|From the Gridiron to the Pits: George Pyne ’89|
Football has long ruled Sundays in George Pyne’s family. Pyne’s father played defensive tackle for the Boston Patriots, while his grandfather labored for the Providence Steamrollers in the NFL’s debut season. Pyne’s younger brother, Jim, spent nine seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman, most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles, and George did his best to follow in his family’s cleats. He was captain of the football team during his senior year at Brown and earned All Ivy and All New England honors. But at six-foot-five and 235 pounds, Pyne, incredibly, was the runt of the family and too small to draw any interest from pro football teams. “I’m the first George Pyne,” he jokes, “not to make the NFL.”
While football still rules the Pyne house, the family in recent years has made room for another Sunday pastime: NASCAR. For the last eight years Pyne has worked as a top executive with the stock-car-racing’s governing body, and in December he became NASCAR’s chief operating officer and a member of its board of directors—only the second board member not to come from NASCAR’s founding France family.
When Pyne joined NASCAR in 1995, he says, car racing was largely a mystery to him. “I didn’t know what drafting was,” he recalls. “I didn’t know a lot about pit strategy. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge [about the sport], but I’ve gained a tremendous appreciation for the drivers and their teams. NASCAR drivers are tough guys, real competitive, similar to football players.”
It wasn’t long before Pyne was overseeing NASCAR’s marketing and licensing efforts. He spearheaded marketing deals with such top companies as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Visa, and he vastly expanded cross-licensing deals with NASCAR drivers. Under Pyne’s leadership, NASCAR’s licensing business grew to approximately $1.2 billion in 2000.
Later, as NASCAR’s senior vice president, Pyne was assigned to oversee its day-to-day operations. Along with president Mike Helton, Pyne led the investigation into the 2001 death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt. Pyne was also NASCAR’s public face for presentations of new safety guidelines for drivers and pit crews that were instituted following Earnhardt’s fatal accident.
With a racing season that stretches from February to November and tracks and sponsors to manage around the country, Pyne spends much of the year on the road. Off-season planning and a family that includes three young children leave little room for downtime, but Pyne is not one to complain. “We’re in the racing business,” he says. “I guess we’re always moving fast.”