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A Conversation with Big Machine Label Group President and CEO Scott Borchetta

Involvement in racing is more than just a smart business strategy for Big Machine Label Group President and CEO Scott Borchetta. The sport has flowed through his veins since he was a boy.

Borchetta has raced since his childhood days in Southern California and is a turbocharged believer in the power of motorsports both in the cockpit and off track with race fans and music lovers.

His Nashville-based company’s continuing partnership with the annual NASCAR weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is much more than a sponsorship – the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line is a passion play by Borchetta.

This is the third consecutive year Big Machine has served as the title sponsor of the Brickyard race, but the company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have enjoyed a fruitful, successful partnership for nearly a decade. Big Machine’s racing successes include back-to-back Indianapolis 500 wins with the late Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti in 2011 and 2012, and the company also sponsors NTT IndyCar Series champions Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan.

Borchetta recently discussed with IMS.com all facets of his passion for motorsports, the Racing Capital of the World, the NASCAR weekend at IMS and many other topics:

Q: What’s your first racing memory and your favorite racing memory?

Scott Borchetta: My very first racing memory is the inaugural California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway. Something that has stuck with me through today and will be with me for the rest of my life was that Johnny Lightning car (Al Unser). There’s elements of the lightning bolt that have been in my racing logo ever since. And that turned us on to the Unser brothers, and we have become very good friends with Bobby (Unser) over the last several years, and I own a couple of Bobby’s important Eagles from ’67 and ’72. So, that’s my first and most important racing memory because it literally goes through to today. We talk to Bobby almost every week. He’s super, and his stories are unbelievable. He’s just so full of life. The Unser brothers made a huge impact on me and my brother, Mark.

Q: Car culture is so important in California, where you grew up, and there’s such a rich racing history.

SB: Oh, yeah. If you look at that, that’s where Dan Gurney and Parnelli (Jones) and all of those guys were. You look even at the music of the day, with The Beach Boys and so many others, just musically, it was a really important part of car culture, for sure.

Q: You have competed in the SVRA Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational at IMS. How do you enjoy that experience, and how much does it enhance your respect for professional drivers in elite series?

SB: Every time I walk through the tunnel (at IMS), it feels like it’s hallowed ground. I never take it for granted. And the fact we got to race there this year and actually win Group 6 was such a special moment. Standing up on that podium and doing the milk and the whole thing … We’ve had the good fortune of being part of two “500” winners with Dan Wheldon in 2011 and then repeating the next year with Dario Franchitti in 2012, so we’ve had a lot of wonderful memories at IMS. But winning the Group 6 SVRA race in the ’72 Corvette, that was on the bucket list, for sure.

Q: This excitement for FGL Fest is amped up even more this year because it’s two years in the making due to the rainout last year. You must be thrilled with the lineup and where everything stands heading into Saturday evening?

SB: We’re so excited. The fans of Indy and the surrounding areas have stepped up. Our ticket sales are incredible, and Saturday night is going to be a knockdown, drag-out country rock-and-roll party at IMS, and I can’t wait. Florida Georgia Line is completely in the zone, and Dan + Shay are on a huge trajectory. You’ve got Nelly, who is always the party. It is going to be incredible, and I’m feeling the buzz just being in town here for the last 24 hours. It’s everything right now today that we hoped it would be a couple of years ago when we put this idea together.

Q: We’re hearing really positive feedback around town about the crossover appeal of the lineup. Was that your intent when this idea came about two years ago?

SB: Yeah, and that also reflects on Florida Georgia Line. They are really responsible for working with us on curating the lineup. They have multi-genre appeal. Even though country is No. 1 for them, they had huge pop hits, as well, whether it’s “Cruise” with Nelly or “Meant To Be” with Bebe Rexha. That’s a shared vision. If we’re going to put on a festival, what’s the biggest, loudest, coolest festival we can put on. This is it.

Q: Have you given the guys from Florida Georgia Line any tips on giving the command for drivers to their cars on Sunday?

SB: You know what? They’re both athletes. They’ve been to races before. I’ve had Tyler (Hubbard) at the Indy 500 with me. They know what to do. The boys, BK (Brian Kelley) and T, know what to do.

Q: It must be exciting for you to integrate your artists into the race experience, NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of your sponsorship of the Brickyard weekend, especially since motorsports is so important for you.

SB: Yeah. That’s something we’ve been doing for a long time incrementally. It’s one thing for us to do it from a vanity perspective because we love it. But the vodka brand has really brought it full circle, where now we have a real piece of business to build. It’s one thing for me to support it and for the label to support it, but there’s not a direct connection. If you call it the Big Machine Records 400, that’s not really promoting a specific artist or anything else. But now to say the Big Machine Vodka 400, that’s self-explanatory. That’s a party. That’s a great product. If you are a drinker of vodka, if you haven’t tried ours, try it, and it will become your favorite. We’ve really bridged the gap now to really creating a return on our investment.

Q: A few years back, this event was Saturday and Sunday, and some people said it might need a recharge. Now here we are with a Florida Georgia Line-headlined festival on Saturday night that’s selling amazingly, The Dirt Track has been a success two years in a row, and last year Big Machine Vodka was on a car. You’ve got Florida Georgia Line serving as grand marshals of the race on Sunday. A lot of palpable excitement, and the weekend looks longer and better than it did just a couple of years ago. We’re grateful for all you’ve done to make that happen. When does your head start to think about next year and the next evolution of this partnership and race weekend for fans?

SB: It started a couple of months ago. We knew that we had a winner this year. If the weather cooperated, we knew our FGL Fest lineup was a winner, and we were able to announce it very early, so our ticket sales were strong out of the box. Moving to July 4th weekend next year and knowing that FGL are going to be back for 2020, so we will have FGL Fest. We’re exploring a possible second night of music. So, there’s a lot of plans. We’re already talking what we’re going to do to the logo to reflect it being July 4th weekend and how we can build on all of our activations. Any time you’re building a festival in a weekend, it doesn’t mean it’s a success the first year. You ask anybody who does these things, the second year starts to make sense, and the third year is like, “OK, we’re in business.” And it’s pretty much aligned to that. So we’re in business this year, and next year, the July 4th weekend, I think it’s a huge party opportunity. Imagine having fireworks at the Speedway after FGL has the downbeat of “Cruise.” I’m already excited about next year because it’s going to be fantastic. And then working and observing what NASCAR is always doing to make the racing better and bringing up the young stars. I think we’re way down the road, and I promise you 2020 is going to be even better.

 
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