I remember the days of packing up the car the night before a track event, then waking up before the birds and heading down to Homestead-Miami Speedway. The smell of high octane fuel, the sound from unrestricted exhausts, and the sight of the most beautiful cars on the planet – this was our playground. Yes, I miss those days, but I mostly miss the camaraderie I shared with other drivers.
Who would have thought the experiences and lessons I learned at the racetrack would help me to run my own business years later?
The farthest I got in the sport was instructor-level for high-performance driving events (HPDE), so I decided to reach out to my friend and racing mentor, David Tuaty of TLM Racing, and asked him to collaborate in writing this article. I also reached out to several of my track friends and asked them to share their experience. The response I got was quite awesome, which made writing this article that much more enjoyable.
The first point David Tuaty mentioned when we sat down to chat was racecraft. He explained that in racing, racecraft can be just as important as how fast you are. When you are behind an opponent that is slightly faster than you in a straight, but slightly slower than you in the turns, what do you do? You are both turning the same lap times but achieving this in very different ways on the racetrack. How do you pass him? Racecraft!
Tuaty explained, “don’t get desperate or impatient, study his lines, his strengths, and his weaknesses. Wait for the right opportunity to, not only pass him going into a turn, but also be smart enough to hold him coming out of the corner at a slower speed in order to make the pass stick”.
”Different cars can run exactly the same lap time in completely different ways. Case in point, my 4,400-pound, daily-driven SHO and a well-sorted, well-driven Miata ran identical lap times at Homestead.” – Jim Ruggeri
As a marketing analyst & consultant having written many marketing plans and SWOT analyses, racecraft sounded very familiar. You have to be well aware of your competitors’ strengths & weaknesses, as well as your own company’s. Learn to spot the opportunities within the market, and identify any threats – new competitors, substitute products, etc. Study the market and be prepared to take advantage of an opportunity. Once you gain market share, know what to do to keep it.
I remember when I first started learning to drive my car on the racetrack, everything came at me very quickly. I couldn’t keep up with the amount of information I had to process at every turn; spotting brake markers, threshold braking, turn-in points, light inputs to the throttle and steering wheel, hitting the apex, tracking out, oh and by the way… give the Ferrari behind you a point-by and let him pass you.
I still recall my instructor patiently reminding me to look ahead, to look as far as I could see down the track and focus on the next turn. As a student, it was difficult to think so far ahead (the next turn), when I was having to process so much information within tenths of a second and flying into a braking zone at 130 mph.
Years later, I would be in the passenger seat as the instructor, keeping a close eye on everything my student was doing, especially where he was fixing his eyes. I would patiently tell him; “get your eyes off those cones (markers found at braking zones), look up, spot the apex, and look ahead”. The car goes where your eyes are looking. As the laps went by, my students became more comfortable and more confident; this is when we began picking up speed. This was also an important time to keep reminding him about the fundamentals we just learned.
”Looking ahead while driving is the most important thing! Being aware of what’s going on in front of you and also around you will save countless accidents.” – Rennie Bryant
Starting a business is no different. Things will come at you very quickly and you will need to be ready to make sound decisions. Start out slow, know where the warning markers are, but don’t fixate on them, always look ahead. As your confidence grows with practice, pick up more clients, expand your territory, look for other opportunities to grow your business, but never forget the fundamentals and principles that helped you get where you’re at.
Smooth is Fast
Probably the single-most important statement heard at any given track-day event. The more you try and force the car to go where you want it to with jerky and abrupt movements, the more you will upset its balance, and the slower you will go. In contrast, the smoother you are with your inputs to the throttle, steering, and brakes, the faster your lap times will be. I recall the analogy one of my first instructors gave me; “treat the car as you would a woman you are dancing with. Guide her with gentleness, and never yank her”. Those are words I would go on to repeat to my own students at the racetrack.
Typically, the lighter a car is, the more grip it will have, which will enable it to make turns at a greater speed. I look at a business the same way. I have worked with small start-ups, and I have worked with large Fortune 500 companies. The difference between the two are huge, and the rate at which they move are complete opposites. Like a small lightweight car, a small company can make decisions and change direction quickly, because there’s less weight to deal with. I remember my time working with a Fortune 500 company, trying to get a decision made was practically an act of congress. It was a slow and inefficient giant, and any quick change in direction would have brought it to its knees.
The two most important things to consider when applying this concept to a business are; the process and the people, this is your company’s chassis. How quickly they adjust to a change in direction depends largely on the size of the company. Always consider the chassis of your company, and the balance of the organization when making a decision.
”What feels fast is not always what yields the best lap times. Be smooth and precise with inputs. Grow your vision and awareness down the track; seek owl vision. Stay humble. Avoid the red mist at all cost. The first one to the mist loses.” – Jim Boatman
Rubbing is Racing
At times during a race, you will get nudged or rubbed by an opponent. They may be trying to intimidate you, or they may be just letting you know that they’re there. If you let this distract you or upset you, you will lose focus on your objective (the next turn, winning the race), and you will make mistakes. A mistake at 130+ mph can be a very costly one, and you know this. At this point, the other driver has already mentally defeated you.
In business, there will be competitors that try and encroach on your market share. As in racing, your competition wants to occupy the space you’re occupying. Competition is a good thing and it will bring out the best in you if you stay focused on your goals. If you let things get personal, you will allow emotions to creep in. This will cause you to lose focus and make bad decisions or mistakes. In business, as in racing, risk is inevitable.
”There will always be someone that is faster than you and has a better car. You only have to impress yourself. Know your limitations.” – Orlando LaCalle
Racing is All About Consistency
David Tuaty shares that endurance racing is much more about consistency than outright speed. “We have won many more races on doing the same lap times over and over again, than races we have won by having the fastest lap time”, states Tuaty. Being consistent wears your opponent down and it plays with them on a psychological level. They know they have a faster car than you, so how is it that an hour into the race, you are still right next to them?
If your average lap time is within a second of your fastest and slowest lap times, you are being consistent. By being consistent, you will achieve even wear on tires and brakes. You will have better fuel consumption. More importantly, being consistent will help you avoid silly mistakes by not trying to be faster. Even though your opponent may be a second or two faster on a single sporadic lap, if he’s not consistent like you, he will lose the race.
You may not have the biggest marketing budget or the resources that your competitors have, so it’s important that you be consistent in every aspect of running your business. Every widget you make should go through the same process, every product you ship should be the same high quality, and every customer you speak to should have the same experience.
According to Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, the most effective customer experience is a consistent one. Your competitor may provide a better service than you one day and a subpar service the next. The inability to know what to expect, from a customer’s perspective, will eventually lead that customer to look for a different provider.
Racing is a Team Effort
You can be the fastest driver on the planet, but without the right team around you, you will never win a race. The mechanics, the pit crew, your crew chief; they all contribute to you winning.
Celebrate Victories Together – You didn’t win the race alone, it took a team; celebrate with them.
Achieving success in business has as much to do with the people you surround yourself with, as it does with having a good product or service. Successful businessman, Marcus Lemonis always focuses on three primary things: people, process, and product. There’s a reason for this. Invest in good, talented, and trustworthy people to help you win the race.
”From an HPDE standpoint: Your street car is far more capable than you are as a driver. Take your time and get to feel it, know it, and love it. You will surely revel in the day when you become one with the machine.” – Chris Gregor
Always Have a Plan
Always have a plan when things get out of control. In racing, when your car goes into an unrecoverable spin, the only thing left to do is put both feet in and hang on… because you’re going for a ride. “Both feet in” simply means standing on the brake and clutch pedals at the same time. This will help scrub off some speed while you’re doing 360’s on the racetrack, and also keep the engine from stalling. The first time you spin, all you’re hoping for is that you don’t hit anything.
People that have no plan often react unexpectedly. I once had a student at Sebring Raceway that actually let go of the steering wheel when his car began to spin. We quickly pulled into the pits and had ourselves a nice little conversation.
Things are not always going to go as planned, so it’s important to have a backup plan. A business without a plan is a business destined to fail. Have a plan when things go out of control, when cash flow runs low, when orders get delayed, etc. The last thing you want to do is let go of the wheel in a moment when your company and your people need you the most.
”Visualization. I use it to learn a track, every autocross, or sales presentation. Be prepared for anything. Know where the corner worker stations are located.” – David Schnoerr
Here are two more points that fit perfectly in racing and in business…
Get The Right Tools – Take Care of Your Equipment
Give your people the best tools to help them accomplish the mission, and teach them to take good care of the equipment. In racing, you’re taking the car to its limits in grip and in braking. The single-most stomach-wrenching feeling for any driver is when he goes into a braking zone at over 120 mph, puts his foot on the brake pedal, and the pedal feels like a wet sponge which sinks to the floor. You will never say a faster prayer in the span of time between the pedal hitting the floor and the car hitting the wall.
Check your equipment often and replace it as necessary.
Stay Healthy – Stay Sharp
Lack of sleep or being too tired causes people to make mistakes, not just the driver but also your crew. Stay fit, eat healthy, and don’t overwork your people.
”If you are going to prepare your car to succeed at a track event, you need to prepare yourself for the event also. If all you do is stretch, that is fine, but this race called life needs fuel (proper nutrition) and maintenance (exercise). Keep your eyes far down the road, A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Research all you do, have a game plan, even if it changes, you will be prepared.” – Brian Jacobs
Finally, the most important point in racing and in business…
Don’t Ever Stop Learning
It doesn’t matter if you’re at the top of your game; someone will always be right behind you, drafting you and preparing to overtake you. Seek advice from those who have been in the game longer than you, or from individuals who have mastered a particular skill.
I learned that a great way to hone your skills was by instructing others. When I became a high-performance driving instructor, I found patience I never knew I had. The simple act of teaching someone, and repeating out loud the fundamentals of HPDE to students, made me a better driver. More importantly, I felt I was giving back to the sport. I was helping someone enjoy the sport as much as I did. It was a great feeling knowing that all the hours previous instructors spent with me, teaching me the fundamentals and advanced techniques in racing, I was now investing into future drivers.
One of the fundamentals I learned in the Marine Corps was; learn the job of the guy above you, and teach your job to the guy below you. Your business, like the Marine Corps, should continue to run with or without you. I strongly believe that teaching others is just as important as continuing your own education.
Just the same, we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that we don’t know it all. Seeking counsel from others is wise. By no means does this make you look weak. Most people will appreciate that you trust them enough to ask them for advice. This helps build strong relationships, which are equally important in business as at the racetrack.
Keep the shiny side up 🙂