Bryan Herta’s tips on running a successful race team

By  | April 9, 2020 9:03 AM

Bryan Herta, owner of Bryan Herta Autosport, based in Brownsburg, Indiana, knows how to win races, both as a driver and a team owner.

With two wins in the CART Series and two in the IRL series as a driver; Herta has won the Indy 500 twice as an owner. In 2018, his team won the championship in the Pirelli World Challenge TCR class. Last year, Bryan Herta Autosport won the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Team Championship, with drivers Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis in the Hyundai Veloster TCR Race Car.

Herta co-founded BHA in 2009, partnering with Andretti Autosport in 2016; last year BHA announced a new partnership with Hyundai.

In short, BHA has established quite a success record. Asked his winning secret, Herta says, “Work with great people. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. If there is a secret, it’s the people. We have great drivers, great crew, great engineers – all their individual contributions as a whole make these great victories happen.”

He describes the culture at BHA as, “Stay hungry. Never allow yourself to coast, or feel that you’re good enough. I always want to feel like we are chasing someone, even if we’re not. I was always competitive as a kid, and it’s what drew me to racing in the first place. I am less of a car guy, believe it or not: it’s the competition that I really enjoy.

“My current partner Michael Andretti personifies that need to be hungry for success. I continue to be amazed at how much energy and focus he brings that drives the team forward. I try to emulate that quality in him.”

Herta appears to have a magic touch when it comes to drivers.

“I like to say I can have one conversation with a driver and develop a sense of if this is someone who can be successful or not,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve honed that sense.”

He enjoys sharing the knowledge of things he’d wished he’d known as a driver, understanding racing strategy from the other side of the pit wall. “When you’re driving, it’s a limited perspective,” he says. “On the team side, I try to share some of that insight with our drivers now.”

When developing his technical team, the first thing Herta looks for is attitude.

“We try to hire positive people with a positive attitude, because it’s a hard job; we are on the road a lot, sometimes working late at night, back at the track early in the morning,” he says. “If you don’t have a positive attitude to start with, it’s hard to maintain positivity. You have to really love it. This isn’t just a job you do; you have to be passionate about it.”

And to keep passionate tech members on his team, Herta says it’s important to listen to them, be good to them, and make sure they have “ownership in the team’s success. Recognize their contribution toward that, make sure when you win a race or a championship that everyone knows their own contribution.”

When it comes to planning, Herta notes, “Time is our most precious resource, not just on the stopwatch, but in looking ahead. It can be hard to have a three or five-year plan when you have one- or two-year contracts. You can only truly plan for what you know. But we try to plan and have longer-term goals, stay flexible, and react to changes. It’s the same way in race driving and strategy, you try to take all the information you have, and you have to react to those yellow flags in life, make those decisions in the moment, because they can be the most important ones.”

To be good at running a race team, he stresses it all comes back to people.

“Identify areas for improvement, areas of weakness; empower them to come up with solutions to address those,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to make it seem like I am doing everything. If I do anything right, it’s trying to put good people in the right positions and let them do what they are great at.”

Herta maintains race-ready consistency with his team through reciprocated loyalty and strong communication.

“We communicate to every member of the team, in the office, management, to part-time helpers for race weekend, full-time crew chief, or engineering staff,” he says. “You communicate the expectations, what you’re trying to achieve. The more people know about what we are trying to do, the easier it is for them to contribute. Everyone wants to feel like they know what’s going on, and what they are working towards.”

Just the logistics of moving a team can be daunting and expensive. Herta offers this advice.

“It’s the simple things that are important, making sure the crew is fed; when we look at hotels and travel arrangements, we try to look at places that are clean, nice, have restaurants nearby,” he says. “You want to take care of the guys, because it’s the little things that get under your skin as the season wears on. We try to minimize those kinds of irritations.”

Asked how to build a successful sponsorship program and the amount of time a race team owner should devote to sponsors and sponsorship money, he admits, “There’s never enough time.

“It’s a never-ending process, you can’t shut that down. You have to execute and operate as a team, have a plan in place, and communicate with all the staff. But even if you do all those things, you still need great partners as the building blocks for any success in motorsports. I spend 70 percent of my time on those endeavors. That’s a lot, and it’s probably my least favorite part, but it’s also the most important part. To have good people, you need give them the tools to do what they are good at, which requires great sponsors, great partners to give them the tools. That’s where I really see my role: giving them those tools to be successful.”

Summing up, Herta recalls, “One of the IndyCar team owners once described running a team as taking everything you’ve got, plus a little bit more. I’ve found that to be true. If you are really passionate about it, and you love it, it’s one of the most rewarding things you could possibly do. I feel very fortunate to wake up every morning and do the thing that I most want to do.”

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