If you had told Catawba College Alumnus Adrian Parker '99 that he would be working in NASCAR after he graduated from college, he likely wouldn't have believed you.
But now he is a believer, having just wrapped up his fifth year in the business, the last two of which he has spent as the account manager for the Concord, North Carolina-based Roush Fenway Racing's #17 DEWALT Ford driven by Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, by the way, finished fourth this year in the Nextel Cup Series which concluded in November. But Kenseth won't be resting on his laurels and neither will Adrian. Both men will be gearing up for next year's competition which cranks up in Daytona in February.
"I grew up going to local short tracks," Adrian, who hails from China Grove, N.C., recalled. "We'd eat Sunday dinner and then sit down and watch a NASCAR race. I grew up a fan."
Now Adrian's quite a bit more than a fan. As account manager for Kenseth's 17 car, he serves as the point person for the sponsors who appear on Kenseth's car, making sure that his team fulfills the letter of each sponsor contract in everything from proper placement of logos on the car to publicity appearances that Kenseth makes on behalf of the various sponsors. "If it's going to happen on the 17 car, other than performance, it comes through me," Adrian explained.
"Your number one goal is to move product," he continued, noting that the average sponsorship carries a price tag of around $15 million. "Fortune 500 companies see the car as a viable medium to get their message across."
Adrian also tries to manage the media spin associated with Kenseth and the team. He is constantly monitoring ESPN and other media outlets, taking calls and text messages on his Blackberry from reporters seeking interviews with his driver, and confirming arrangements for Kenseth's personal appearances. On most of those appearances, Adrian accompanies Kenseth, again to make sure that the sponsors and his driver adhere to the terms of their contracts.
His job takes him away from home four days a week, 35 weeks a year, but he explained that right now that is okay since both he and his wife are pursuing their respective careers. His wife, Lindsey, whom he married in June 2006, is employed as an account manager for lending company, Senderra Funding.
Catawba Communication Arts Professor Dr. Tim Moreland still marvels at Adrian's transformation from college student who majored in communication arts to NASCAR professional. "He made a remarkable turnaround from his initial days on campus until his graduation from Catawba," Moreland remarked. "He came to college for three things – girls, football and parties, but ended up graduating with some very different aspirations."
Adrian credits his father with giving him sage advice on pursuing a career. "My dad always told me to find something I enjoyed doing and I wouldn't feel like it was a job," he said.
Adrian credits Moreland with helping him find a graduate school that saw potential his very average college GPA belied. "Dr. Moreland had real-world experience and he had my respect ," he noted. "It was a mass media class that I took that laid the foundation for my major at Catawba. After I graduated, Dr. Moreland was who I called when I decided I wanted to go to graduate school and pursue a master's degree in mass communications."
It was at Southern Mississippi University in Hattiesburg, Miss., that Adrian "really became a student." He also learned to cook and met his wife while they both worked in a restaurant while enrolled as students at Southern Miss.
"She was a waitress and I was a cook. I didn't know a thing about cooking when I went to work in that restaurant," the tall, rangy Adrian remembered. "They put me on the salad station and then the guy at the grill quits, so then I was in charge of the grill."
Ironically, Adrian developed and today manages Roush Fenway's internship program, which gives college students real world experience. So far, three of Catawba's students have interned with Adrian and all have earned rave reviews and an invitation for future students to intern at Roush Fenway Racing. He describes the internship program as "mutually beneficial" for the students and Roush Fenway.
Phil Kirk, Catawba's vice president of external relations was complimentary of Adrian and his role in placing Catawba students in internships. "One of my responsibilities at Catawba is to develop high profile internships for our students," Kirk said. "Adrian and Roush have provided extremely valuable internships for Catawba students.
"Adrian, being an alumnus of Catawba, understands the need to give college students real world experiences while they are still making career choices. It is also exciting for me to go to the places where our interns are working ... such as Roush where I got a once-in-a-lifetime experience of going into areas where the public does not have the opportunity to visit. I have enjoyed telling my relatives who are NASCAR fans about my tour behind-the-scenes."
"Catawba was very good to me. There were a lot of folks at Catawba who cared about me even when I was a lost soul. Dr. (Kenneth) Clapp, Coach (Chip) Hester, and others saw some good in me and cared enough about me to know I was growing up and would make something of myself in life," Adrian explained. "One of the best-selling points about Catawba is the intimacy you have with faculty and staff.
"If I could give advice to a current student, I'd say take advantage of the opportunities you're given."
PHOTOS: Parker at Roush Fenway Racing