WATKINS GLEN, NY – When Jusan Hamilton was growing up, spending a weekend at the Watkins Glen International track with his family to watch the races was like a yearly mini-vacation. A lifelong racing fan, Hamilton now gets to play a direct role in the races he grew up watching.

Hamilton grew up in Ithaca, where his grandfather instilled in him a love of cars and driving. Before long, he graduated from driving a tractor around his backyard to taking his first go-kart to the local dirt track.

His love of racing eventually spread to the rest of his family and they got to cheer Hamilton on as he moved into competitive racing. However, even at the local amateur level, the sport is expensive. Hamilton chose instead to put his money toward tuition at Ithaca College — but that didn’t mean he had to give up his passion for racing.

Hamilton finished his dual degrees in integrated marketing communications and sociology in 2013, and by the end of that year he was working working for the most recognizable name in Motorsports — NASCAR.

Jusan Hamilton (image courtesy of Hamilton’s LinkedIn page)
Jusan Hamilton (image courtesy of Hamilton’s LinkedIn page)

Hamilton, who is now based out of Daytona Beach, Florida, is back in the area for the Cheez-it 355 at the Glen this weekend — but now in an official capacity.

“It really takes me back to when I was just a fan, just a kid in the area that loved racing and enjoyed coming out to the races,” Hamilton says. “Seeing it on this side, I don’t know if when I was younger I’d have ever imagined I’d be working in the area that I am and having an influence with the things I do in my position with NASCAR.”

This weekend, Hamilton will be at the track overseeing pre-race activities and ceremonies, organizing pace-car rides for special guests, and running the Victory Lane post-race show, among many other responsibilities.

Racing to the top

Integrated marketing communications and sociology may not seem like the most obvious choices for someone who wants to get into the racing industry, but Hamilton says that it gave him a leg up in securing the job.

“As a young kid growing up in the area and racing, it was important to me even at that stage to have local businesses that supported my racing efforts,” Hamilton says. “Even if it was just a couple hundred dollars each season that helped me buy a set of tires or pay for a trip to the track. I saw at a young age how important sponsorship was to the sport.”

His marketing skills first landed him on NASCAR’s marketing team, where he would work with the media during events and manage content on NASCAR’s official website and social media accounts. From there, he soon moved to Industry Operations, and just recently became the Manager of Racing Operations and Event Management after just three years at the company.

Going to the Glen

Watkins Glen may not be a household name like the Daytona 500, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an exciting event.

“I always love Watkins Glen because it’s a road course — it’s high speed, there’s always good racing here from start to finish, non-stop action,” Hamilton says. “That, and the spirit here is different because of the camping. The majority of the people that are here are actually camping, and the campgrounds here always selling out.”

Hamilton added that this weekend’s racing could be even more intense since the course was just repaved. This allows for higher speeds, more passing opportunities and new challenges for the drivers.

Not a racing fan? Hamilton says it doesn’t take much to become one. In his youth, he brought many friends who had no experience with racing and they always left as fans.

There’s a lot to enjoy even if you’re new to the sport. Touring the garage and seeing the engineers at work, seeing the raw athleticism of the pit crews, basking in the energy of a passionate crowd, and an unparalleled level of access to the stars of the sport are all highlights, according to Hamilton — and that’s all outside the main event.

“And once you see the racecars on the track and you hear the engines, I think a lot of people naturally have a passion and can relate to that in some way,” Hamilton says.

(Featured photo by Parker Anderson on Flickr)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.