Indy 500 – Keys to Success [ part 1 of 2 ]

My first live eyewitness car race was this past weekend in Indianapolis … or more precisely, Speedway Indiana … population 11,930. However, on Memorial Day it jumps by 230,000! The experience for me was a smorgasbord of sights and sounds that fell into the categories of stories, symbols, rituals, history and tradition. Oh yeah, then there was the race itself … won this year by and American driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. The crowd warmed to his pride in country since the race had been dominated by international circuit driver since 2006 ( Sam Hornish, Jr. ). Two aspects of the weekend stood out: (1) the keys to winning and (2) the rich pageantry.

For this post I’ll focus on the keys to winning. There are three: team, driver and the luck … oh yeah, and car.  So, four not three.  Not that the vehicle is an oversight … it’s just that the cars are all the same, right? Same engines, Chevy or Honda, tooled to identical specs. Chassis are standard … mostly by Dalarra.  Tires? Firestone on all cars.

For the novice like me, the team factor is in the pre-race-and-qualification car preparation plus the pit crew precision.  What does it mean when post-race drivers say about their cars “it felt right”.  So if the team performs, the car performs … and to me that’s a neutral factor because few cars fail.  It’s not like the perfect car wins.  If the car performs mechanically and the team does their job on-and-off the track, the remaining factor is the drivers.  With five laps to go Helio is in first, Hunter-Reay’s second and Marco is third. They’re all going 200-plus mph.  Cars are fine, crews are done.  Helio is going for his fourth win in 14 tries … Marco for his first after crashing in 2009 on lap 188 ( after leading for 59 ) and Hunter-Reay for his first in 7 tries. Remember I mentioned luck? It is a huge achievement to win this pinnacle of racing event once, but to win it four times like AJ Foyt (in 35 tries), Al Unser, and Rick Mears is remarkable.

So with three laps to go, Hunter Ray passes three-time winner Helio Castroneves.  Helio sat in his car after the race for a long time with his head in his hands- agonizing over the near miss. However, at the championship dinner the next day he was gracious in his acknowledgment of Hunter-Reay. Speaking of class, please see the 2013 story about last year’s winner Tony Kanaan.  

I’m guessing most drivers feel blessed to be successful in a most demanding and dangerous sport.

Each year 33 drivers are inspired to compete, not for the $2.49 million paycheck, Borg-Warner trophy or champion’s ring, but for the accolades from their peers and fans.

The craving for attention from those we hold in high esteem is universal … we all want to be important … race car driver, call center specialist, construction craftsman, delivery driver … doesn’t matter.  Leaders define how important the “race” is, don’t they?  They should also know the key to their success is not the “car”, rather it’s the “drivers”.  Make your drivers champions … that’s the key to inspired performance in any sport or business endeavor.

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