In the driver’s seat
Erik Moses ’96 brings his experience in D.C. sports and live events to the challenge of reviving a dormant NASCAR track.
Erik Moses ’96 views himself as a builder. So it’s fitting that his new job involves a major renovation. Moses, the new president of the Nashville Superspeedway, is charged with reviving the fortunes of a racetrack that has lain dormant for a decade.
He brings 20 years of executive experience in Washington, D.C.’s sports and live events market to a position that includes oversight of $10 million in upgrades before the 25,000 seat track debuts in June with one of NASCAR’s premier events: a Cup Series race.
As CEO of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, Moses oversaw the completion of the $784 million Nationals Park, and then served as senior vice president and managing director of Events DC, which owns and manages the ballpark and other venues including the 2.3 million square feet Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Most recently he was the first president of the DC Defenders, a member of the XFL, which had its inaugural season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic and has suspended operations until 2022.
Read more: Erik Moses ’96 offers advice to Duke Law students in ESQ keynote
Moses says the challenge of transforming a track that had been virtually abandoned into a year-round destination for NASCAR races and other live events in a tight timeframe has parallels to his XFL experience: “It also involved big ambitious plans that included starting a new league and a new team and setting it all up in less than a full year before we started competing. I must be a bit of a glutton for punishment.
“But I’m always open to opportunities like this because I enjoy building teams and organizations and infusing them with a culture of high performance and teamwork that’s prepared to do ambitious things.”
When he assumed the job in September, Moses became the first Black president of a NASCAR track at a time when the stock car racing association is seeking to appeal to a more diverse group of fans than its traditional white, Southern base. And while he acknowledges that milestone has attracted attention, he’s eager to turn the focus away from himself.
“I love that my kids will be able to think of their dad as somebody who was the first to do something noteworthy,” he says. “Other than that, I’ve got to do a good job and be good at what I do, but if I can enter the industry via a cracked door I want to push it all the way open so that other men and women from diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to lead organizations like this in the future.”
Following trailblazers, finding mentors
Moses’s interest in attending law school came naturally. His father, Pinkney J. Moses, was a longtime criminal defense attorney in Greensboro and his great uncle, J. Kenneth Lee, was one of the first Black students to attend the University of North Carolina School of Law, matriculating under Supreme Court order and going on to become a prominent civil rights attorney and businessman.
Having been steeped in college basketball throughout his undergraduate years at UNC-Chapel Hill — during which UNC won a national championship and Duke won two — Moses entered Duke Law with an eye on becoming a sports agent.
He had chosen Duke Law in part because of the success of Drew Rosenhaus ’90, who began representing NFL players as a 2L. But after sitting in on Grant Hill’s agent selection interviews, with Professor Paul Haagen advising the Duke superstar center, Moses had a clearer picture of the life of an agent.
“It became really clear to me that chasing 19, 20, and 21-year-old kids around the country to get them to sign with me was probably not the most reliable and consistent way to pay off my law school loans,” he says. “So I started looking for other ways to be involved in entertainment and sports.”
Moses formed close relationships with Professor Emeritus John Weistart, A. Kenneth Pye Professor Emerita Katharine Bartlett, and former Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law Robert Mosteller. His most influential mentor was the late Professor Robinson Everett LLM ’59, whom he met when Everett spoke at UNC about Shaw v. Barr, a 1992 North Carolina case he filed on behalf of plaintiffs challenging a redistricting based on race.
“The case was about how the state had gone to great lengths in order to construct a particular district that ultimately ended up sending the first African-American representative to Congress from North Carolina since Reconstruction,” Moses recalls.
“Suffice it to say I was on the other side of his position, but he made it clear that while he thought representation was important, the means used to achieve it was wrong. So I asked a lot of questions and went up to him after class and told him that I appreciated his presentation, and that it was a difficult position to be in.”
Everett took an interest in Moses’s law school applications and Moses believes he was partly responsible for his admission to Duke Law.
“Frankly, that chance meeting changed the course of my life,” Moses says. “He’s someone to whom I owe a great deal because I’ve benefited so much from the friendships and relationships I’ve made with professors at Duke, as well as classmates whom I’m in touch with to this day. It may never have happened without Robinson Everett.”
He was also matched with alumna mentor Donna Gregg ’74, who was then representing commercial broadcast clients and helped him secure a career-making 2L internship at the Federal Communications Commission.
“That summer I got to meet the chairman of AT&T, Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Stanley Hubbard and all the guys who were involved in satellite radio and television when those were nascent technologies that weren’t fully released to the public for consumer applications,” Moses recalls. “It was just an incredible working experience and I owe that to Donna and her mentorship.”
After graduation Moses practiced transactional law at the former Dow Lohnes. The 1996 Telecom Act had just been passed, loosening ownership restrictions in various markets and Moses was involved in the purchase and sale of TV and radio stations, an experience he says laid a strong professional foundation. And with a move to AOL Time Warner, he transitioned from law to business development.
“I realized that what I had to offer and contribute was being constrained by my legal role,” he says. “I wanted to be at the table when deals were being done and determinations were being made about who we were going to work with and contract with, who our customers and partners were going to be.”
Shifting gears to deal-making
With his move to the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which later merged into Events DC, Moses was able to marry his lifelong passion for sports with his love of making deals. He oversaw the completion of the Nationals’ ballpark, cultivated sponsorships, managed venues that annually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact, and both created and attracted major sporting and entertainment events in a city undergoing tremendous growth. Now Moses feels the same kind of energy in Nashville, a major tourist destination that lately has also become one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas and corporate relocation sites.
“Nashville reminds me of Washington, D.C., in the mid ’90s,” he says. “You could tell it was on the rise — cranes everywhere. I like that energy in a city and it was very clear to me that this was a place that I could see myself in.”
While live sports and entertainment have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Moses says there’s palpable excitement for the Superspeedway’s reopening on Father’s Day weekend with Nashville’s first NASCAR Cup Series race in 37 years — a top draw that is expected to fill the stands if conditions allow.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for the sport here and we intend to take full advantage of that, but we are all at the mercy of the virus and deployment of the vaccine. We hope people will feel comfortable enough to come out and be elbow-to-elbow with thousands of strangers. We’re preparing to be able to have a full house but we will also prepare to pivot.”
Moses is deeply involved in crafting the Superspeedway’s branding to make sure fans and potential fans can see themselves in the stands, and he’s a big believer that sports can serve as a bridge between people who wouldn’t normally interact.
“It’s part of our national religion, right? We come together from diverse backgrounds and share our team or our country, our favorite driver or whatever it is, and for those three or four hours we have a common language and a common ability to relate and get behind the same cause,” he says. “That’s really the outsized power of sports, and I’m hoping that we can continue to be a platform for understanding and for people to find common ground.”
NASCAR is taking significant steps in that direction. Last year its leadership banned the display of Confederate flags and threw their support behind NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, and his public embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. This year, Wallace will drive for a new team co-owned by UNC basketball legend Michael Jordan and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. And in January rap star Pitbull announced his co-ownership of Trackhouse Racing, which will field Daniel Suárez, the only Latino driver in the Cup Series.
“NASCAR is no different from any other sport or business that needs to expand its customer base and its fan base to ensure that we continue to grow,” Moses says. “We have hopefully eliminated some of the barriers where people like myself probably would have not felt inclined to go, because I’m not going to feel welcome, and I may even feel endangered, in a place where there are Confederate flags.”
Having people see the solidarity of the other drivers in support of Wallace, and Jordan and Hamlin coming into the sport on the ownership side is also helpful, he says.
“We’ve got a great sport and the more we can expose people to it the better off we are, because these guys are great athletes and their teams are incredible and what they do to create cars from scratch is pretty remarkable, so I want to expose as many people to that as possible.”
Moses understands the power of representation in his own pioneering role and has been deeply touched by the messages of support, pride, and admiration he’s received from friends and strangers. In October, during a tour of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, he met an African-American family from Cleveland who recognized him immediately. Their 13-year-old son, who follows Moses on Instagram, asked for a photograph and talked about his aspirations of becoming a NASCAR announcer.
“That was the highlight of this whole job so far, inspiring that kid to believe he can be the next Dale Jr. or Darrell Waltrip announcing NASCAR races,” Moses says. “It was very humbling but also very inspirational and heartwarming.”