Leadership GritAug 28, 2023
RACING AFTER MY DREAM
Driving through the gates at Road America (a race track in Wisconsin that is nicknamed "The National Park of Speed") on an early summer morning with the sun just coming up, race cars being uncovered, crews prepping for the day, and the energy of a race weekend in the air...THAT was my happy place when I was a kid in 1988.
My dad was Superman to me. He drove race cars. He owned his own team. He had the coolest sponsors. And his car was really loud. Ever since I saw him race for the first time, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Race car driver!
I had an incredible childhood, following my dad around the country, and hanging out with his professional car racing team. He owned one of the most successful teams in the USA in the early 1990's. He had the best cars, the best drivers, the best sponsors, and the best crew.
But what I didn't see was the stress of it all. The pressure to perform at such a high level was immense. I was blinded by the enjoyment that I was getting from it.
When I was 23, I finally saw it all very clearly and it wasn't good. By then, my dad owned a NASCAR team at the highest level, but racing was going to kill him. The stress was too much. It was making him physically sick.
So, our family encouraged him to walk away from the sport that he loved. Without much hesitation, he did. He left it all behind.
He didn't give up. He gave in.
My dad walking away from NASCAR was probably the moment when I realized what it truly meant to give in to something for the greater good of yourself and your family.
And I think that I finally allowed my dreams of racing cars to fade away too. Faded into the background, but not completely gone. My father had, intentionally or unintentionally, put me on a different path.
Let’s rewind back to 1987. I was 12 and my dad saw how badly I wanted to drive race cars. He took me to a racing school in California. We raced all weekend.
For a little kid, I was pretty good behind the wheel. The owner of the school hyped me up and was giving me a ton of encouragement to take this on as a career. (As a note, "Race Car Driver" was actually a fairly lucrative career in the mid-80's. Not so much anymore.)
When we left the track on that last day, my dad asked me a few questions. "Did you enjoy that?" I responded positively.
"Do you want to be a race car driver?" I said yes, with a lot of excitement.
And then he burst my bubble.
He sent my dream tumbling. He said, "You can drive a race car when you can afford to do it yourself."
I was 12. I had no money, no job, and no prospects for money in the near future. He told me to get an education and create a real future for myself. It was the best thing that he ever did for me.
I never really gave up on the dream. But it was time to park the car. I gave in and let my path guide me in the right direction. I went to college, studied engineering, and made a life for myself. I got married, had kids, and I saved money for that dream which was still scratching at my soul.
PARKING THE CAR
Giving in takes strength and self-control. It takes putting your ego aside and allowing yourself to accept defeat… or at least allowing yourself to not be the winner. I’ll let you in on a secret though:
You can lose the battle, but still win the war.
Throughout my life, I’ve tried to always remember the saying, “Pick your battles.” That applies to my business life, my personal life, and my racing life.
In my everyday business life, I work with my dad. We run a small international railroad equipment supply company that has been in business since 1946. I teach my team to evaluate the pros and cons of every situation. Is it worth going to battle with a customer over a small amount of money if it is going to damage the long term relationship?
Let’s be honest, sometimes it is worth going to battle for something, but not all the time. I’d rather let the customer have the “win”, walk away with a smile, and be left with a positive feeling about our company. That mentality has kept us in business for a very long time.
In my personal life… Happy wife, happy life. Knock on wood, but my wife and I never fight. We’re both very good at accepting a different position and giving in, rather than going to battle. Hopefully, we have taught our three daughters the idea of picking your battles. Don’t get into an argument over something silly. The short term gratification is not worth the long term suffering.
In my racing life, my dad and I did an endurance karting race together in 2012 and I saw the passion return. The fire was reignited...for both of us. We're back, baby!
My father got back into racing at the ripe age of 65. At 37, I started a team called Round 3 Racing.
We race in very long races that can be as long as 24 hours! We often find ourselves battling for position on track with a car that is one or more laps behind us. I apply the idea of knowing when to “give in” to racing when I coach our drivers to evaluate the situation and decide if that battle is worth the risk. Is pushing through a risky situation worth the potential loss of a race car?
Most times, it isn’t. Back off and give in. That strategy has paid dividends to our team. We win… a lot! But racing is hard and it isn’t all spraying champagne in victory lane.
In 2021, we were at a race track called Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course. It is notorious for being diabolical in the rain. The surface has a sealant that becomes like ice when it rains. Our race team uses tires that are great on dry track, but really bad on a wet track. So, when it started raining halfway through our race, we were in trouble.
Here's the twist...we were leading!
We didn't have tires that worked well in the rain. Our competition did. We started slipping down the order and then it got worse. Our car was sliding sideways in every corner and it was nearly impossible to drive safely. We were a hazard to ourselves and others.
So, we made the decision to park the car. We went from leading the race to bowing out gracefully. "Live for another day." Know when to give in.
Just as we do in business and life, we evaluated the situation. We were responsible for a $100K car and we were on track with a field of other $100K cars. My father and I had learned from our experiences that sometimes it is better to step aside and fall down the running order than to jeopardize the race for everyone else and our ability to race the next day. It was good karma that would come back to us someday.
PERSEVERING TO THE WIN
In 2022, that good karma returned to us. We experienced a much more glorious result with our Never Give Up attitude. One of the cars on our team had a rough start to the year. Some crashes, transmission failure, engine failure, etc.
Things were bad enough that our longest running customer decided to leave us. He had been with us since the beginning, but this bump in the road was too much for him. Nothing was going right for that car.
We got together as a team and stuck to the plan. Never give up. We knew that we were on the right path. We knew that the car was good. We just needed to put all of the pieces together.
And then it happened. At the next event, with only 6 races to go in the season and seemingly out of the race for the National Championship, we began an epic run to the season finale. We started winning and we didn't stop. In the last 6 races of the season, we had a 2nd place finish and 5 consecutive wins!
It was enough to win the National Championship in pretty amazing fashion. And it was because we didn't throw in the towel when things got tough.
In the 11 years since I started the team, we have grown into one of the most successful amateur endurance racing teams in the country. Our team has collected 72 trophies in the last 3 years, by far the most of any team in the race series.
However, I'm living it all over again, right now. In 2023, we've had a few rough events and everyone is tired. We've worked harder than ever, but bad luck has followed us for the last couple events. Longtime partners have quit and even people that we've supported for many years have decided to walk away from us. It is a "go fast" sport and there isn't much tolerance for being patient.
Good things come to those who persevere (not wait).
We're still here. We're not giving up and we know that success is just a checkered flag away. We get through the rough times together and the group of people that stick with it and come out on the other side are the ones who get to share in the glory.
Character is formed during the tough times, not during the celebration.
I had a dream when I was a kid. I put that dream on hold and I spent half a lifetime building my character. I earned the right to live my dream.
Who knows where I would have ended up, if my father hadn't put me on the tougher path. If he had just handed me my dream, who would I be today? I am thankful that I waited. I am thankful that my father didn't make my dream easy for me. It made achieving that dream even sweeter.
Borrowing words from my 3rd degree black belt daughters, “I have an indomitable spirit. I will never give up.”
By Brad McCall - Owner, Round 3 Racing
Brad is a 48 year old father of three girls, international businessman, and thrill-seeker. He's built a successful race team which competes in endurance sportscar racing in the USA.