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By: Robert Janis

Polaris Homepage

A Q&A with Eric Nault
Nault is the product and racing manager for Polaris Industries
He takes time to talk to ATVSource.com about the company’s racing team

Eric Nault
Eric Nault

Although Eric Nault, product manager and race team manager for Polaris Industries, is not a racer himself, he has been involved with putting together work/office teams, not unlike race teams, as an engineer.

ATVSource: What is your background in ATV racing?
Nault: I don’t race if that’s what you mean, but I am an enthusiast who does a considerable amount of riding on Polaris products. I have a BS degree in engineering, and I have been working at Polaris for over six years. I worked in design, product development and then got an advanced degree in business administration (MBA) that got me to the position at corporate that I have today. Now I am in charge of Polaris product management for our Outlaws ATVs, our youth products, our military product, and I am in charge of the corporate racing effort.

ATVSource: What does a product manager do?
Nault: What a product manager does is determine the long-range plans for products. It is the opposite side of design. I work with customers in the field and deliver specifications for the future products that will be designed and manufactured at Polaris. My prior experience in racing is that I was involved with racing with Polaris by supporting teams from a technical standpoint and most recently from corporate support.

ATVSource: When did you become head of the racing team?
Nault: December 1st of 2008.

ATVSource: How long has Polaris had a racing team?
Nault: Since 2003.

ATVSource: How do you develop and create a team?
Nault: Racing is definitely big for enthusiasts. But from a corporate standpoint we like to find industry representatives -- racers -- to represent and instill the credibility and reliability of the consumer products that we sell. So the objective is to find those industry leaders like Darrell Rath, Doug Eichner, and William Yokley. With our current teams we have great representation in the Midwest, East Coast, and West Coast. Winning is certainly important, but winning isn’t everything when you are trying to build a new program. We may or may not win championships next season, but the important fact is that these professional racers believe in our products. They want to race our products and no marketing materials or representative from Polaris can do as much to penetrate into the consumer and amateur riding community more than an industry leader like the racers we have at Polaris.

ATVSource: What events will the Polaris team be racing in for 2009?
Nault: WORCS, on the west coast; ITP Quad-Cross, on the west coast; AMA/ATV Motocross Series; AMA/GNCC Series; and regional events like the New England ATV Association Regional Series. We also do a ton of racing in Europe. We’ve won a number of championships over there.

ATVSource: What about desert racing? Do you get involved in that?
Nault: Like Best in the Desert and SCORE?

ATVSource: Yes.
Nault: We offer a contingency for that, but we are trying to build a strong team for 2009. When I took this job in September, I inherited most of what was set up. So my work will be displayed in 2009. We are trying to focus on the most impact series--those with the most entries, the most press coverage--and those end up being WORCS, Motocross National, and the GNCC. Those are the top three series that we compete in. There may be times when guys on the team who live on the west coast like Doug Eichner will race in a SCORE or Best in the Desert event just on an exhibition standpoint.

ATVSource: You mentioned that the Outlaw was one of Polaris’ ATVs that will be raced. What other Polaris ATVs will be raced?
Nault: We are going to race our new Sportsman 850XP and the Polaris Ranger RZR side-by-side.

ATVSource: Side-by-side racing is kind of new?
Nault: Yes. That’s pretty ingrained in the desert racing series. There is definitely involvement in the Best in the Desert with that particular product. But the RZR also competes in the WORCS Series. We won that National Championship. We also won a National Championship at the GNCC with a side-by-side this year.

ATVSource: Why were those models chosen to race?
Nault: The Outlaw is self-explanatory. The sport quad is one of the most popular products in ATV racing. We see an emergence in popularity particularly supported by the sanctioning bodies in the sport utility class as well (4x4 ATVs). The WPSA and GNCC series most notably have created this popularity. In 2008 the WPSA was shut down but their quad train challenge was some of the fastest growing racing out there. We were definitely geared up in 2008 to compete in the WPSA series. But the series went under. I don’t know if there is going to be a new quad train challenge in 2009, but that is how we got into racing utilities. So we transferred that effort to the GNCC. The side-by-side is based on the popularity and sales of that product and the sanctioning bodies have embraced that customer, and that is also a new customer coming to the races. The RZR and the new Sportsman are two really hot products and obviously you want to pick high performance products when you are racing.

ATVSource: How do you recruit your racers?
Nault: I have a lot of experience in building teams from when I worked in engineering. It is kind of like a job interview. When I recruited the riders for the 2009 series that I wanted to work with, I looked at it like a job interview. I told them about Polaris. Instead of e-mailing them and talking to them on the phone, I invited the most highly respected guys to the company. I showed them our manufacturing facilities. I showed them that we were proud to be an American company. I told them what we could offer them as a manufacturer and what they probably wouldn’t get from any other manufacturer. And I told them what our goals are for racing. Then I screened the guys and talked to them on a personal level and found out what their goals were. We looked at the results that they had in past years. As I said, it’s like an interview process for a job.

ATVSource: Do you use racers in the Polaris R&D program?
Nault: Yes, very much so. I have such close ties with engineering, and I worked in engineering for so long. The integral part of racing is bringing the learning from the racers and putting it into the products. You see that in the 2009 products that we worked on like the Outlaw. It is very much design changes based on racer input over the last couple of years. Our racers do lots of riding with our engineers and product management people. We evaluate products based on racing prior to production. We ask our racers to run factory concept products in their races and ask them to evaluate.

ATVSource: Do racers go to events to promote Polaris?
Nault: Yes. They go to magazine shoots. They go to our Dealer and District Sales and Managers’ meetings. They go to our press events. We invite the press to certain locations every year where we discuss our new products. We also involve our racers in marketing materials.

ATVSource: Do they also visit Polaris dealers?
Nault: They are not required to go to dealers. But they get to meet the dealers at the national dealer sales meetings.

ATVSource: Can a dealer request a racer appear at a special event at the dealership?
Nault: Yes. We’ve done that. It depends on the size of the event and the logistics of where the racers are at the time.

ATVSource: How would a dealer request a racer appearance?
Nault: Dealers are connected to the factory through what we call district sales managers. They are Polaris employees who are the pipeline from the field to corporate. So dealers can work with their district sales managers to arrange this.

ATVSource: Are there ATVs under development now that will be used by the 2009 or the 2010 racing team?
Nault: There might be some specific parts that we might be evaluating. But, there won’t be an entirely new product. They got a new product. With racing you are always trying out experimental parts to get more performance and eventually these parts are passed along to a consumer model maybe a year later. But it is a secret thing. People who come to the races wouldn’t notice it.

ATVSource: What ATV features exist due to the racing program?
Nault: There are certain extreme application things like the way we design our radiator, some of our cooling system products, some of the electrical things and the ergonomics of the vehicle. But you are not going to get all the design input from a racer or customer. You may get input in what needs to be designed into the product. But the idea is to get that input, look at it, consider the voice of the customer and then put in what’s important. There are certainly things that result from racing that makes our products better.

ATVSource: How does a racer inquire about racing for Polaris?
Nault: We have an amateur racing program. Every November-December we send out press releases saying that we are looking for amateur riders. There is an application that they need to fill out which they can get at our website. I review all of the applications and resumes and I make the selections of who is part of our amateur team for the next year. I don’t suggest anyone contact me directly. As a member of the amateur team, they get a discount on parts, contingency, and a discount on ATVs. They can go to the Polaris website (www.polarisind.com) and click on “Customer Support” and then just follow the racing links for more information.


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