October 24, 2010 – This week on the CBS hit, Undercover Boss, NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps transforms himself in to Kevin Thomas, a super fan who supposedly won a contest allowing him to be evaluated to see if he is NASCAR material. Steve, the father of four very active children, often sacrifices time with his family because of work, and admits that “some people” might say he has a horrible work-family balance. After a background in the National Football League, Steve came to work for NASCAR (The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) in 2005 and has seen a decline in both fans and in purchases of NASCAR merchandise. His boss, NASCAR President Mike Helton, wants Steve to go undercover and discover what’s going on in the trenches.
Steve, who is now posing as Kevin, begins at Hendrick Motor Sports, working with Mark Martin’s pit crew. He is introduced to Dion, a Rear Tire Carrier, who takes Kevin for the team workout in 98 degree heat. The workout is quite intense and Kevin learns that the pit crews work out and train like professional athletes. Dion sets him up a little bit by telling the other guys that Kevin, who said he was from Vermont, was trash talking, saying that he drank maple syrup and ate all his meals at Ben and Jerry’s but could still out work all of them. Kevin holds his own through the difficult workout. Next comes pit stop practice, putting tires on and fuel in. Dion tries to teach Kevin how to put a rear tire on the race car in one swift motion, but the team gives him a thumbs down. Dion says he would be demoted to water boy if he was even allowed to stay on his team. Dion also came from a football background, and says he was recruited as part of a diversity program NASCAR instituted to get African-Americans interested in racing. Dion says it is beginning to work, because when he goes home, he is treated like a rock star now. He does worry, though, because his job is so physical and demands such speed, that he knows he has no real future with NASCAR. Steve is disturbed by this reality.
Next Kevin is taken to the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida to stay in an RV on the infield like all true fans. While here, he’ll be working with Glen in Facility Operations, doing sign work out on the Daytona track. First he helps paint the start/finish line. “We’re not going to make any mistakes,” Glen informs him calmly. Next they must work on signage up at the top of the 31 degree embankment, which translates to more than two stories high. They have to work to climb up, then must hold on and work on the sign too. Glen says it is exciting after a wreck, when you can smell the rubber and the metal on metal. Glen begins talking about his son, Daniel, who has leukemia. He says he appreciates the support he’s received from NASCAR, and says his boy is working on getting better, but is still having chemo treatments, often ends up in the hospital, and it is real hard not to worry about the bills. When Kevin asks him how he deals with it all, he says he realized he could hate life, or he could be strong and be a leader for his kids. Steve is touched by Glen’s stoicism, and says if one of his kids was sick, he’d want to get them the best care possible, and then do a lot of praying.
Job three is helping out at the Daytona Speedway concessions, where Kevin meets Cindy, the Concession Stand Manager, her brother and her Mom. Cindy’s three daughters are on the cheerleading squad at their school, which is not funded like the other sports, so they are allowed to set up the concessions stand and use 10 % of the profits to fund the cheerleading squad. Cindy’s brother, Tom, a NASCAR fan, has Kevin cooking chicken nuggets, packaging the foot-long corn dogs, frying fries and getting ice. Then it is time to sell the merchandise, which Steve thinks will be easy since he is, after all, basically a salesman. But it’s a while since he was on the front lines, and Cindy has to show him how it’s done, at one point escorting a reluctant customer over to her stand.
Steve, as Kevin, now receives an all-access pass for race day, and begins working with Scott, the Tire Specialist, doing “whatever it is tire specialists do.” Scott soon shows him what that is, as they load four tires at a time on a dolly, trundle them over to the proper tent, scan and sort them for consistency by tire tread depth, then stack the 75 pound tires quickly and accurately by bar code. Later they will be tracking the tires by computer to see how they wear. Scott is happy to have someone to work with, and talks about missing his family, since he’s on the road 38 weeks out of the year, and when he is home, has only one day a week to be with them. He says the family “gets used to it.” When asked about the changes in the past fifteen years, he says that NASCAR racing is getting too corporate and driving out the families. He realizes the dilemma, since just his tire bill for a weekend is over twenty thousand dollars, but he is unhappy that even if he can get his family on a list to come to a race, they can be bumped by any corporation that wants the spots. He just wants to take his wife to a race.
On the night of the Daytona 500 race, Kevin is assigned to work with the crew for David Reutimann’s car. He is told to scrape a smooth spot on the tread of the tires. He acknowledges Dion, working on Mark Martin’s crew. Unfortunately there is a nasty wreck and Mark Martin’s car catches on fire, but the Lowe’s team rescues him from the burning car. Kevin enjoys the heat coming form the tires, the smell of oil and rubber, the incredible sounds of the race and the whole experience up close and personal. Kevin Harvick ends up winning and David Reutimann, after getting caught in the pack, finishes in eleventh place.
Kevin Thomas transforms back in to Steve Phelps and goes back to headquarters. The people he’s been working with for the past week are called to headquarters, supposedly to evaluate Kevin’s work, but really it is is to meet Steve and find out that he’s been an Undercover Boss all week.
Steve introduces himself anew to Dion, Scott, Glen, Cindy and Tom. He tells Dion that he was very impressed with him and wanted him to be a charter member of the new Industry Council he is starting up. Dion says it would be a pleasure since he is bursting with ideas that might make NASCAR even better. Dion is also offered a position with NASCAR at headquarters, whenever he feels he is ready to move on from his current position, and Dion is thrilled to know he has a future with NASCAR. Scott, who says he’s never seen the inside of headquarters in all these years with NASCAR, is told that Steve will fly his family to the race of his choice in 2011, all expenses paid, and tickets will be provided to the families of the crew members as well.
Cindy and Tom come in, and Steve offers to double the profits they made on their concession stand to help fund the cheerleading squad. Tom will be sent, all expenses paid, to the Championship race, but won’t commit to inviting his sister along. Cindy says she’s just thrilled for her three adopted daughters.
Steve tells Glen that he enjoyed working with him and realizes he is performing back breaking work. Steve also says he appreciates Glen sharing his story with him about his son, Daniel, and Steve gives him a helmet signed by all the drivers to give to his son. Glen thinks that’s cool; but then Steve goes on to say that any expenses relating to his son’s illness that are not covered by Glen’s NASCAR insurance, whether they be for travel, medical or whatever is necessary, will be paid by the company. Glen is overwhelmed and speechless, realizing once again what a great company NASCAR is to work for.
At the end of the show Steve reveals what he’s been up to at a NASCAR company rally, explaining that he’s been an Undercover Boss for the past week and wanted to find better ways to connect with fans, but has gotten a better sense of what goes on with the employees within the industry. He says NASCAR has the best fans in the world and that includes the employees.
Dion has a new baby boy, Cindy’s daughter’s cheerleading squad won their season, and did it in brand new uniforms, and Glen’s son is doing well with his chemo treatments. Steve Phelps, no longer an Undercover Boss, revealed that he was beginning a NASCAR contest to allow fans to experience the kind of access he was afforded on his week as Undercover Boss at NASCAR.
Personal experience watching Undercover Boss on CBS