Regarded as one of the most powerful women in motorsports, Jill Gregory, looks like what it means to be perfectly aligned with the universe. Her journey through sports marketing and innovative leadership brought Gregory, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Sonoma Raceway, back to her Northern California origins in 2021.
In the brief moments she takes to fix her gaze upon the hillsides of wine country from her office, it is apparent Gregory deeply senses where she fits in NASCAR’s continuum. It is evident in the self control she has to just be.
With Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at full capacity on the horizon, Racing Refresh sat down for a one-on-one chat with her to see what she’s been up to, also what fans can expect this weekend and beyond at Sonoma Raceway.
RR: AdWeek has you listed as one of the most powerful women in motorsports not once, but twice. How did you get to this point when growing up, NASCAR wasn't even really your thing other than a time to bond with your family?
Gregory: I think if you would map out the path that I thought I would take, you know, having a long career in NASCAR probably wasn't the prediction. But I was really lucky to be able to get into sports marketing, in general, after I got out of college, and just kind of continued to follow a path of opportunity. I was willing to jump around and move to new cities to follow different career paths, and I was able to work for a lot of really great companies like Sprint and Bank of America, and it just led me to NASCAR.
NASCAR was on a really strong path and the opportunity kind of presented itself. Fourteen years later, I woke up and I was still in the industry. That was because of the great people and the momentum that the sport had.
So waking up in Sonoma, I had been on the east coast for quite some time and, during COVID, I kind of thought a lot about coming back to California at some point. Then kind of out of the blue, there was an opening at Sonoma Raceway to run the track out here. So it kind of seemed like a dream come true to marry up my previous NASCAR experience with this new opportunity.
RR: As far as your sports marketing career goes, what is it that brought you into that?
Gregory: You know, I always liked sports growing up. We were a really athletic family: I play tennis, my sisters played, and my dad and uncles were really into sports. And I thought, wow, this would be really fun to have a career in, and I wasn't quite sure how to go about it.
So I ended up finding an entry-level job in an agency in San Francisco. And just networked and built relationships, one opportunity led to another. Those agency jobs early on in your career kind of give you a little bit of a taste of everything so I knew that sports was a place I wanted to stay.
Once I got in, I kind of just tried to build my network. You keep building strong relationships, then you can kind of fall back on those when you want to make your next leap and I was able to do that when I joined NASCAR.
RR: Knowing that there's no place like home, you said you wanted to return at some point - was this a long-term goal of yours that you'd always wanted? To come back home and stay for a long time? Or maybe retire at home?
Gregory: I honestly don't know if I put as much thought into it. I'm the type to set goals, but not that far. I think honestly, COVID, like it did for many people, kind of made me look at the lifestyle, which is amazing at NASCAR, but you're always on the road and we weren't able to do a lot of that in 2020.
So, usually in a typical year working at NASCAR, we would be in California for the Sonoma race, in California for the Auto Club race and out to Phoenix, where I was always able to kind of tack on some days here and there to visit with my family, interact with my college roommates, go on girls’ weekends, and all of that. It just