Duluth entrepreneur and software developer Barry Sinex already made a name for himself in the aircraft maintenance industry and by designing online tools that tend to the upkeep of marine fleets and railroad equipment. But now, he's aiming to gain a foothold in the trucking industry, and he's counting on NASCAR to spread the word.
He has teamed up with driver David Starr, sponsoring the racer in Saturday's NASCAR Alsco 300 Xfinity Series Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Sinex also will bring his own custom-built working Mach 5 replica to the track, where people can pay to pose with the iconic vehicle made famous by the animated "Speed Racer" show. He aims to donate all proceeds from the car to Speedway Children's Charity.
Starr predicts Sinex's Mach 5 will turn heads.
"People that are my age grew up with that, and when I saw it, I was blown away that Barry had built one," Starr said. "I think it's going to be pretty cool. Especially the racing community is going to love it."
For the race, Starr will drive his No. 52 Chevy Camaro plastered with logos for Loadchase.com - promoting the suite of software tools Sinex is marketing to small trucking companies across the nation.
Starr, who lives in Dallas, said he was introduced to Sinex about a year ago at a race, and was intrigued initially by the businessman's effort to build a Mach 5 car. Later, Sinex approached Starr to discuss a sponsorship opportunity, and they both agreed it was a good fit.
"Our industry, the NASCAR racing industry, we're promoting his Loadchase.com software for the trucking industry, for a guy or a woman who wants to start a business in the trucking industry. And the men and women who drive these trucks across America, they're big NASCAR fans. So, hopefully that correlation will be of benefit, and it will work for everyone," Starr said.
"The demographics line up well," he said.
Sinex said he hopes to make some useful connections through the NASCAR circuit.
"There are millions of truck drivers out there," Sinex said, noting the impracticality of approaching scattered would-be customers one by one.
"It's too hard to reach out to them, so you've got to find a marketing method," he said.
"Frankly, we don't know what we're getting into. This is our first sponsorship opportunity, and if it works out we'll keep sponsoring. But we won't actually know the value of this until we experience it," Sinex said.
Sinex launched a small trucking company with his son-in-law about six years ago and developed software to simplify his operations and lighten the paperwork burden.
While the software worked well in-house, Sinex said the wider market for the technology was slow to develop.
"It's never been the right time to release software into the trucking industry, because truck drivers don't care about computers. They drive trucks," he said.
But as electronic logs became the norm in the industry, Sinex said the scene changed: "All of a sudden all these truck drivers have to interface with the internet. They have to interface with a computer."
Sinex predicts his Loadchase software will help clients grow their business through a difficult transition point. He noted that many small trucking companies have trouble getting much past a 10-vehicle fleet.
As they add trucks and attempt to grow to the next level, Sinex said: "Eventually what happens is they get overburdened by all the stuff they've got to do for a trucking company. They've got to do all the bills of lading. They have to do the billing. The business starts spooling up to the point where they can't drive a truck anymore, and you can't hire someone at that rate to actually run the trucking company while you still do the other things. So, what happens is all these trucking companies hit 10 trucks and stop."
Sinex predicts his software will liberate clients from once time-consuming tasks, enabling them to take on more work.
"Kind of the point behind Loadchase is to take the load off the trucker and put it onto the truck, where it belongs," he said.
The software is designed to help users find and schedule loads, quickly calculate the net income they will generate and meet all manner of reporting requirements.
Mach 5 dream
About five years ago, while making his initial foray into trucking, Sinex delved into a whimsical side project.
As a boy, Sinex was a big fan of "Speed Racer," and he'd always fantasized about driving the Mach 5 car featured prominently in the show.
After toying with the idea of building his own Mach 5 for years, Sinex was poking around on ebay one day, when he came across a stripped-down Corvette chassis for sale. He bought it and started to work.
Sinex explained that the project provided a useful outlet.
"My mind tends to not shut off," he said. "In some cases, I'll think about things for years before I come up with a conclusion. But when you're trying to sleep and you're thinking about something you can't solve, that can be a really difficult thing."
Sinex's Mach 5 project provided a diversion.
"So, it was therapy for me over that time when I was building it, because I could start thinking about what I was going to do next with the car. There are no plans or anything like that for this," he said.
Sinex drew on his experience as an aircraft mechanic to shape and mold the sleek, swooping lines of the car's body, using ribs, carbon fiber and honeycomb materials.
"It was a lot of fun," he said.
Sinex maintains that he didn't begin work on his Mach 5 with any business motivations in mind.
"There was no intent to monetize it or capitalize on it or anything like that. And currently there still isn't. It just seems to be a way to get some notoriety, and the more notoriety, the more opportunities I get," he said.