Five Things That I Learned From Racing

“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live.”
Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

Those that know me are aware that I have a deep and involving passion for racing cars. I especially love endurance racing where the races can last 24 hours or more and involve teams of drivers, crew and sponsors. Steve McQueen famously said that “Racing is life and the rest is just waiting”. For racers, racing embodies all that is real about life itself: truth, courage, faith, challenge, passion, winning, losing, heat, cold, discomfort, emotional highs and lows, elation and despair, and not knowing how the story will turn out. To the outsider, it may seem as if we racers spend our days making the money whose sole purpose is financing racing against others who are there for the same reasons. We are a small fraternity.  People who know what its like to careen across the track at 200 MPH while inches away from each other as if we were engaged in some sort of mechanical ballet are a rare breed of human. Looking on it from the outside, it must seem like a form of insanity. The truth is, however, that it really has deep meaning to those of us engaged in it and much of that applies to business and life.

I have been racing since the time that I turned 12 years old and had a go-cart that I could race against other go-carts. I graduated to drag racing in my teen years and by the time I was in my 30’s, I had begun road racing on amateur and professional levels. During these years, I have developed five major themes that apply to business and life. 

Preparation Is Fundamental

Victory goes to those who are prepared to win. Being prepared to win means much more than a simple attitude and saying to oneself "I am prepared to win". Rather, it involves hard work, thinking ahead, planning for contingencies, anticipating competition, and lots of practice. In business, I have often said that luck finds those who are prepared to receive it. Many of us know people that we would consider to be lucky in business or life. Perhaps there is a deeper reason why these people always seem to be lucky.  In fact, it is that they have prepared themselves for being lucky and are more readily able to see opportunity and take advantage of it. The best racers are the best prepared to take advantage of good luck and also the misfortunes of others.

Passion Is Key

When people ask me what I think the root of success is, I cite three things that must co-exist: Being good at something that you do, having a demand for what you are doing, and being passionate about what you are doing. Notice that money does not enter into this equation. Passion is the emotional and personal energy that you use to get through the hard times and drive your creativity and energy in the good times. If you are not absolutely passionate about what you are doing, the best that you can ever hope for is to be mediocre in doing it. All real racers are truly passionate about the sport. All successful people are truly passionate about what they are doing in life. All successful business people are passionate about their business and what it means.

Never Ever Give Up

If a racer pushes the car to its ultimate limit, they will inevitably find themselves spinning the car and driving off course having pushed beyond the boundaries of talent and machine. Sometimes the result is catastrophic but more often it’s just a minor spin. In either case, you have to dust yourself off and get back into the race. The best summary of this comes from the novel “The Art Of Racing In The Rain” by Gath Stein:

“A winner, a champion, will accept his fate. He will continue with his wheels in the dirt. He will do his best to maintain his line and gradually get himself back on the track when it is safe to do so. Yes, he loses a few places in the race. Yes, he is at a disadvantage. But he is a winner, a champion, will accept his fate. He will continue with his wheels in the dirt. He will do his best to maintain his line and gradually get himself back on the track when it is safe to do so. But he is still racing. He is still alive” 

It does no good to self recriminate in the middle of a race when you make a mistake.  You simply get back in the race and do not give up.  Those who give up, do not finish. The same is true of life and business. Its often easy to convince yourself that the race is over and that you can never win so ending the race and having a cold beer is the most attractive option. This is negative self-talk and is not what champions do. When faced with a setback in life, you must head right back into the problem, solve it, go around it or confront it. Never, ever give up.

Keep You Eyes On The End Game

Racers get distracted by the car in front of them and often drive slower, drive poorly or follow the other driver into a bad situation. The exact same thing is true in both life and business. In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle. In life and business, you must keep your eyes on your ultimate goals and do your best to avoid being dominated by the small challenge that sits in front of you. Don’t follow others into danger zones and go forward to create your own vision of success. Your life and business will go where your eyes go.

The True Champion Has No Ego 

Those who are truly great, rarely lead with a big ego. Racers love racing for its core existence in truth. There is little to dispute about the result of pitting people and machines against each other in a contest of skill, preparation and endurance. This is the truth that real racers crave.  Having an ego consumes extra energy, creates a distraction to yourself and leads you into false self-assessments. Garth Stein said it best in “The Art of Racing In The Rain”:

“To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism.” 

We all owe much of our success to those around us and rarely is one person ever the entire story. Support crew, family, suppliers and sponsors are all part of the driver’s success. The racer is the one who brings it all together and creates the focus for that success. Ego destroys your humanity and your possibility of being the best.  Most importantly, it deprives you of your own truth and your own success.