Can the Next Undercover Boss Help Nascar Refuel?

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Steve Phelps, chief marketing officer of NASCAR, is the next Undercover Boss.Most of the executives who have appeared on CBS's hit series Undercover Boss so far have, understandably, been the heads of their companies. The idea is that the boss goes undercover, learns what it's like at the bottom and makes changes accordingly. But the next honcho scheduled to appear on Undercover Boss isn't really the boss. For that matter, he isn't the President, or even the CEO. On Sunday, the reality show will feature Steve Phelps, head of marketing at NASCAR.

In this week's episode, Phelps will hide his identity -- like past undercover bosses -- and will take time away from the head office to change tires, paint stripes and face all the low-end work that it takes to keep the rubber meeting the road. Viewers will get to watch the organization's chief marketing officer pose as the fictional Kevin Thomas, supposed winner of a promotional contest, on the small screen. Among other jobs, Phelps will work in a pit crew, cook food in a concessions stand and perform track maintenance.

However, unlike most of the past undercover bosses, Phelps doesn't have direct decision-making power over many of the workers that he'll be shadowing. This marks a significant departure for the series. Until now, one of its central conceits has been that each week's anonymous exec has direct hiring and firing power over the ordinary workers that he or she briefly interacts with.

Admittedly, marketing is vitally important for NASCAR, which reported a slump in ticket sales earlier this year, and Phelps -- who worked for the National Football League for 15 years -- is very highly regarded. But the decision to go with NASCAR's head of marketing, instead of its CEO, president or even chief financial officer, is an odd one.

Why Pick Phelps?

According to NASCAR, it selected Phelps because its CEO and president are both highly recognizable. But that explanation doesn't really hold water: Previous undercover bosses have grown facial hair, changed their glasses and even worn wigs to hide their identities. It seems like a crew cut, a pair of nonprescription frames and a set of muttonchops could easily hide CEO Brian France's identity.

And it's a shame that France won't be on Undercover Boss. He's a pretty fascinating guy. After inheriting the company from his father in 2003, he helped transform NASCAR racing from a regional sport into a global brand that sanctions races in 39 states, Canada and Mexico.

He has used the company as a springboard to build a media empire with consolidated TV and radio rights, including a prominent promotional company that represents Halle Berry and Goodyear Tires, as well as a marketing juggernaut that brings in more than $2.2 billion per year. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of the century's most influential people. A year later, it honored him as one of America's best sports executives.

But on another level, Phelps's casting makes perfect sense. Undercover Boss, after all, has been a marketing bonanza for many of the featured companies, a fact that hasn't been lost on its many critics. If, as many commentators have argued, the show is little more than a publicity stunt, then who better to represent a company than the man in charge of its public image?




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dieltommy

I watch undercover boss every week, but nascar mktg director is a staff position with virtually no P & L experience. The best show they have had in my opinion was Dave Rief on the White Castle Co. Just my opinion.

October 24 2010 at 9:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dieltommy's comment
ltew3330

This was the best show ever, he reminded me of Lucy on the candy line.

October 24 2010 at 11:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bfairbob

How about factory car bodies placed on the racing frame. No need for templates. A front and rear bumper can be raced designed per manufacture --- as so the headlamps and tailamps dont get smashed all over --- we dont need 20 caution laps for a bump. This should get rid of the restrictor plate and get nascar back to "stock car racing". Limit corporate sponsers and the amount they can give to a team. That way we know the product is not WWE entertainment.

October 24 2010 at 6:11 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Elvis

I say get rid of the sheetmetal go-karts & use real cars. How about vipers,vettes, Stangs & Camaros rather than eveyday cars?

October 24 2010 at 12:45 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Elvis's comment
hchevy

I might watch a race now and then if they get rid of the toyotas.

October 24 2010 at 9:18 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hchevy's comment
Mark

No TRUE race fan would stop watching races just because there is one brand of car on the track that they dont like. Keep watching the stick and ball sports who needs you anyway!

October 24 2010 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
border72

its long overdue. nascar should run at least one race a year whereby the cars can be setup anyway the teams want them. no checks no specs. just bring a car to race that is setup anyway you want it.

October 24 2010 at 8:07 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Karen

Sondra....I agree. I am tired of seeeing the same person win the Championship. I'm not wild about the points thing. If you don't win a race, HOW can you be the champion ?? I used to watch the race every week on TV but now it just doesn't matter to me. Can't stand the little punk (KB) that wins and then whines about things. there's no real racing anymore." Back in the day " racing was fun to watch.

October 24 2010 at 6:35 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Sondra

I agree, Nascar is slowly killing itself. Empty seats tell it like it really is. I have been an avid Nascar fan, watching all the races and buying the T-shirts,cars and tickets to the races, but no more. I hate the cup guys in the Bush series and same for the truck series. I am not fond of the person who has won the last four championships. I no longer stay home and watch the races, just check when I come home. Too bad they are driving us away. I used to be one of those fans that jumped up and down on the sofa screaming like mad for my driver to punt K.B. out of the way. Ahhh but we can't have any "bump and run" and no "rattling his cage". Its no fun anymore.

October 24 2010 at 3:14 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
rich11268

to get back they need to make sure Jimmy Johnson will not win the Championship,although his success has been great no sport is good when you have the same winner every year

October 24 2010 at 1:41 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rich11268's comment
Mark

They are too far gone to (get back). When Dale Sr. died nascar started to die and go downhill very fast. Stick a fork in them there done.

October 24 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
cqdeed

It's hard to remain undercover when followed by a TV crew.

October 24 2010 at 1:28 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cqdeed's comment
mcwald20

Yea. What do they think the people, employees, are stupid.

October 24 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jetsnrock

good to go to sleep to

October 23 2010 at 9:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply