Jobs: How a Norfolk man went from waiting tables to working with racing drivers

PUBLISHED: 11:50 29 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:50 29 September 2016

John Cowan with Formula 1 World Champion (1996) Damon Hill.

John Cowan with Formula 1 World Champion (1996) Damon Hill.


John Cowan from Wymondham explains how he started his company, Spirit Motorsport LTD, and shares his top tips for breaking into the motorsport industry.

John Cowan with John Surtees, World Motorbike Champion and Formula 1 World Champion 1964.John Cowan with John Surtees, World Motorbike Champion and Formula 1 World Champion 1964.

Name: John Cowan

Age: 41

Job Title/Employer: Team Principal Spirit Motorsport Ltd

Describe your job in a nutshell: The role I have at Spirit Motorsport is very varied and daily tasks can range from putting deals together for Motorsport projects for Drivers, through to selling hospitality packages for events such as the British F1 Grand Prix and British Touring Car Championship.

How did you get your job? Back in 1998 I visited Team Lotus for a factory tour, where I was able to gain an insight into some of the opportunities that were available in the motorsport sector. I then built up a good working relationship with David Hunt, the younger brother of 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt, and in 2002 I entered the motorsport industry as a Driver Manager and landed British Touring Car Championship Driver, Hyla Breese, as my first client.

Since then I have been working hard to build up my contact base in order to create a sustainable business. Finally in 2010 I decided it was time to give the business a more stable footing, and so I created Spirit Motorsport as a limited company, with a name based on a manufacturer of Formula Ford race cars which I helped set up a dealer distribution network for.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for motorsport and it is great to be able to use the marketing skills that I built up from university and sales work to do something that I love.

What do you enjoy most about your work? One of the most enjoyable things is the social side of the sport, I have had the opportunity to meet many interesting people and form some very solid friendships. The industry is like a big family and people are more than happy to try and help each other out. Motorsports are also a powerful catalyst that enables people to change their lives for the better. For example we are involved with a project that helps young unemployed, people and another that helps offenders reduce the chances of re-offending.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? The most challenging part of the job is ensuring that clients settle invoices on time. The majority of my work is carried out on a cash flow positive basis i.e. the client pays before they get the service which is standard practice in the motorsports sector.

There are always a few deals that have to be structured in a way where we undertake the work before receiving payment, however for these I have learnt from previous (and painful) experience that you must always make sure to have a carefully written contract before you start.

Can you tell me something I might not know about your job? The hours for my role can vary greatly, for example when we were working with a Driver in India, often I would have to get up at 4.30am for a Skype conference.

Something else people may not be aware of is how long term strategy comes into play in motorsports, 15 to 20 years is not an unusual length of time for a driver to spend developing their career from starting out as a 6-year-old in Bambino Karts, through to racing in Formula 1.

What was your first job? My first job, aged 13, was clearing tables in the tea rooms of a country house that was open to the public and owned by a close friend of the family.

What does your ideal day at work involve? An ideal day at work is one where I log on to the computer to see all of the invoices have been paid from the day before, in the right amounts and in the agreed currencies! Then I would start the process of working on the next set of deals. There is a great sense of satisfaction when a deal is closed and contracts are exchanged, it’s an amazing feeling that really makes you feel alive.

Most days I am up at 6am to try and fit in a gym session or a bike ride before undertaking the task of emails and phone calls in the morning. In the evening I tend to focus on social media marketing and between all of that I work on admin tasks such as invoices and VAT returns.

What advice would you give to others looking to pursue a similar career? Firstly, and most importantly, do not be afraid of working very long hours for little or no pay. The majority of people start out in motorsport as either volunteers (if developing a career on the engineering side of the sport), or actually use family money to establish themselves as drivers. Networking is key with senior figures in the industry and most people are happy to give you advice.

Reading magazines such as Autosport is also a good way of finding out who is doing what within the industry, and attending events such as Autosport International is also helpful if you can.

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