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Michael Jordan, Bubba Wallace, and Denny Hamlin are the three figures NASCAR fans think of first when the topic is 23XI Racing. Jordan is the money behind the Cup Series team, Wallace is the highly visible driver, and Hamlin is the face of the organization when big announcements like signing Tyler Reddick happen.

Behind the scenes, however, Steve Lauletta is making the big-picture decisions and plotting the future of 23XI.

When he’s not doing that, it sounds as though Lauletta dreams about plotting the demise of people who run the tracks.

Steve Lauletta is an experienced marketing and racing executive

A detail of the 23XI Racing logo on the #23 DoorDash Toyota, driven by Bubba Wallace on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, 2021. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
A detail of the 23XI Racing logo on the #23 DoorDash Toyota, driven by Bubba Wallace on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, 2021. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Once Michael Jordan bought into Denny Hamlin’s pitch for starting a new NASCAR Cup Series team for the 2021 season, the key hire was Steve Lauletta, brought aboard as the interim president of 23XI Racing.

Lauletta, a Notre Dame graduate, worked in sports marketing with Miller Brewing, a big player in racing sponsorships, and spent 10 years at Chip Ganassi Racing. Along the way, he started his own marketing consulting firm.

The interim label came off his title near the end of the debut season, and he’s been executing significant moves since. With Bubba Wallace in place as the team’s first driver in 2021, Lauletta rolled out the second 23XI car last season with Kurt Busch and worked with Hamlin in lining up Tyler Reddick as the newest driver of the No. 45 Toyota.

Why is Bubba Wallace’s boss talking about killing track executives?

Fifteen of Bubba Wallace’s sponsorships in points races last season at 23XI Racing came from companies that were in the driver’s portfolio in his final season at Richard Petty Motorsports. Root Insurance and Leidos, Dr Pepper, and Money Lion were also part of the 2022 lineup. They’ve filled out a sound balance of backers from the food and beverage, apparel, and finance sectors – all coveted by teams and leagues in any sport.

That’s one more reason why Steve Lauletta was a savvy hire at 23XI Racing, but he’s hardly alone in lining up the money that keeps NASCAR teams in business. Every organization is talking to prospective sponsors every week, and it’s a good bet Lauletta’s counterparts have the same complaint that he expressed on the Dale Jr. Download podcast.

“We’ve been lucky enough where we’ve brought new brands to this sport for 23XI, and as soon as we announce a brand, I will say every racetrack is calling them for sure,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with the tracks, and I simply say this: Why are your people calling the sponsor that I have a relationship with? They should call me because I have the relationship.

“’So, I can do one of two things. I can either help you or I can kill you. Why don’t you want me to help you? Because I want them to be part of all the other stuff,  but I don’t want you to be doing it around back doors and alleys and all the other things. Let’s work together on this.’”

‘They don’t know what to ask for’

Steve Lauletta’s frustration with people in other sectors of NASCAR talking to 23XI Racing’s sponsors is that they may not understand the prospective partner’s needs because the agency handling the account doesn’t know its way around NASCAR.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I just put the one solution in front of them?” Lauletta asked on the podcast. “It’s easier for me to do that because I know where to go (better) than somebody sitting in New York going, ‘What do I do?’

“Not only do they not want to talk to multiple people, they don’t know what to ask for. They have no idea. They’re never been to a race before potentially, so they wouldn’t know a suite in Daytona versus where do I sit in Sonoma. That’s on us to again as a group to just be smarter and help these big brands and smartest marketers on the planet figure out why they should be involved in NASCAR.”

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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