The CEO of McLaren Got His Start Winning Wheel of Fortune

The CEO of McLaren Got His Start Winning Wheel of Fortune

A defining feature of the American Dream is the concept of upward mobility. Everyone has a chance at economic success, no matter their upbringing or background, if they just work hard enough. It’s almost certainly a lie we’ve been told for decades, but there was a time when it worked essentially as it was said to, at least for certain people.A far off time before significant wealth concentration, the full effect of Reaganomics, venture capital, and stock buybacks. Back then a teen from Los Angeles could go on a game show, win $US3,050 and a “Christmas Gift Boutique,” and spin up a successful racing career, marketing business, and eventually become CEO of McLaren Racing.

Zak Brown, then thirteen, was on an episode of Wheel Of Fortune’s “Teen Week” in 1984, winning the game with a few grand, a television, a bicycle, and a bunch of other gifts. This gameshow victory set his future in motion in a way that nobody could have ever predicted. Despite aspirations to be a pro baseball player, Brown took his Wheel winnings and bought himself a racing kart.

The Red Flags Podcast discussed the video on a recent episode, posting the clip to Instagram Reels. Brown confirmed on Instagram that the video was indeed of him as a young kid, saying “That was 1984, feels like yesterday. I won myself enough money to buy a go-kart!”


Zak Brown’s Wheel of Fortune

From 1986 to 1990 the young Brown won 22 International Kart Federation race victories, and took three karting championships, and was well on his way to an all-timer open-wheel career. He moved up through the ranks, moving to Europe and running Formula Ford, Formula Opel-Lotus, Toyota Atlantics, and British Formula Three with an eye toward an F1 start. He was always a smooth talker and a marketing genius, getting plenty of sponsorships to cover his racing exploits.

By 1995, now in his early twenties, Brown spun his sales talents into a sports marketing business called Just Marketing International. Over the years JMI has been responsible for huge international brand deals in Formula One, NASCAR, IndyCar, MotoGP, WRC, Formula E and others. Through his work as CEO of JMI, Brown grew his sphere of influence within the F1 paddock, and was once called “the next Bernie Ecclestone.

Taking inspiration from the likes of Roger Penske, Brown co-founded his own racing team, United Autosports, in 2009. The team is currently running cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans, Le Mans Cup, Extreme E, IMSA, Asian Le Mans Series, Australian Supercars, and Super 2. Having won championships in the WEC and class wins at Le Mans, the team is a pretty strong one in international sports cars.

As a known quantity with JMI and United Autosports under his belt, McLaren Racing hired Brown as executive director in late 2016, promoting him to CEO by early 2018. The team has had mixed success in Formula One under Brown’s tenure, though he’s pushed McLaren to expand its racing operations beyond F1, showing big gains in IndyCar, Formula E, and Extreme E.

I doubt that young kid on Wheel Of Fortune could have ever imagined just what his fortune might eventually become. Would he have imagined himself in 2024 as a multi-millionaire CEO of one of the most successful Formula One squads of all time? Could anyone have predicted that?

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