Approximately 525,600 minutes ago (shout out to the late Jonathan Larson, who taught us how to measure a year), Alexander Daus, then a junior Sports Communications major at Montclair State University sent a text that would change the course of his life.
The events and conversations that followed that text would lead to a full-time job for Alex with the NASCAR social media team in Charlotte, NC before graduation.
Alex entered Montclair State out of Hasbrouck Heights aiming to get a degree in Physics and become a mechanical engineer working in the auto racing industry.
He was raised a NASCAR fan in a part of the country where auto racing barely gets noticed. But Alex grew up going to race tracks around New Jersey. Cars and racing were in his blood. “My family is a car family,” he said. ”My dad is a mechanic, his mantra is ‘anything with an engine.’ I have been working on cars since I was 12 years old.”
After two years of Physics and Math, something wasn’t quite right. “I did fairly well in my classes, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.”
The best piece of advice he received, he said, came from his mom. “Do something that you're going to love doing for the rest of your life.”
So after some “soul searching for a couple of hours” he said, he landed on Communications.
“I realized what interests me is creating content and telling stories because I love telling stories. And actually, when I switched to communications, it wasn’t top of mind to go into the racing industry.”
So flash forward back to February 2022, Alex’s junior year, no real world experience to speak of. But he knew people in racing. John Cohen, owner of the NY Racing Team and a fellow north Jersey guy, was someone Alex knew from hanging around the tracks through the years. Cohen’s racing team, small and understaffed, was rumored to be entering a car in the Daytona 500 (NASCAR’s Super Bowl, if you will).
That’s a giant leap for a small team.
Alex had Cohen’s number and stepped on the gas. He texted John, writing that he had heard John’s team might be entering a car in the Daytona 500, and if he was, good luck.
John responded almost immediately that they were in fact entering a car in the race.
Alex leaped into the passing lane. “I’m not sure if you have a communications or PR team, but if you don’t, I’m more than willing to do that … for nothing at the start of it, just to get my foot in the door.”
Alex was in the MSU gym working out when he received a call back from Cohen. He ran out into the February cold to take it. They talked about Alex’s background and NASCAR knowledge and then turned to public relations.
“If you need a press release, I know how to do it,” Alex said. “I’ve written them before. And I’ve taken PR classes as well as social media classes. If you want a one-man band, I'll do it. I'm cool with that.”
Cohen responded with the checkered flag. “Let’s do it.”
Now, Alex admitted to himself, he was in the deep end. Heading to the Daytona 500 as a team publicist. What had he gotten himself into? He turned to Keith Green, his Sports Public Relations Professor at Montclair State whose communications background includes stints at two tracks, including Richmond Raceway.
Alex confided in Green, who immediately recognized the enormity of the accomplishment. “I told him how proud I was of him to have the foresight to even make the contact,” Green said. “Many students would be worried about rejection. In my classes I share Wayne Gretzky’s ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ when it comes to networking. Alex didn’t need that advice but he certainly continues to have that mentality.”
There was one more lesson on the table. Alex offered to use his own airline miles to travel to Daytona. Green wanted to ensure this opportunity wasn’t going to cost Alex hundreds or a few thousand dollars in expenses.
“We discussed the business side,” Green said. “I told him to ask about having his expenses covered in Daytona. And another real-life question: Did he have to lay out money and wait for reimbursement? I sensed he was worried - which was perfectly normal for a college student - that asking too many questions might jeopardize the opportunity. I assured him that in dealing with a high-profile and successful businessman, he will appreciate the questions. And it ended up working out for him.”
By the next week, Daytona 500 race week, Alex was on site at the Daytona International Speedway writing press releases about the NY Racing Team entering a car with veteran driver Greg Biffle behind the wheel on stock car racing’s biggest day of the year.
The highlight of Alex’s week at Daytona? “All of it. I've always had a dream of working in racing. My mom and dad say that I wanted to be in NASCAR since I was a little kid. Just to be a part of it was something I was waiting for practically my whole entire life. What I've been working for in school and sports and all that stuff. To get to that moment, standing on the starting grid of the Daytona 500. It was a pretty cool experience.”
For the record, Biffle finished 36th in the race.
Alex had a sense of satisfaction upon his return to New Jersey, and an itch to find out what was next. “I got back to school from Daytona, and I had this amazing feeling. I did it! But I have more left in the tank. We’ve got more to do, more to strive for. I accomplished this amazing thing, but I don’t want it to be my peak.”
Back at the MSU Gym, another Workout Interruptus. Cohen texted him to see if he was available for another phone call. On the phone, Cohen delivered the news that Alex got the thumbs up from everyone on the team for his work in Daytona. Then Alex heard, “We want to keep you for as long as we can.”
From there, Alex had to restructure his life. He gave notice at his job working security at Hackensack Hospital and prepared to spend weekends not doing coursework or hanging with friends, but at a NASCAR race.
He joined the team in Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400.
“I went to class Monday through Friday, and then Friday as soon as class was over I’d have my bag in my car, drive home and I would get a ride from my mom or my dad to the airport and I would jump on the plane.
“The day of the Vegas race, I flew back on the red eye on Sunday night after the race and landed at 7 am. I got off the plane, changed out of my track gear, took a shower and went to class. I enjoy the grind and I enjoy all that stuff so it was pretty easy.”
He worked his last race for NY Racing in April at Richmond Raceway. But not just as a publicist.
Back at Daytona, Alex befriended veteran race engineer Nick Ollila, who has been associated with professional racing since the early 1970s. Ollila took Alex under his wing and taught him a bit about how to work on the race cars. Alex, with his educational background in Math and Physics and a lifetime love of cars, soaked it all in.
In NASCAR, race cars sometimes fail inspections before races, and the penalty is often a suspension of team personnel. At Richmond, Alex found himself subbing in for NY Racing Team. They put a headset on him for the race, and he acted as the go-between for the crew chief and the engineer, computing and relaying complex information involving the weight of the car before and after fueling, which included multiple mathematical conversions. He was able to lean on those two years of classes and his racing knowledge to get him through that successfully.
Surprisingly, his role in that race didn’t re-activate the engineering bug. “I love this life (now at NASCAR social media). I love all the stuff we’re doing here. I like creative storytelling. Deciding how we can place our content strategically. It’s similar to what I thought engineering would be because it is strategy-based and I love strategy, so this is where I want to be.”
The week after Richmond, Alex had a trip planned to the NASCAR race with his father to the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. To no one’s surprise at this point in the story, Alex made a few calls and landed a gig for the weekend volunteering for NASCAR in the media center. He was holding microphones at press conferences but more importantly for a kid in college who would be looking for a job soon, making even more contacts.
“Before Daytona I told Alex how important it was to network, and to listen,” Green said. “He obviously did a great job and things took off from there.”
Martinsville led Alex to a summer internship at Pocono Speedway in PA, which started for him after Memorial Day and ran through August. He worked five days a week and learned the ins and outs of a race track that hosted a NASCAR event in July.
As his Pocono internship was ending in August and he was prepping to go back to school, a contact he met at Martinsville reached out to him about a full-time position on the NASCAR social media team based in Charlotte, NC.
Over the course of the next few weeks as school was starting in the fall, he applied, interviewed, and got The Call.
“I was on my way to Philadelphia for a baseball game and I got the call from NASCAR HR (with the job offer),” he said. “When I told my parents I got the full-time position at NASCAR, my mom and dad were hysterically crying.”
So he tied up the loose ends at Montclair State, which meant grinding out a full semester’s worth of work in his two remaining classes during the month of September before reporting to Charlotte in October.
“I talked to my professors and told them I had a chance of a lifetime,” Alex said. “They told me as long as I finished the work, I’d be fine.”
So how does one measure a year? One that started as a full-time student working security at a hospital and ends with a triumphant return to Daytona International Speedway this week for the Daytona 500 (SUNDAY, 2:30 PM, FOX) as a full-time employee of NASCAR.
“Going back to Daytona is really sentimental. It’s amazing to be there and to consider what I've accomplished in a year. The hard work paid off and now I’m going to Daytona with a sigh of relief. But I also think about the next adventure and how we can build on this.”
Racing to Graduation after Daytona 500 Experience
Graduation for the Montclair State Class of 2023 is set for Tuesday, May 23. While most college seniors circle that date as a rite of passage, Alex wasn’t even sure when it was. For him, he’ll be in the middle of Coca-Cola 600 week in Charlotte, one of the bigger races on the NASCAR calendar.
Will Alex return to Montclair to wear a cap and gown? “I hope so. I am sure that I will. I am sure I can get off (work) for that.”
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