Lessons on Excellence from NASCAR

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend

my first NASCAR event

when my buddy Karl invited me to join him at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

I took nearly 300 pictures ranging in subject from pre-race entertainment like the Goo Goo Dolls playing a set to Nik Wallenda walking a wire high above the ground.  And of course I took countless shots of rabid fans and speeding cars driven from NASCAR greats like Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhart, Jr. and Greg Biffle.

Unlike many races, this one was sort of a snooze, meaning of course that there were no pile-ups. So, with about 40 laps to go, my group decided to leave the stadium early to beat traffic. By the time we got to our car, we heard of an upset in the making. Brad Keselowski, a racer who had not been a contender at all that evening, overtook the pack and ended up winning the race!

The next morning, I downloaded all of my pictures to my computer to see what images I had of Brad’s car either in the garage, the pits, or on the track. Guess what? I had none. None! I mean, I couldn’t find a single photo of this guy or his car.

How is it possible that I took 300 photos and had none of the winner?

First, I’m not a NASCAR fan, so the only names I know associated with the sport are those that are household names that I hear on the news each week. I had never heard of Brad Keselowski. So I didn’t look for Brad Keselowski.

Second, Keselowski never led a lap while I watched. He stayed with the pack of cars, but he never stood out from them. He sort of blended in with all of the other cars racing 178 miles per hour around the oval track.

Third, Brad Keselowski had more perseverance as a driver than my group had as spectators. The racers drove 500 miles and completed more than 300 laps to finish the race whereas my group had a hard time sitting in a climate-controlled suite overlooking the track! I didn’t have any pictures of Keselowski because I didn’t stick around to see the race end.

Driving home that night, I considered some lessons that this NASCAR race reinforced for me:

1. Don’t view all of your “fans” as equal.

Everyone is your biggest fan…once you win. Those aren’t real fans. Your real fans are those that support you in good times and bad times. Cherish those people, not the Johnny-come-latelys.

2. Don’t be discouraged if you are not a “household name” in the area of your job, career, or calling.

Celebrate that you made it to the race. Whatever your area of passion, you qualified to be where you are today. Don’t disengage from your purpose when it gets difficult. Focus on your race, what sets you apart from others. And do your best at all times.

3. Don’t be deflated if you struggle being first in your field.

We all start somewhere. Some have the benefit of the “pole position.” Don’t envy them. Being in first is very different from staying in first. Value progress, not the pole position.

4. Don’t quit before your race is done.

Poet Samuel Johnson was right when he said, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

Value the people who stick with you. Invest in your passion above all else. Track the progress you make. And practice the character trait of perseverance, because the winner’s circle isn’t available to quitters.

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