Every two weeks, we gather for a moment of authentic human connection with our virtual seminar series, The Human Touch. We cover a wide range of topics and often have guest speakers with unique stories join us to tell their tale. A recent episode made us decide to root for the Joe Gibbs Racing team this NASCAR season. “Why?”, you ask.
Answer: We met Dave Alpern.
Many of us don’t understand vulnerability. In our secret hearts, we don’t see vulnerability as a trait belonging to strong, magnetic people.
If that’s what you believe, you haven’t met Dave Alpern, President of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Dave was our guest last week (February 11) on The Human Touch, our bi-weekly program delivered via Zoom from Interact Studio. He spoke to us from Daytona, before the running of the Daytona 500, which marked the kickoff of the 2021 NASCAR Season. Daytona didn’t turn out as we’d hoped for JGR, but there are dozens of races left in the 10-month season.
Dave was perhaps one of the most vulnerable and magnetic people we’ve ever interviewed. Our theme for the conversation was “Resolve.” Here are excerpts from the interview:
You went from being an unpaid intern to president of Joe Gibbs Racing in 1991. Tell us about that.
Yes, that’s true. Often, even this morning, I still approach things as if I’m that intern. When I’m in a big meeting I’ll be thinking, “Why am I in this meeting?” and then it comes back to me, “Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be here.”
What was your determination early on?
For me, from an early age, it was about not wanting to let the people down who depended on me. I was my Dad’s only son, and I wanted to make him proud. When I got to Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Gibbs (“Coach”) was my idol – I had determination to not let him down.
You were once known as the “T-Shirt Guy” and your Resolve was to become more. Tell us about that.
As an intern, I figured out how to make t-shirts and sell them at JFK Stadium, where the Washington Redskins (as they were called at the time) played. I was very successful. From there I became the expert on consumer products, licensing and PR. I created our NASCAR merchandising business. With every step, I moved up.
Coach continued to call me the “T-Shirt Guy.” If you read my journal from that time, you would see I was frustrated because I wanted to do more. But Coach always said that the greatest players are not the All-Stars. The greatest players are the utility players who can do everything with a great attitude.
I decided I wanted to be that guy. I decided that no matter what they gave me to do, I would never say “That isn’t my job.” I’ve put stickers on race cars and everything else. Little did I know I was being prepared to do a job I could never have seen coming.
You suffered a life-changing loss of your best friend, J.D. Gibbs. How did you resolve to move forward?
For those of you who might not know, Coach Gibbs started the race team, and he had two sons, J.D. and Coy. J.D. and I met in 7th grade and he became my brother. J.D. was the High School Quarterback. He was very popular. But he taught me the power of real influence. He had faith and a compass. I learned so much from him.
When J.D. got sick 6 years ago, the family came to me and asked me to take over. When people began to congratulate me on becoming president of Joe Gibbs Racing, I was miserable because it was my best friend’s job.
The resolve for me has been to become the link to the way J.D. would have run things. He was the heart and soul of our company. I knew him the best. It’s my job to keep the culture of “People before Profit.”
J.D. was motivated by people, not money. Of course I want to win. I believe we’re called to be great at what we do because it gives us a platform to do even better; to have an audience with people you can impact.
Keep up with Dave and Joe Gibbs Racing
We hope you watch the rest of our interview with Dave Alpern in the video below. And like us, you’ll be pulling for Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Click here to pre-order a copy of Dave’s upcoming book, Taking the Lead: Winning Business Principles that Fuel Joe Gibbs Racing, which will be available in June, with proceeds going to the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund.
Watch the full episode on Resolve with Dave Alpern
Some Closing Thoughts
Dave Alpern is a masterclass on vulnerability and resolve. In his time at Joe Gibbs Racing, he went from unpaid intern to the “T-shirt Guy” to the current President of the organization. On The Human Touch, he was an open book, sharing stories of this journey. And he did it all while remaining humble and reminding us with a bit of resolve on your side, anything is possible.