Zero to Sixty

Toni Calderon (center right) stands with the drivers of the #35 Oak Racing car, from left: Bertrand Baguette, Ricardo Gonzalez, and Martin Plowman

Six years ago, Toni Calderon started a fledgling motorsports company against all odds. Today, he manages the world’s top Hispanic drivers and has his eyes set on bringing home a world championship

It would have been easy for Toni Calderon to quit and walk away. Nobody would have blamed him: it was 2008, and many young entrepreneurs were giving up on their dreams. But Calderon—a resident of Austin, Texas, who grew up watching Formula 1 races in Mexico—had long aspired to make a name for himself professionally in motorsports: he had a marketing degree, had worked for a race-car driver, and had even been hired by racing teams. So instead of buckling, Calderon doubled down, sacrificing the comforts of life and living with friends to instead invest every dime into his start-up—a motorsports consulting company. Since then, Casus Management has helped one driver win the world’s oldest auto race and has attracted other top clients. Here, Calderon shares what it takes to persevere during hardship to start a viable business in an industry foreign to many Hispanics.

Entrepreneurs open quoteMy dad and uncle used to take me to races in Mexico. Every summer, I would work at a camp that happened to be owned by a race-car driver. I started saving my money to go to races with him and pretty soon I found myself involved in meetings. I’d actually work as his translator, because he didn’t speak English. He started racing IndyCars, and during college, I begged him for a job. I told him I would be his assistant, I would carry his helmet, I would do anything—I just wanted to be around the world of racing. Finally, he said yes.

That helped me network within the industry, and I was hired by other teams and companies. In 2003, I helped activate Corona’s sponsorship in the Champ Car World Series and grow it in several countries. In 2005, Forsythe Championship Racing hired me to handle marketing and PR, so I was working with some top drivers like Paul Tracy and AJ Allmendinger. But then the industry started to change and my team closed shop. It was bad timing, because I was really starting to gain relationships with drivers, but it was 2007 and I was out of a job. I refused to quit though, because I knew it was a chance for me to go from employee to owner. I started my first company with just one client—David Martinez.

Just a few months later, the economic crisis hit. I was basically poor for a few years, trying to scrape by and get enough clients to earn a living. I kept my lifestyle as low as possible to keep chasing my dream while I watched my competition give up. They all left to go to graduate school, to other sports, or to other industries, but I just kept planting seeds by meeting drivers and doing other groundwork.

In racing, it all comes down to sponsorship. If a company will pay you or your team, then you can race. If not, you don’t have a job. That’s what we do as Casus Management. We manage drivers, find sponsors, and handle PR and marketing. To build the company, I had to get creative, because there aren’t many revenue streams and you have to convince a sponsor to choose you over anyone else. I started by taking advantage of my background and my language skills. The Hispanic market revolution hit and we started developing ideas. No one had tapped into the Hispanic market for racing, and we knew there was a big gap. I’ve been able to attract sponsors like Excel Consultores, Tecate, Axtel, and others, and we also created a program called Racing for Mexico, which raises money for communities and charities.

2003: Calderon takes his first marketing and PR job in motorsports, working with driver Rodolfo Lavin and Lavin’s sponsor, Corona

2005: A transition to Forsythe takes Calderon to new levels and pairs him with some of the racing world’s top drivers, including Paul Tracy, AJ Allmendinger, Oriol Servia, and Mario Dominguez

2007: Calderon starts Casus Management with David Martinez as his first and only client

2010: Calderon signs Ricardo Gonzalez, who finishes third in an American Le Mans Series race and sets winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans as his primary goal

2012: Gonzalez places 5th in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Calderon signs three new clients

2013: Gonzalez wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans

 

2010 was a turning point because I picked up a big client that got me on a good path. That was Ricardo Gonzalez, a Mexican driver who had been on a seven-year hiatus from racing. He called me because he wanted to reenter the sport, establish himself, build a team, and eventually win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You need a good team, good PR, the right teammates, and the right car at the right time. Well, we were able to put that together for him, and he won the LMP2 class in 2013, just four seasons after we started working together. He became the first Mexican to win the race since Pedro Rodriguez did it in 1968, and we helped him develop that success and get him where he wanted to go in a very short amount of time.

More people started calling me, and I got three more clients in 2012. Now, I’m not just trying to establish the company, I’m looking to take it to the next step. Austin has the Circuit of the Americas, a new F1 track, and the business is taking off here. I’m positioning myself to leverage my expertise as things grow and really ride the wave from the beginning. I consult at the racetrack and find myself again planting seeds like I did when I started my company six years ago.

In addition to working with our other top pros like Luis Diaz and Alfonso Celis in series like the FIA World Endurance Championship, the IndyCar Series, and the United Sports Car Series, David Martinez and I are identifying and mentoring young drivers. If a young Mexican driver wants to make it to the big leagues, we’ll show him how to get there because we’ve proven we can do it.

I’m happy because this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I doubted myself a lot during those hard early days. I wondered if I was throwing away too many years chasing something that could never really work out. I decided to take a risk and invest in myself. Things worked out, but it’s a lesson I couldn’t have learned any other way—never quit, never give up.Entrepreneurs close quote