As the chair of Cartersville Ducks Unlimited, Sarah Tonsmeire is looking forward to the organization’s 45th anniversary banquet. Set for Nov. 5, the event will be presented at Cartersville Civic Center and the doors will open at 6 p.m.
“I think the biggest misconception with Ducks Unlimited is that it is a hunting organization,” Tonsmeire said. “While hunters make up the majority of support for conservation efforts, anyone who enjoys clean water, wildlife or the environment has a reason to support this organization.
“Funds for conservation are primarily raised through events, like the Cartersville banquet. I can promise it will include great food, unique silent and live auctions, and plenty of raffle opportunities, all while supporting a great cause. We also have opportunities to be involved for those who may not be ready to attend an in-person event.”
Tickets for the banquet — ranging from $800 to $1,000 for corporate tables, $75 for individuals and $100 for couples — can be obtained at www.CartersvilleDU.com. For more information, contact Tonsmeire at 770-655-2900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Sarah Tonsmeire
Occupation and title: Owner, Knight EXP
City of residence: Cartersville
Family: Parents: Angee and Rick McKee, Louis and Jenny Tonsmeire; grandparents: Louis and Sally Tonsmeire, Myrtice Knight and the late Harvey Knight
Education: Cartersville High School, 2006; Berry College, 2009
The Daily Tribune News (DTN): When and how did your love for cars and motorsports begin?
Sarah Tonsmeire (ST): Growing up, I spent many days in my Pawpaw’s (Harvey Knight) shop where he restored antique cars and tagged along to car shows, so I really gained a love for cars at a young age. Back in the day, he actually raced on the beach in Daytona, and helped work on others’ race cars. I have fond memories of him talking about those days of racing and working on cars, so it really led me to have an interest in the history of racing.
Periodically, I’d watch NASCAR races with him on Sundays, but wasn’t very knowledgeable about the sport at the time. When I was a teenager, I spent many weekends at both Dixie and Rome Speedway, and attended my first NASCAR race in 2005 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was this race that solidified my passion for motorsports, and I actually had not missed a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway since, until this year.
DTN: How did this interest lead to a career in motorsports marketing?
ST: After attending races in person, specifically that race at AMS, I quickly fell in love with the sport and it became one of my biggest passions in life. The atmosphere and competition was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I was fascinated by the business side of the sport. I actually entered Berry College as a freshman knowing I wanted to be in sports marketing, specifically in motorsports, although I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. My senior year, I worked with one of my professors on a marketing research project looking at brand associations within NASCAR, and presented it at the Annual Sports Marketing Association Conference.
Essentially, everything during my college years and years following graduation seemed to have some tie to racing. While my first job out of college didn’t have a direct tie to motorsports, it was still an integral part of my career path — thanks Josh McWhorter for giving a recent college grad a shot! For nearly six years, I spent my weekends traveling to as many races as possible, networking and chasing any opportunity I could find. Sometime in 2012, a friend gave me the moniker Racing Sarah, so I joined Twitter and started a NASCAR-themed blog under that name. I still use it as my social handles to this day. The following year, I started writing a weekly NASCAR column for The Daily Tribune. During these years, I worked for people for free, just to get my foot in the door. I stood in autograph lines for hours because I knew I could meet the people who were running those events. The stories are countless, but in 2016, I was offered a full-time position on the NASCAR circuit with a marketing agency, and I haven’t looked back.
DTN: When and why did you form Knight EXP?
ST: I had a running joke with my best friend that we needed our own marketing agency where we could produce amazing events, but if I’m being honest, starting my own business was not my immediate game plan. That being said, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. Mix that with my “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” approach to life and Knight EXP was formed in June of 2019. Looking at the latest shifts in the motorsports world, I really felt that there were opportunities to market myself as an expert at providing experiences to people in the motorsports realm, an event concierge of sorts. To date, I’ve provided an event or experience at every major NASCAR track on the circuit, and there aren’t many people who can say they have that experience.
DTN: Why did you name your company Knight EXP?
ST: The decision to use Knight in naming my company was an easy one, giving the influence my Pawpaw, Harvey Knight, had on my life and passion for motorsports. Also, let’s be real, Tonsmeire is just too complicated. Experiential marketing is the industry term for marketing built around experiences, so I shortened it to EXP. My logo is a version of the goddess of speed, which seemed appropriate, but it was also used as a hood ornament on Packard cars, my Pawpaw’s specialty.
DTN: What services does Knight EXP provide?
ST: The foundation of Knight EXP is providing events and experiences, especially those with intricate details, complex logistics and involving high-profile clientele. My niche is providing turn-key corporate hospitality experiences and events to brands, primarily in the motorsports arena. With most live events on hold for 2020, I’ve turned to providing more traditional contract marketing, things like social media and brand asset management programs, for a variety of clients.
DTN: What do you enjoy most about leading Knight EXP?
ST: I absolutely love the flexibility it provides, the ownership I have over projects and the opportunities it opens to connect with so many people. For the most part, my office can be anywhere and working on a variety of projects keeps things interesting. No two days are the same.
DTN: When and why did you officially join Ducks Unlimited, and what are your titles with the local, state and national organization?
ST: When I was a kid, Dad signed me up as a Greenwing, a program DU offers to engage kids in the outdoors, and I attended local events. This year actually marks 10 years since I began serving as a volunteer on the Cartersville committee. Becoming a volunteer for Ducks Unlimited was a natural fit for me. It really melded my love for the outdoors with my passion for event planning. However, I’ve stayed not just for the cause, but for the people. The people I’ve met, and relationships I’ve formed through DU have been extremely impactful to both my personal and professional development. My Ducks Unlimited world oftentimes crosses over with my motorsports world.
Locally, I still serve as the chair of Cartersville Committee. I helped launch the Georgia Ducks Unlimited Calendar Raffle Program seven years ago and currently serve on the State Committee as Calendar Raffle Program chair. At the national level, I currently serve on the National Marketing Committee, so I get to see the organization from several viewpoints.
DTN: What will the banquet's proceeds go toward?
ST: DU is the world’s leader in wetland and waterfowl conservation. Because of the conservation work of DU, billions of gallons of water are filtered, damage from hurricane storm surges is significantly reduced and more than 900 species are better served. More than 80 cents of every dollar raised will go directly back into the ground to support the conservation mission.
DTN: When did your interest in duck hunting start and how has it evolved over the years?
ST: Dad tried to get me interested in duck hunting at young age, and while I loved the outdoors, I just didn’t latch on. I started going on deer hunts around age 19, and with my added involvement with DU, I started duck hunting about eight years ago. We now make annual trips to hunt in Arkansas, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. Honestly, I look back and wish I had done it my whole life.
DTN: How were you and your father selected to appear on Ducks Unlimited TV’s “Take Someone With You" episode that aired earlier this year?
ST: A good friend and Ducks Unlimited staff member actually submitted our names to be featured. Ducks Unlimited TV had planned a short series on father-daughter hunting duos, and they chose us! We weren’t aware of the opportunity until we had already been chosen.
DTN: What did you enjoy most about being featured on the TV show, and what was it like to share this experience with your father?
ST: I don’t think I ever dreamed that I would be featured on a hunting show. It was an amazing opportunity to have our time in a duck blind documented since it’s something we share a love for. It was also funny to see people’s reactions to my father’s personality. But, I really enjoyed how we could highlight our involvement with DU and how it plays a big role in each of our lives. We really had the opportunity to show the big picture, from the people we’ve met through DU, to how we are the chefs at duck camp, to how amazing the sunrises are in the field, not solely focused on the hunting aspect. Dad has been a volunteer for more than 35 years, and to me, that was something special to show.
DTN: What is your greatest professional and/or personal achievement?
ST: I think surviving 2020 as a self-employed person is going to rank pretty high, but in all seriousness, establishing a career in motorsports, and with a solid reputation, was major. I’ve been at the table with many key players in the industry, and as a young female in a male-dominated industry, it’s definitely something I’m proud of. On a personal level, I was one of three people in the state of Georgia to receive personal recognition, in the form of a custom belt buckle, from the former CEO of Ducks Unlimited for my contributions. That was quite the honor.
DTN: How would you describe yourself in three words?
ST: Resourceful, compassionate, tenacious
DTN: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
ST: I was classically trained on the piano for 10 years.
DTN: What is the best advice you have ever received?
ST: “If you’ve got friends, you’ve got it all,” is something my Pawpaw, Harvey, said in an interview with the Tribune 23 years ago, and that really resonated with me. That approach to life has been instilled in me by my family, that surrounding yourself with great people will take you far in life. It’s no secret that having Harvey Knight and Louis Tonsmeire Sr. as grandfathers, and my personal heroes, that I’ve received plenty of great advice in my life.
DTN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
ST: Traveling makes my heart happy, so I tend to keep the roads hot even when I’m not traveling for a specific project. Usually, I spend any spare time outdoors. I can be found hunting, fishing, hiking, riding my 4-wheeler or driving the tractor, and golfing from time to time.
DTN: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?
ST: There’s no place like our family farm. It’s very special to me and where I grew up. I do enjoy being downtown Cartersville as well.