as part of their sponsorship.
Mike Mendiburu however isn’t fazed. He said the sponsorship felt right when he committed, and it still does.
“You know, no one could have really, I think orchestrated or predicted any of what’s happened this year,” he said. “Whether it’s on the business front or the pandemic front, or even on the personal side for Chase and (Chase’s wife) Marissa and the family. Man. I can’t be any happier about everything because Chase and HighPoint, we’re so aligned in our cultures. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about great alignment and partnership. And I’m humbled by it. The same thing with the Stewart Haas team. You know, as we’ve gotten to know them better and better and how they conduct themselves and how they operate and how they deliver on promises and commitments. It couldn’t be any better.”
HighPoint will follow Chase Briscoe to the Nascar Cup series in 2021.
“To have a sponsor this year in HighPoint and to also move up with me to Cup,” Chase said. “That’s a huge thing to be able to have a sponsor that will continue to go with you wherever you go. Hopefully, for many more years to come, this will be the beginning of the HighPoint story with myself in racing.”
Mike said he, and HighPoint, are ready.
“We’re on the offense usually, “he said. “We don’t play a lot of defense at HighPoint. This was an opportunity. It’s a lot like the drivers, you know, they get opportunities and they got to make decisions. So this was an opportunity to help Chase, move to Cup, we wanted to be part of that.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty. But we’re not going to pull back and hide. We’re going to lean in and take advantage of the opportunity.
“I don’t know how it’s going to work,” he added. “You know, there’s definitely a high risk involved here, the unknown about next year’s schedule and, garage access, track, attendance, all that stuff it’s all out there, but here it is, we’re faced with the opportunity. Chase is ready. We’re ready. “
Chase was one of four drivers racing for the Xfinity season title in Phoenix Saturday. He came up short of winning the Xfinity series title but with his move to Cup next season already sponsored, the jackpot the family came into on the Las Vegas Strip will pay off handsomely for some time to come.