Chris Jewell is the on-track voice that you hear at all V8 Supercars race tracks, and over the Christmas break, he is the man you see alongside Cameron McConville in Speedcafe.com’s video series – the Castrol EDGE Summer Grill.
Besides his role as the voice of V8 Supercars, he has his head in a number of hats – from driver career management to sponsorship finding.
Speedcafe.com’s Grant Rowley spoke to Jewell about his various roles within Australian motorsport …
SPEEDCAFE: At most V8 Supercars circuits, you literally have the best seat in the house – from the commentary box …
CHRIS JEWELL: It is the best seat in the house. You have you’re own vision, you have your own television screen and you have you’re own timing monitor. Other than four or five tracks a year where you’re calling the race from a box with no windows (like certain street tracks), you do get the opportunity to take in everything that TV is showing, and see some stuff that the TV isn’t showing.
SPEEDCAFE: You’ve seen all the action unfold. What has been your highlight for 2012 (besides being involved in the Castrol EDGE Summer Grill!)?
JEWELL: Picking out a highlight of the year is hard, and sometimes they are stories that are unfolding away from the camera and away from people’s gaze that help you knit certain things together.
When you get some of those insights, they can be the most interesting parts of the job.
SPEEDCAFE: Being on the inside is a key part of your role in driver management. For those who don’t know, can you explain some of the roles that you play away from the microphone.
JEWELL: The V8 Supercars commentary role is central to why I’m at any race meeting, but looking after and managing clients, running the youth development program (Fujitsu Cool Driver Program) can create a busy weekend of work.
Fundamentally, nothing gets in the way of what I do for V8 Supercars as far as calling the sessions, media conferences etc.
There are certain events when I have Formula Ford clients, Fujitsu Cool clients, Dunlop Series and V8 commentary commitments. Between three and five days, depends on the length of the event, there’s lots to do.
SPEEDCAFE: Your protege Scott McLaughlin won both the Dunlop Series and the NZ V8 SuperTourers this year. He’s been with you for a number of years. You manage his career and his Fujitsu sponsorship. Seeing him take those two titles, plus secure a drive with Garry Rogers Motorsport for next season must be justification of the many hours of work.
JEWELL: He’s been with me since he was 12. It’s definitely a realisation of what we have always wanted to achieve. We wanted to win the Dunlop Series in three years. We thought we were always a chance of winning the championship by being with a very good team (Stone Brothers Racing), which morphed into Matt Stone Racing mid way through this year for a number of reasons.
We certainly didn’t expect that he’d win the inaugural V8 SuperTourers Series in New Zealand. It wasn’t on our list of goals to achieve, but as things developed, we aimed for race wins, and the championship snuck up on us a bit.
Having the dropped round deal in New Zealand clearly helped – helps everybody for that matter – but after missing the Manfeild round (with engine issues), winning the championship was a fantastic high.
After winning that, I thought winning the Dunlop Series the following week was going to be more difficult, just based on good fortune, but the final race of the series at Sydney on Sunday, even though he only needed to finish to win, it never feels like that when you’re the one with the most to lose.
That was the single toughest commentary job I’ve had to do – I’ll always play a straight bat and be unbiased, but it’s fair to say that there was a bit of fist pumping in the commentary box wen he crossed the line.
SPEEDCAFE: Managing a driver or a sports talent could mean different things to different people. Can you give us an insight into what it actually entails?
JEWELL: In all honesty, some people write their press releases and they think they are managing them. The program that I look after includes fitness, diet, lifestyle, public speaking, media training and proper career planning, guidance and managing.
It also includes things like contract management. As people move through their careers, a lot of them end up in situations that they’re not experts in, like drawing up a contract.
It’s all of those key off-track areas. My role isn’t driver coaching, it doesn’t need to be, but the mental preparation and the like that creates a complete driver.
I prefer working with youth, as well. I like forming the stars of the future, probably to my detriment, in some ways. I don’t want to cherry pick a big name and find endorsement deals from motorcycle dealers or surf wear. I enjoy creating the next names in motorsport. For me, that goes back as far as Jason Bright in the early 90s when I worked actively with him on his American program – similar things are happening for me now with Scott and others.
SPEEDCAFE: Another key element of your management business in the Fujitsu Cool Driver Program – aimed at giving young kids in karting and Formula Ford some financial assistance, plus off-track grooming.
JEWELL: Scott was the catalyst behind Fujitsu investing in the youth program when they were supporting him from his karting to his step straight into V8s. I have to say, it was a big sell to get a major multi-national company like Fujitsu to back a 14 year as he was then.
It was an even bigger sell to get them to support his jump into V8 Supercars at 16, but the timing was right. Fujitsu had dabbled with other drivers in the Dunlop Series, but Scott has repaid their faith.
Scott has now created that feeling of ‘who is the next young gun?’ Who is the next point of difference that we’re looking for?
To be fair, there’s probably three or four people who could have stepped up to perform the role. Fujitsu had looked at Carrera Cup in the past, and Renee Gracie was our final decision.
The buying decision in most households is influenced by the female in the relationship, and it’s no different to white goods or air conditioners. Fujitsu’s sponsorship of Renee allows them to tap into a different consumer trend that they didn’t have before.
SPEEDCAFE: How do you think Renee will go in Carrera Cup next year?
JEWELL: It’s a big step. A bigger step than it was for Scott, but we have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help with that transition to main stream motor racing.
She won’t come last. I can confidently say that.
I say this with the greatest respect, but girls are slower learners in race cars. Boys are a bit more rip, tear and bust. The speed comes quicker and the refinement comes after. Renee is refining early and the speed will come later. It’s a different dynamic to developing a race career, but she has all of the attributes to be a success in the game. Some of her attributes measure up better than the young guys I’ve been involved with.
SPEEDCAFE: Nominations for the 2013 Fujitsu Cool Driver open tomorrow. Can you give us an insight into the program.
JEWELL: The Cool driver program is now launched and it will be a slightly different dynamic to what we’ve seen over the past few years – expanding in some areas to take in more categories.
We get a lot of nominations, and it’s always a difficult process to decide who to go with and who to stay with. I enjoy it though and I’m looking forward to this year’s nominations roll in.
SPEEDCAFE: We’re a couple of days into the Castrol EDGE Summer Grill. You’ve contributed to a number of publications over time. Is that something you enjoy, or is it just another outlet to use your skills and knowledge?
JEWELL: Yeah, I have an interest in the journalistic content of the sport. I enjoy seeing the other side and providing an educated opinion, which I hope is on the money. As you see with the Summer Grill, you wouldn’t want to be a long way off the mark with what you’re saying …
See below for today’s edition of the Castrol EDGE Summer Grill, featuring Chris Jewell and Cameron McConville.
CLICK HERE for the full list of Castrol EDGE Summer Grills.