January 6th 2020
Exclusive! EPARTRADE 5-Question Interview With Craig Donnelly, BBS of America
For this edition of EPARTRADE's 5-Question Interviews with Racing Industry Executives, we turned to Craig Donnelly, president of BBS of America. BBS has engineered high performance wheels for nearly 50 years, winning over 250 series championships, from F1 to Touring Cars to Open Wheel and World Rally, among many others. Understanding optimal performance requirements and load rating, tolerances, and durability are what the company is known for, and with racing as the heart and soul of their business, the company has remained a powerful brand at the top of auto racing. Their motto is “technology through motorsports,” and its products exemplify that.
Originally founded in Schilitach, Germany in 1973 by amateur racers seeking race track performance gains, BBS of America was established in 1983. Today, the company’s North American Headquarters is located in Braselton Georgia, adjacent to the Road Atlanta race track. Its 50,000-square-foot facility handles sales and distribution for BBS aftermarket products, sales and service support for BBS racing, and supports special OE/OES programs. The BBS Motorsport Department provides wheels and trackside service to just about every major road race series in the U.S.
Tell us your story of how you got started in racing?
“I was working for a private importer of BBS products, Intermag, back in 1980 in California. I was hired to do racing services and help support the product at the race track. At the time, the products they were doing were just BBS wheels. Intermag had been importing the product for four or five years, and they wanted to increase visibility and activities at the race track, and expand the business some more. I just enjoyed the racing industry and I was interested in automotive—and here we are forty years later. January 1st, 2020 will be my 40thyear.
It wasn’t uncommon back then to have companies from Europe using importers in North America; they would buy out the importer as they grew. That’s what happened with BBS. They bought out Intermag in 1983, and BBS of America was formed.
What is the most exciting thing to you about the motorsports industry today?
Well, we have some very exciting things going on right now at BBS that will be quite big for us, but I can’t announce them yet. I can say this is still a very interesting business, and I feel very fortunate to have been in and around this industry for so long. It’s a great community, and a great time to still be here; that’s exciting. We do aftermarket racing, original equipment all on a high-end scale. We sell something that is a luxury item. No one has to have a race car or wheels for a race car, but fortunately we are in a very good place with people in pro-level club and vintage racing. Vintage racing is huge for us these days; a lot of the cars we delivered the wheels for when they were new, and now we are still taking care of those cars 30 years later. There are all these exciting opportunities out there, and people are spending a lot of time enjoying themselves in the industry at the professional or amateur level. It’s a great time to be in motorsports.
What motivates you daily in your job?
I’d say what motivates me is the fact that everything changes constantly in this business, and we have to stay ahead of those things, be out in the market, see what’s going on, from the high-end aftermarket side to the racing side. You have to stay out front because things change pretty fast in this business. We just handle the North American market; our production is done in Germany or Japan. We’re working with our colleagues from across the pond, and basically trying to figure out what is needed and what we can do in America to help move everything forward. We have to be able to respond and relay what’s going on to the factory in Germany and in Japan. There are a lot of moving parts in this thing, all the time. But, we have a good, enthusiastic team that is always looking at the new things we can do to help push ourselves forward.
We always have things going on that are fun projects – its business, but it’s fun. We get to sit down and kind of create our own opportunities at times. We look at the marketplace, and we say this is a good direction, we can jump on this program. Or we try to tie in to things. For example, Pratt Miller Corvettes, we work with them, and with the new C8R. We have some street products being developed for that, and tying in those things, making those connections between what we do on the race track and what we do in the aftermarket, that’s a lot of fun.
As a company, I feel that we are very fortunate to have so many great relationships in the motorsport community, and I am fortunate to work with so many great people inside the BBS organization.
What recent new technology or advancements in racing excite you most?
BBS introduced forged magnesium to the racing environment, to Formula 1 and to IndyCar racing, in the 1990s. For us it was then and still is now about trying to apply the best technology for a given requirement, whether that is magnesium or a build-project or a die-forging process to utilize our strengths to best suit the industry.
What should everybody in the racing industry know about your company?
2020 is our 50thanniversary as a company; that’s kind of a neat milestone for us. We began life as a racing company, and then we developed street parts and original equipment parts. But racing has always been the core of our company, and 50 years later it still is.
There are a lot of companies that are based on the idea of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday.' But we’re a company that has transferred the things we’ve learned in racing, engineering, and technology in motorsports into road-going products. So that’s been a key factor in our company, and one that keeps it interesting and keeps us innovative. Our motorsports guys are really good at what they do, and we have so many road products that have benefitted from all the engineering they’ve developed over the years.
By Genie Davis