In addition to running his successful optical shop, Sports Optical, in Lakewood, CO, optician/owner Bret Hunter managed to compete in and win the RallyCross Nationals in 2009. [Held on a mixed-surface dirt racecourse, RallyCross is a sprint style of extreme automobile racing involving specially built cars.]
But, having spent years competing in everything from racing mountain bikes on the snow at the Winter X Games to BMX bike racing and paintball, Hunter is no stranger to the fine art of combining business with pleasure. Here, we check in with the sports guru to get a handle on how he packs in time for his dual passions—optical and sports.
Eyecare Business: How did you start in the sport of Rallycross?
Bret Hunter: I had a car that got sideswiped but still ran great, so I thought I’d do RallyCross in it. But I was too busy and never got the chance to fix it up to do a race. A friend in my neighborhood named Bryan Tippens jogged by one day and said “What are you doing with that car?” I said I wanted to race it and he said, “How about I fix it up and you do the races?” So, I got into racing and was doing it for about a year when the Nationals came to Colorado in October 2009. It’s all the stuff you want to do on the road but you can’t because it’s illegal.
EB: Was it an expensive endeavor?
Hunter: I had the cheapest car at nationals. With all of the safety gear and modifications I had a total of about $1,500 in the car but there was a ton of labor in the car—it was lots and lots of work. I learned a lot—I can take an engine out of a car in about an hour now.
EB: What was your strategy for winning?
Hunter: I had never won a RallyCross race before, but every time I went to the races I got faster because I figured out more. It all clicked during Nationals. I came up from 12 seconds down after the first day. There were 80 cars competing from all over the country but only five in my class, which was Prepared Front Wheel Drive.
EB: What were your vision needs and solutions?
Hunter: My glasses definitely came into play. You are racing through cones and looking as far ahead as possible. You need as much peripheral vision racing around the cars as possible. I used curved lens technology.
It was an overcast weekend during the Nationals so I used yellow polarized photochromic Driveware lenses made by Transitions, which were great because they changed all the time and the yellow was perfect for darker skies. There were a few points when it got sunnier so I switched to plain polarized lenses. Good depth perception and contrast of field was very important. I used Smith sunglass frames because they fit into the helmet really well. This is a really important point—for customers you have to make sure their glasses fit in their helmet. When people come in I always ask them if they wear a helmet.
EB: How do you use your sports endeavors to market your business?
Hunter: I had the RallyCross car stickered up with Sports Optical in big letters, so we definitely had people asking about the business at the races. Also, the first Friday of the month we have this big art walk in our area, so we parked the race cars in front of the store. There are two to three thousand people walking up and down the street and it makes them look at the store. I also invited about eight customers and sales reps to come with me to the regional RallyCross competitions and they got to drive the car.
EB: Does it really work?
Hunter: It’s really good cross promotion; sometimes you do really well and it gets you recognition and sometimes you’re just out there having fun and no one pays attention. The bottom line is that it’s really hard to sell sports glasses if you don’t do the activities. When people are out there doing these things it’s their passion. They spend a lot of their waking moments thinking about the sport and they come to you because you’re the expert.
EB: How do you find the time to fit it all in?
Hunter: The RallyCross races were on the weekends and there was usually one race a month on a Saturday or Sunday. If it was on a Saturday I had our employees watch the store. When I raced bicycles it was often six days a week, so this is much more manageable. I am also a father of three and the boys like coming to the races so it works for our family, too.