Life in the Fast Lane: Zucker lectures on the power of a Hamilton Education

Speeding cars, dramatic crashes, and almost a hundred thousand screaming fans—not a likely setting for a Hamilton grad with a degree in Creative Writing! But this is where Gillian Zucker ’90 feels most at home. Zucker has been the president of Auto Club Speedway, the track that hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, since 2005, and is the first female president of the track. During reunion weekend, she shared the keys to her success in an Alumni College event.

After interning with the Utica Devils hockey team during her senior year at Hamilton, Zucker knew that sports administration was her game. But that path took her through many different companies and all over the country; she has worked with a public relations firm, several different minor league baseball teams, Sports Illustrated magazine, Kansas City Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR is, surprisingly, a privately held company, owned by the France family from Daytona Beach, Florida. It is the premiere spectator sport in the US, the #2 rated sport on TV, and 40 percent of its fans are female. The company started with only three racetracks and has now expanded to include 12. The Auto Club Speedway, located outside Los Angeles, is two miles long and “is like a small city inside,” complete with stores and restaurants.

Zucker enumerated the aspects of the Hamilton “war wagon” (the cart that contains the tools that the pit crew uses) that have allowed her to be successful. First, she talked about the importance of surrounding yourself with intelligent, creative people, and showing an active concern for them. When she wanted to incorporate a huge bell into the track’s victory lane celebration, it was only the collaboration with a talented engineer that led to the creation of the now-iconic Mobell. In addition, the abilities to think, write and speak with clarity have been central to her success, as demonstrated when she increased the pageantry of the Daytona 500 in 2004. Zucker was able to find corporate sponsors, a TV broadcast, and even orchestrate President Bush’s appearance with the assistance of her clear communication skills. An aptitude in persuasion has also helped her, as was the case when she finally succeeded in selling seat licenses in Daytona after failing in Kansas City, generating an additional $30 million in revenue for the track. Zucker also spoke of the importance of integrity and responsibility in developing client trust, as she displayed when she courted the Auto Association of Southern California to lend their name to the track. It was a tough pitch, but Zucker said she was constantly reminded of the Hamilton honor code and abides by it in her professional life. Finally, she highlighted the importance of being yourself, as did an Auto Club Speedway Girl who finally got her father’s approval for her profession of acting after she got the job.

Despite her major in Creative Writing, Zucker has been successful using her Hamilton “War Wagon” in the unlikely field of NASCAR administration. Zucker’s story also encourages Hamilton students to pursue what they love, that the impossible is always possible, and that passions can turn into lifelong careers with a Hamilton-sharpened tool kit. 

by: Alexandra Ossola '10
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