Columbia Sportswear, IndyCar Series Racing and a Shared Passion for Innovation
An Interview with Columbia Sportswear Company CEO Tim Boyle and his sister, Sally Bany
Words: Daniel Wale
For more than 100 years, American open-wheel and IndyCar Series racing have been synonymous with technology, performance and innovation. Iconic family names like Andretti, Unser and Foyt are among countless others that stir the imagination as symbols of triumph against respected rivals. Ideas considered radical at the time, such as the rearview mirror, were born from open wheel racing and fueled by the spirit of seeking competitive advantage.
With an ethos built on innovation, Columbia Sportswear grew from modest beginnings to become a globally recognized leader in apparel and footwear. An iconic family in their own right, Gert and Tim Boyle built the company by following a core belief that any product bearing the Columbia name is engineered for performance and “Tested Tough” durability.
Harding Steinbrenner Racing enjoys a relationship with the Boyle family and Columbia Sportswear that is rooted in team performance. With a reputation as the world’s fastest and most diverse form of motorsport, the NTT IndyCar Series competes on superspeedways, permanent road courses and city streets in all weather conditions, demanding consistent precision and execution from drivers and teams. An alignment with Columbia Sportswear drives to the root of maintaining performance in ever-changing outdoor conditions by outfitting Harding Steinbrenner Racing team members for travel and rain.
As with any competitive endeavor, a commitment to consistent accomplishment stems from evaluating any and all contributing factors. For an NTT IndyCar Series team, those factors include team and driver apparel. When meeting driver Colton Herta over the 2018 Grand Prix of Portland weekend, Sally Bany, sister of Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, realized a potential connection between motorsport and her family’s apparel company.
Moments removed from a podium finish in race one of the IndyLights Series Presented by Cooper Tires at Portland International Raceway, Bany found herself touring the team transporter with Herta as her guide. Yet ties to motorsport run considerably deeper for Sally Bany and her family beyond a chance meeting with Colton Herta at her home race track. As the -founder of The World of Speed Motorsports Museum in Wilsonville, Oregon, a passion for racing, history and teaching automotive fundamentals to high school students found a new home and caretaker.
“Things started out when my late husband David Bany and I met in high school,” Bany said. His “really cool” 1965 Chevy Biscayne initially caught her eye. She shared that David’s dreams of racing cars were realized when he purchased a vintage funny car that he transformed into the “Tiki Warrior.”
Sally and David recognized early on that their own passion for cars, racing and the history of motorsports was shared by many others they encountered while touring and club racing. A fortunate encounter in 2008 laid the foundation for The World of Speed Museum when the couple found someone with a large collection of cars who was ready to sell.
“We started meeting tons of people of all ages talking about their first car or memories of cars in their lives,” said Bany from her home in Oregon. “We believed that passion and history needed to be kept alive and young kids needed to hear these stories. So, we thought you know what? Let’s open a museum!”
The search for an appropriate facility lead the couple to tour an old Dodge dealership for sale in Wilsonville, Oregon with 91,000 square feet of space. Initially thinking the building was considerably too large, the couple realized all the car bays represented a unique opportunity.
“We thought these would be amazing to have a garage and teach kids shop again,” said Bany. Just a handful of years later, the museum is open and flourishing with events and exhibits along with 134 kids coming through every week to learn about automotive fundamentals.
“We’ve worked hard to make it a first-class place with clean and amazing vehicles where people can also learn,” said Bany, while pridefully noting success in their mission of sharing history, creating a venue to share stories and providing a platform for youth education.
Prior to meeting Colton Herta and George Steinbrenner IV over the 2018 Portland Grand Prix weekend, a bucket list trip to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 raised an appreciation for the IndyCar Series racing atmosphere and fans alike. “I just had to be there,” Bany said.
She joined a group that attended the historic 100th running, sitting in the grandstands and taking in a memorable first visit to the legendary Brickyard. Similar to many others at their first or fiftieth Indianapolis 500, Bany was moved.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she shared with passion in her voice. “The electricity in the air as the race starts, you can just feel the energy. It was so awesome.”
Bany is close to her brother Tim Boyle, the President and CEO of Columbia Sportwear Company. He is often remembered as the unwitting gear tester in Columbia’s iconic ads in the 1980s, where he went to great lengths to illustrate the durability and performance of their products at the behest of his mother, Gert Boyle. This focus on performance and differentiation have propelled a company once on the verge of bankruptcy into the Fortune 500, with further designation as Top-50 workplace as recognized by Forbes.
A commitment for research, development and innovation is a passion for Boyle, an active leader deeply entrenched in the day-to-day of his company.
“We have a really unusual research and development crew in that they are scientists and understand the technology involved but also how to apply that technology in the outdoors,” said Boyle. This team is aptly named the PIT Crew, short for Performance Innovation Team, and they have developed technologies distinct from others in the competitive outdoor industry.
“It is very important to differentiate yourself and to show people the quality that Columbia provides versus competitors,” said Boyle. “Most of the companies we compete against spend 10-12-percent of sales on marketing, and we don’t spend that much. We have to be quite different, quite pointed, quite efficient.”
Rather than seeking to out-spend competitors in marketing dollars, Boyle instead focuses on pointing out their areas of differentiation. “Our focus is on why someone should consider one of our products as opposed to another brand,” said Boyle, who admitted. “It’s a daunting task.”
Daunting aside, Boyle makes it clear that Columbia relies on creativity, adapting to consumer needs, and continuing research and development to produce meaningful technologies and products.
“That’s the challenge, and frankly it’s good for us,” said Boyle, while adding “It makes us better.”
A similar mindset of drawing upon continued development and innovation to gain on-track performance and competitive edge is the mindset of Colton Herta and the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team.
The Harding Steinbrenner Racing team will compete at Portland International Raceway this weekend. On track coverage starts at 1:50 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying will air live on NBC Sports at 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. Sunday’s race day coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC.