Between the  Motos: James Hanson

Between the Motos James Hanson

December 18, 2013 12:20pm
Rockstar Energy has been an influential part of supercross and motocross globally for many years. Sponsoring series, riders and teams, the brand has become synonymous with the sport. The work that goes into the marketing and branding of the company is demanding, but also a necessity. James Hanson has been with Rockstar since 2005 and is currently the Rockstar Energy Drink Global Motocross Manager. We caught up with him earlier this week to find out more about his position with the company.

Racer X: You’re the Rockstar Energy Drink Global Motocross Manager. Can you explain what the job actually entails?
James Hanson: Yeah, my title is Rockstar Energy Drink Global Motocross Manager. It kind of differentiates it so people understand I’m not the team manager of the [Rockstar Energy Racing KTM] team. I’m the team manager of the sponsor of multiple teams. We don’t like to take away from what the team managers do. A lot of people don’t realize that separation. People are asking me if I work for KTM now, for example. I’m like, “No, I work for Rockstar.” So basically I manage all of our motocross properties globally, with Rockstar Energy Suzuki over in Europe and our teams in the U.S. I basically manage all the athletes, all the teams, all the sponsor stuff, get contracts, build the website, build and run Facebook and social stuff for MX. Anything that has anything to do with motocross worldwide I oversee. It’s kind of a wide array of things.

James Hanson (left) has been with Rockstar since 2005.
Simon Cudby photo

Walk us through what a normal race day is like for you.
Supercross is a long day. It can be anywhere from a 15 to an 18-hour day. You get to the track around 7:30 or 8:00, got to take care of making sure all the teams have their product and all their branding looks good, and getting them ice to make sure that their hospitality is taken care of. Make sure the athletes have everything they need and I have all my stuff for podiums. Also I have to take care of all of our sales guys’ needs because a big part of marketing and sponsoring a team is the sales side of things because obviously selling Rockstar is the company’s goal as a whole. So a lot of that has to do with VIPs who are major buyers of Rockstar. Maybe they own ten 7-Eleven’s or maybe they run a distributor. So you take care of them and keep them happy, and then they continue wanting to bring Rockstar into their store and sell it. It’s like a whole big circle between marketing and sales. So I try and keep all of that together. And then we do social stuff all day, with practice and into the races, and take care of the podium stuff. So if any of my guys get on the podium… when they do get on the podium that’s what turns the night into a much later night, where you’re down by the podium waiting for your guy. I don’t like to leave the track before any of the guys leave the track. I like to stay there as long as they do. Even walking back from the podium to the truck I want to make sure they’re okay, and there are no creepy fans attacking them. But I love watching racing. I get really emotional on the side of the track, whether they’re doing good or bad. I really get into it, like I’m inside their helmet. I’m pumped actually on the semis coming back this year and watching more racing. I still love it, every time they get on the track. It’s awesome.

How did you get into this position? I know you used to race yourself.
I raced myself. I’ve been racing again every weekend this month and I’m doing the High Point Arenacross series locally, so that’s pretty cool too, actually. I was racing and somebody got a hold of somebody I knew from racing looking for a person to manage marketing, basically in the Northwestern quarter of the US. I did a little interview and then got the job and managed marketing for a little while. Initially, just because I had more experience in the sport being than anyone else in the company, I just started managing our amateur team, which at the time actually was 28 riders so it was a pretty big thing to take on. That expanded further into pro stuff in the U.S. and then eventually into managing everything globally. The majority of the marketing thing kind of went away and it turned into motocross manager. But I still do some events up in the Northwest, which means I’m going to the track when I’m here. Even when I’m at home I’m going to races every weekend, so it never really stops.

In your job you do have to manage a lot of different personalities. You’re not just managing one rider; you’re managing up to ten. How do you balance all of those different personalities?
I think it’s important just to be yourself. You do treat guys differently, but it’s just like life. You kind of get a vibe. But I think it’s a big deal to have come from the sport myself so I understand a lot of what the guys are going through. It’s so different from Jason Anderson to a Clement DeSalle in Europe. Jason is almost like a little brother to me and then you’ve got a guy all the way over in Europe that you don’t see as often and obviously there’s a different culture…. It’s always pretty smooth. One thing I’ve noticed about motocross: in my opinion, I like everybody. Maybe that’s different than most people’s opinion, but I think most everyone that I’ve ever worked with is a good guy. So that makes it a lot easier.

Hanson (left) not only manages the Rockstar Energy Racing team riders, but also riders like Jeremy Martin (above) and Cooper Webb, among others.
Simon Cudby photo

What some people might not know, you don’t just work for Rockstar Energy Racing, you also handle guys like Cooper Webb and Jeremy Martin, who actually ride for MyPlash/Star Racing. Can you explain how that works for Rockstar?
To me every athlete is the same. They’re all important to me. Some people see me around the Rockstar Energy Racing Team more often. That’s where my locker is. That’s where I keep everything. But anything with a Rockstar logo, any guy with it on his helmet is one of my guys and I’m going to be there for him. Definitely I’m really excited about Cooper this year as well as Jeremy. And also the team is bringing on Anthony Rodriguez for his rookie season in supercross this year, too. So anybody, whether they ride for a team or not, they’re all my guys.

Talk about managing on race days. Sometimes there will be nationals or supercrosses that coincide with GPs. How difficult is that to manage all of that stuff in one day?
Usually there’s kind of a time I’ll set with everything. But as far as the social stuff, I do a lot of that on Sunday when I get home too, with anything that’s going out on Instagram or Twitter or whatever. I actually wait for the professional photos to come from there [Europe] before I post anything so they’re quality photos. Sundays are workdays too. But basically I’ll follow along on Twitter or whatever to see what’s going on. A lot of times it’s midnight and you’re still up and you’re still following what’s going on lap by lap. You want your guys to do good. You want to know immediately what’s happening. Fortunately in Europe the media company over there is really good about getting stuff out quick, so I can get a race report pretty early on Sunday and can read through it for Monday. I want to make sure to thank all the supporting cast of Rockstar from our social department, art department and contacts in Europe. They are all very instrumental in my side of things running smoothly.

Sometimes you find yourself as the middleman between the rider and the media. How do you balance that?
I want to keep them both happy. I like to make the rider understand that media is important. I try to teach everybody how important Facebook is and how important it is to create their own brand, and how important the media is for that. Obviously, I’m friends with the media because they are good guys in the sport of motocross. So I want to help them out. That’s really easy. You’ve just got to make the guys do it, and sometimes I have to yell at them. Not in a loud voice, but just in a, “Come on, dude. You’ve got to do it. This stuff’s important. This is important for your career and you just don’t realize it yet.”

Talking to Jason Anderson he has mentioned how big a part you have been in his professional career. Talk about your relationship.
Me and Jason have a professional relationship that we both respect but we’re also a couple of clowns. If we’re together, there’s a lot of giggling going on. Even just talking about him makes me giggle. We have a good time. The kid is happy-go-lucky, he wants to have a good time. He’s always happy. He’s always playing pranks on people. He’s just a really fun person to be around. I like to be that way myself. But we have the professional side and that’s pretty easy, especially right now because Jason is so focused and there’s nothing to worry about as far as whether he’s doing a good job or not. So the friend side is always really nice. I actually went down to California for two and a half months during this off-season to take care of everything and I stayed with him most of the time. So it was a good time to just hang out but then also go to the track and be professional as well on testing days and stuff like that. So we have a really good friend relationship but a good working relationship as well.

Hanson has played a big part in Jason Anderson's career.
Simon Cudby photo

Another thing comes up, that unfortunately you guys have experienced this off-season, is injuries. How do you manage not letting word get out before the team releases a statement, while also trying to look out for the riders’ best interests as well?
It’s tough. It’s always kind of a hush-hush thing. A lot of times people think we’re keeping secrets, but the fact is we just don’t know yet. Sometimes you just have to sit and wait to see how things heal and sometimes it can be a game time decision. But a lot of times it’s hard to keep it from getting out because the test track is at a public track [Milestone]. So somebody goes down and gets hurt, there are 100 eyes staring at it. And that’s the downside of social networking; everybody’s a reporter. So sometimes it’s hard to keep the things from getting out. And then they get out before we even know what’s going on, and then there’s a bunch of stuff out there that’s either not true or just not correct. But injuries themselves, I’m not going to lie, they suck. You prepare, you’re just looking forward, doing everything right, and then something weird happens and all of that preparation stops. And then you’re sitting there, you’re idling, and it’s like, what do you do? Do you have to find a replacement rider, or not? Is it not going to be long enough to replace a guy? It’s definitely the worst part of the sport and it creates a lot of unexpected stress that you don’t need, especially coming into the season because it gets really stressful about this time. So when you get an injury it’s just not something you want to deal with, but it has to be done.

People see that teams and riders are really pressing this time of year, but people behind the industry are really pressing as well. How busy is this time of year for you? What are your tasks leading up to Anaheim 1?
It’s a lot busier than I think most people know, and a lot more stressful. It’s just so unstructured. Things change every day, something always comes up. One reason I can’t wait for A1, and the gate to drop every year, is because then it’s almost like having your normal structured work week where I know I’m going to the races every weekend, I know I’m dealing with race reports and building websites during the week. I know what I’m doing every week, where right now stuff changes, things come up, and it’s so unstructured. If you want to take a day off you might try, but then you might end up with three conference calls and 50 emails and things that are important that you have to get to, and then that day off turns into not a day off. So it’s really kind of tough from that aspect. You have to take care of all the photo shoots, new riders, you have to remove old riders from the websites and build a whole new profile and bios and schedules into the website. You completely rebuild websites every year. And all the social stuff too. Any rider, like I was explaining before, if they don’t have a fan base, they don’t understand that part, I’ll build it for them and run it for them and be like, “Hey, get on there and answer the questions.” But every week I’ll be adding all the press. If you guys run an interview with a rider I grab it and run the link on all of our Facebook pages and stuff like that. That’s another thing about the off-season, we are trying to find coverage. There’s less stuff and I find myself spending two or three hours a day reading articles on the websites about other riders and other interviews like this, with other guys in the industry, just reading everything so I know exactly what is going on.