EARLIER THIS YEAR, five entrepreneurs gath-ered inside the Waltham offices of venture capital firm North Bridge and talked NASCAR. They debated the merits of racetracks around the country and different cars. They delved into financial breakdowns of the multibillion-dollar sport, moving through prepared slides and writing ideas on a whiteboard. But mostly, they focused on one driver, Paulie Harraka, and his race schedule for the 2013 season, his sponsorship opportunities, and his long-term career trajectory. How could Harraka continue to climb the NASCAR ranks? How soon could he race in the top-level Sprint Cup Series? Where could he find new marketing deals? The conversation sounded like part serious-minded case study and part vicarious-thrill fantasy league. In reality, it was a board meeting of Paulie Harraka LLC, a company pioneering a new NASCAR business model. And dressed in a blue oxford shirt and black pants, far from his logo-covered race-day fire suit, Harraka sat at the conference table and joined in the conversation.
“I’m the product,” Harraka later says, “so these board meetings are a unique experience because you’re talking about your life and you’re listening to these great, creative, entrepreneurial minds help you see your dream through.” Given all that depends on the 23-year-old, he adds: “The model is not for the faint of heart.”