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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Watch out! Trouble on the backstretch!"The excited voice of Eddie Masencup, the spotter for our Interstate Batteries #18 car, crackled in my headset, piercing the din at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Eddie's job was to warn our driver Bobby Labonte of impending traffic around him, and with race cars streaking by at nearly 150 miles per hour, Bobby needed the extra "eyes" Eddie provided. One small bump by another hurtling NASCAR missile could send Bobby's car careening out of control, crashing into another car, or worse yet, smashing into the thick concrete wall surrounding the race track.
Anyone associated with NASCAR knows the risks involved with racing high-speed stock cars on tracks not much wider than the roads in front of most American shopping malls. Four cars running behind Bobby smashed into one another like bumper cars at an amusement park-only these bumps were costly, dangerous, and anything but amusing to our race team.
As rescue crews hurried to the scene of the accident, I strained to see what was going on down in turn four, the last turn before the homestretch leading to the start-finish line. For a long moment, I couldn't tell whether Bobby had made it through the rising smoke and metal strewn across the track. Nor could I locate Tony Stewart, the driver of our #20 car, who had been leading the race. From where I was standing in the pits, it was difficult to see the entire race track. More than 75,000 race fans had jammed into the enormous grandstand to see the 2000 Pennzoil 400, and I craned my neck along with them, trying to catch a glimpse of our guys.
Unable to see the crash site, I paced back and forth in the pit area, waiting anxiously for information to come over the headset. As a former head coach of a National Football League team, I was accustomed to the tension. I was used to having to recover and regroup when plays didn't pan out the way I had meticulously drawn them up in our game plan. I knew the joys and the frustrations of building a strong team, fighting and clawing to get to the top, and overcoming adversity. I knew what it felt like to win, to succeed in front of a worldwide audience. I also knew how it felt to fail in front of friends, family, and people I had never met but who knew all about me-or at least thought they did.
But all that heightened exponentially when I got involved with NASCAR-the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, as the organization has been known since 1949. The competition in NASCAR was just as intense as in the NFL.
I had coached the Washington Redskins for only two years before we won a Super Bowl. Now, in my ninth year as owner of one of the premier NASCAR racing teams, I could almost taste our first Winston Cup championship. Joe Gibbs Racing had grown to nearly 150 employees, including my two sons, J D and Coy. We all wanted this one badly. Bobby Labonte had grown up a Dallas Cowboys fan. "I hated the Washington Redskins!" Bobby once admitted to me. No matter. Today, Bobby and I were on the same team. He was my "quarterback" on the Interstate Batteries #18 team. Jimmy Makar, our crew chief, was the coach who called the shots. Tony Stewart drove the Home Depot #20 car, while Greg Zipadelli was that team's crew chief. When I coached the I knew what it felt like to win. I also knew how it felt to fail.
Redskins, I designed the offense and helped call the plays so I could control the football team's destiny to some extent and help make it happen. Not so in racing. On our race team, Jimmy and Greg are the technical guys; they are the ones making the tough decisions. Bobby and Tony drive the cars. And my job as the owner . . . well, truthfully, my job is to let the guys do their jobs while I stay out of the way. As the owner, my main function is to pace and worry. What a job description!
Our Race Day Routine
During the pre-race interviews that morning, Bobby and Tony joked and laughed casually with the press. One reporter asked Bobby, "How'd you sleep last night?"
"Best night of sleep I've had the whole time down here," Bobby replied.
Another reporter piped up, "What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?"
"I've got to go to the bathroom," Bobby deadpanned. He was obviously going to enjoy this day. Bobby had been here before. His older brother, Terry Labonte, had won the Winston Cup title in 1984 and 1996, and Bobby himself had finished second in the championship points race in 1999. He wasn't about to let the pressure get to him.
Although the Sunday race was not scheduled to begin until one o'clock, the flurry of activity had begun early for all of us. Dressed in my usual race day garb-a white shirt sporting the Interstate Batteries and Home Depot logos, black slacks, and black running shoes-I had flown in to join Bobby and Tony in visiting the hospitality tents, the areas in which our corporate sponsors entertain their clients before, during, and after the race. The drivers and I went from group to group-Bobby to visit with the #18-car sponsors, Tony to greet the #20-car sponsors, and I to do both-meeting and greeting myriad people, many of whom were avid race fans and many others who knew me from my twenty-eight years as a football coach. Bobby, Tony, and I shook hands with fans, posed for pictures, and signed autographs for several hours, right up until it was time for the drivers to get ready for the race. Although Bobby and Tony have risen to what could be equated with superstar status in other sports, they remain extremely accessible to the NASCAR fans.
Finally, just before race time I returned to our transporters, the eighteen-wheelers in which our race cars are hauled to the track. Parked in the NASCAR garage area, the transporters carry everything from spare lug nuts and an extra engine to a complete backup car. The transporters also serve as our portable offices at the track.
I picked up my headset and headed for the pits, pressed by a throng of reporters and fans each step of the way. It was a chaotic scene. Pit crew members from various teams, dressed in brightly colored uniforms decked out with a wide variety of corporate logos-McDonald's, Tide, Coca-Cola, etc.-scurried in every direction. Curious fans, sporting the credentials which gave them "backstage access" to the pit and garage areas, watched for any glimpse of their heroes. The crowd-a strange mix of corporate executives, ruddy mechanics, immaculately dressed women, and the jeans-and-T-shirt crowd-all surged harmoniously along. A young woman bearing a sign, NASCAR Garage Tour, led a group of Japanese fans through the garage area, while a translator conveyed her words to the tour members listening on headsets. A sea of faces blurred in front of me as I passed by, many people calling out words of encouragement and reporters pelting me with last-minute queries.
I tried my best to answer the reporters' questions as we moved through the crowd. When asked how I was doing, I told them the truth: "I'm nervous." Just as I had experienced so many times on a football field, I had an anxious excitement in anticipation of the race. I felt sure that this was going to be a big day for both our racing teams.
With all but two of thirty-four races already run, Bobby had won four times during the 2000 season. He had accumulated 4,505 points, leading the hard-charging, always competitive Dale Earnhardt by a mere 218 points. "The Intimidator," as Dale was known by legions of his fans, was pursuing his eighth NASCAR championship with a passion. Jeff Burton trailed right behind him, and Dale Jarrett stood just 356 points shy of first place.
The Winston Cup points system looks complicated, but it's really quite simple: The winner of a race receives 175 points, second place gets 170, and the points awarded drop 5 per position until seventh place, where the points drop 4 per spot down through twelfth place. The points drop is then 3 per position down to last place. Five bonus points are awarded for leading a lap, and the driver who leads the most laps in each race receives a 5-point bonus. Points earned each week are added to the cumulative season totals, and the team with the most points at the end of the season wins the championship.
Since every car that starts a race receives some points, drivers and teams will race like mad even when they know they have little possibility of winning a particular race. If a car crashes or has a mechanical problem that forces it out of the race, the driver drops to the bottom of the points for that race. That's why race teams work feverishly to get banged-up cars back into the race after a wreck or other problem, because the points earned even in a losing effort will be important in the year-end championship tally.
Bobby had owned first place in the point standings for most of the 2000 season, even as Dale Earnhardt pressed ever closer. Before the Miami-Homestead race, Dale admitted that Bobby had the inside track: "Bobby has a pretty solid lock on things . . . but we're going to keep fighting till it's over."
The Pennzoil 400 would be a key race. If Bobby could finish in fifth place or better, he would clinch his first NASCAR championship-and accomplish the dream of a lifetime. We would take home the Winston Cup trophy and a check for more than $3 million at the awards ceremony to be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York the first week in December.
Should Bobby fail to place fifth or better, he'd still have a good chance to win it all in Atlanta the following week, but that would only increase the pressure. Besides, close is never good enough in NASCAR. Anyone associated with motor racing well understands that anything can happen at any moment on the track. Although Bobby had finished every race he had started during the year, all it would take is one spinout in the third turn, one blown tire, one broken valve, or one serious miscue by a competing driver-and dreams of winning our first championship after nine years of racing could be shattered. We had almost gotten to the place of not wanting to talk too much about the championship to the press, or even around the race shop, for fear that we might jinx our chances or become overconfident.
Now at Homestead, I was really sweatin' it out, thinking, We've come all this way, after thirty-two weeks of racing, and we still haven't won this thing! We didn't want to go into the last race of the season having to place in the top ten or else. We wanted to win this thing today!
Four F-16 jets from Homestead Air Force Base streaked across the sky following the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then former United States Senator Howard H. Baker stepped to a microphone and gave the traditional call: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"
A roar of gas-powered thunder pealed across the track as forty-three drivers simultaneously cranked their motors. Few feelings in all of sports can compare to the enormous adrenaline rush people experience when they hear that sound-the sound of sheer power.
I prayed briefly with our team members prior to the race: "Lord, let us have a great race today, and please keep the guys safe. Let everything we do today bring honor to You."
Steve Park, driving the #1 Pennzoil car, sat on the pole-the number one starting position-which he had earned by posting the fastest speed in the field during qualifying. Ricky Rudd had qualified on the front row with Steve. Bobby started the race in row number two. Tony Stewart, who had won the Pennzoil 400 in his first full year of NASCAR racing in 1999, was in row seven, driving our #20 Home Depot car. Today there was a printed reminder on his dashboard: PATIENCE. With his outgoing personality and sometimes risky racing style, Tony needed all the patience he could muster, especially as he was the reigning champion of this race. Telling Tony to take it easy was like telling Tiger Woods to lay up.
We wanted to win this thing today!
The greatest stock car racers in the world compete every week of the NASCAR season. The list of drivers gathered at Homestead-Miami Speedway that day read like a Who's Who of racing-Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, and the legendary Darrell Waltrip, who was winding down his on-track career.
Jeff Burton was there, too, as was Terry Labonte, Bobby's older brother. Dale Earnhardt Jr., known as "Little E" to many of his colleagues, sat behind the wheel of the #8 car.
The 400-mile race meant 267 grueling laps around the one-and-ahalf- mile, sun-baked track. Even in November, the heat on the track would be horrific. Most of the cars' crew chiefs would call for a change of tires every fifty to sixty laps to prevent their cars from slipping on the hot asphalt track. Fresh tires are crucial to winning races, because the track gets slicker with every lap, and as the rubber on the tires wears, traction diminishes, heightening the possibility of accidents and hampering the ability of drivers to handle their cars at blazing speeds. A wall of tires stood ready, stacked four-high with lug nuts in place, at the rear of our pit area. Even at $1500 per set, I knew that we'd probably use five to eight sets of tires before the race was over.
The racers slowly followed the pace car around the track, weaving slightly to "scrub in" their tires, creating a sticky quality to the rubber to help with traction. I watched nervously from pit road, the stretch of track where the cars come in during the race for adjustments, fresh tires, and fuel. Pit locations are picked according to the order in which teams qualify, with faster drivers receiving first choice. The choices are not made lightly. Strategy is involved in the pit selection, with the crew chiefs and drivers usually preferring locations closer to the pit road exit leading back onto the track, though not always. Sometimes the crew chief will select a stall farther down pit road, especially if the stall has an opening behind or in front of it, allowing his driver's car to get in and out of the pit area more easily-and hopefully faster. A fraction of a second saved during a pit stop can easily be the difference between winning and losing.
I donned my headset so I could hear the radio communications between Bobby and our Interstate Batteries crew. Crew chief Jimmy Makar sat perched in a chair atop the pit cart, a mobile "tool chest" housing a television monitor connected to a satellite dish, several computers, and a raft of tools and equipment. In front of Jimmy was another television screen and a computer monitor on which he received constant updates on the speed and status of every car on the track. Stock car racing has come a long way from its humble beginnings during Prohibition, when bootleggers took a break from running moonshine to test their automobiles and driving skills against one another on the back roads of the South. Today NASCAR racing is a national obsession-a multimillion- dollar venture utilizing advanced space-age technology.
The Race Is On!
The pace car dropped off the track, and the green flag was waved. The drivers accelerated, and with a deafening roar the cars surged across the start-finish line. Steve Park, Joe Nemechek, Casey Atwood, and Bobby Labonte quickly took advantage of their starting positions to open a gap between themselves and the rest of the pack. Tony Stewart dropped back to ninth position, but I wasn't too worried. The #20 car was running very fast, and in pre-race interviews nearly everyone in the garage area had tapped Tony as a potential winner of today's race.
Ten laps into the race, Dale Earnhardt "got into" another driver, bumping the car ahead of him and bending his own fender in the process. Earnhardt radioed his crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, concerning the damage, and they started anticipating a caution period when he could bring the car into the pit to be repaired without losing too much valuable track position. The yellow flag wasn't long in coming out.
Bobby and Tony were running in third and fourth positions on lap 25 when Scott Pruett and Andy Houston got into trouble. Scott's #32 car nicked the rear bumper of Andy's #96, sending both Fords into a spin. The cars veered across the track, and the #96 McDonald's car violently impacted the track wall, crunching the rear of his vehicle like an accordion. The caution flag came out as rescue crews quickly made their way to the scene of the accident. Amazingly, both drivers walked away from the mishap without a scratch. Scott and Andy were teammates driving for the same owner, so I could easily imagine that postrace conversation!
During the caution the pace car returned to the track, and the field maintained their positions, making their way slowly around the track as clean-up crews cleared debris from the racing surface. Tow trucks hauled the damaged vehicles behind the wall to the garage area, but the damage was too severe for the cars to be repaired.
Bobby Labonte and several other leaders took advantage of the caution laps to make an early pit stop. Our crew hurriedly filled Bobby's gas tank, changed two of his tires, took a pound of air pressure out of both left-side tires, and made a handling adjustment to "loosen" the #18 car. Early in the race, Bobby's car had been too tight, "pushing" the front end up the track in the corners. These adjustments were made quickly but with precision, because if the car were to get too loose, its rear end would have a tendency to slide in the turns.
"How's the track?" Jimmy asked Bobby over the headsets.
"I think it's gonna get slick real quick," Bobby replied. Hot tires speeding across the asphalt surface leave a thin layer of rubber on the ground, quickly turning areas of the race track into a virtual skating rink. Heat on the track also causes the tires to pick up oil from the track, making driving even more treacherous. If you've ever been driving along dry pavement and then suddenly hit a patch of ice or oil, you know how difficult it is to control your vehicle. Imagine hitting the same slick spot at 150 miles per hour!
Tony Stewart piloted the #20 car back onto the track after his pit stop, losing two positions, dropping from third to fifth place during the stop. Bobby emerged from the pits in seventh place. The excellent pit stops would prove to be lifesavers.
In contrast, Ward Burton entered the pits in eleventh position, but as his crew was changing tires, the car rolled off the jack momentarily, costing Ward several precious seconds. He returned to the track in twenty-fifth place, but-far worse-the delayed pit stop would put Ward Burton in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The green flag waved again at lap 32, and the cars roared back to racing speed. But as the field rounded turn three, contact with Dale Earnhardt caused Ward Burton to lose control of his #22 car. Ward crashed hard into the wall, the car spinning about and coming to a stop on the track facing oncoming traffic. The cars behind him had nowhere to go and, in a fraction of a second, that section of the race track erupted in fire, smoke, and flying sheet metal. It looked more like a war zone than a sporting event.
Earnhardt slipped on by; so did Darrell Waltrip. But Geoffrey Bodine wasn't so lucky. He got hit hard from behind, took a nasty shot to the driver's-side door, hit the wall, and then slammed into Burton. As Stacy Compton tried to avoid the mess, he and Mike Bliss rammed each other and bounced into the wall, sending more smoke and debris into the air. It was about that time that I was straining to see where our drivers were in the mayhem. "God, help them!" I prayed instinctively. It was all happening so fast, I had no time to think that our nine-year quest for a NASCAR championship might be obliterated instantaneously in the crash. You don't think of championships, money, or machinery at a moment like that-you just pray that everyone is okay.
Thanks to their great pit stops just prior to the wreck, Bobby and Tony had been running ahead of where the crash took place.
Nevertheless, as they rounded the track, they had to negotiate the crash area. They darted through the tangled mass of machinery, expertly steering away from trouble, as our spotters shouted instructions in their headsets. A race car driver has to trust his spotter completely-there's no time to argue, negotiate other options, or attempt to outguess the spotter. With cars caroming off one another like bumper cars and a wall of smoke blocking the view ahead, the driver must react instinctively to the voice of the spotter, relying on the spotter's direction to get him through the melee-using his own driving ability, for sure, but knowing that the spotter has a better overall view of the track. The spotter can see what is up ahead of the driver and what is behind the driver, and he must often make split-second decisions to help the driver avoid disaster. I swallowed hard and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw both the #18 and the #20 emerge from the smoke. "Whew! That was close," I said aloud to no one in particular. I squeezed my eyes shut as I tried to hear clearly the voices in the headsets that were describing the accident. Clean-up crews went to work clearing the damage from the five-car crash. After only thirty-eight laps, seven cars-each one costing more than $150,000-had been towed to the garage area. For the drivers of those cars, the race was over.
Following the caution period, the race restarted with Jeremy Mayfield leading Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett into the first turn. Ricky had been on a roll, finishing in the top ten in nine of his last twelve races, and he had a great car again today.
Hot on the leaders' tails was Tony Stewart. Bobby hung back a bit in seventh position as he waited patiently for an opportunity to advance. In a long race with more than 200 laps yet to go, Bobby knew that he'd get his chance.
Mayfield and Jarrett soon fell back, and Tony swept into second position behind Ricky Rudd. Tony then boldly slid under Ricky, passing him on the left and moving into the lead. The two traded the lead back and forth as they ripped around the race track, with Tony finally pulling ahead of Ricky Rudd by less than a second.
By lap 67, Tony had caught and nearly lapped the cars at the tail end of the field. Bobby had moved into fifth position-right where he needed to be if we were to win the championship. Tony was gunning for victory in the race; Bobby was chasing a championship dream!
Tony kept in close radio contact with his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli- Zippy, as he is known around our race shop. Tony updated him on the car's engine temperature, gauges, and overall feel. The #20 car was running great. "I'm just babying the car," Tony quipped as he roared by the grandstands.
With 180 laps to go, Tony now led Ricky Rudd by more than one full second. Bobby was about twelve seconds behind the leaders, and Jeff Gordon hovered in ninth position, 17.8 seconds behind Tony. Jeff had won the Winston Cup championship in 1995, 1997, and 1998, so nobody ever counted him out of a race; but a 17-second lead is tough to overcome, even for a great driver.
Tony completed lap 92, and Zippy instructed him to pit for fresh tires and fuel. Watching the pit crew work is like watching artistry in motion-a symphony played on finely tuned instruments by experts performing at a level few novices can ever hope to achieve. It is a true team effort, each member of the pit crew contributing his talent to the overall accomplishment of the team.
Like a precision military unit, our pit guys stood poised on the wall, ready to respond. They leaped over the wall just as Tony whipped the car into the Home Depot pit. Wearing a protective helmet, our gas man, Gooch, carried an eleven-gallon tank to the car and filled Tony's tank.
Meanwhile, Marcus, the jack man, hoisted the car as the tire changers went to work with their powerful pressurized air wrenches, whizzing the lug nuts off the wheels, the whirring, high-pitched sound piercing the air like two loud and very large dentist's drills. Two tire carriers hauled the large, fresh tires and threw them onto the wheels, and the air wrenches whirred again, replacing the lug nuts. The hot tires just removed from the car were bounced out of the way. The tire guys made it look easy, like a perfect pass around a befuddled defender on a basketball court. The process was repeated on the car's left side, while two team members used long-handled brushes to scrub the car's windshield and grill area. In 15.4 seconds, Tony was heading back into the race with four new tires, a full tank of gas, and a clean windshield. Try that at your local service station!
A lap later, Bobby Labonte pulled onto pit road. Bobby had smartly stayed out on the track while the other race leaders came in for their pit stops, thereby pulling into the lead of the race and picking up five more points toward the 2000 NASCAR championship. As soon as Bobby picked up the bonus points, he headed for pit road, where the Interstate Batteries team whipped into action. With a blur of motion, the crew refueled the car, changed tires, and took one pound of air pressure out of both rear tires-all in an astonishing 14.9 seconds!
I have a standing bonus program for our pit crews. For every pit stop completed in less than sixteen seconds, I pay our crew a bonus. For every pit stop that takes more than sixteen seconds, the crew pays me! Watching Bobby as he roared off pit road and back into the race, I knew that stop was going to cost me-a bonus I was glad to pay!
As soon as the pit crew hauled the used tires back into the pit, one of our tire guys took a torch and smoothed off a plane of rubber across each tire to rid the tire of any road debris or crud collected from the track. Tread-depth gauges were inserted into each tire, and the wear was measured and recorded. A pyrometer measured the tires' temperatures.
We want to know exactly how far our drivers can go on each new tire, and the only way to do that is to closely monitor the wear and tear on our used tires. Information is then recorded and entered into our computers aboard the pit cart for future reference.
I paced back and forth, slowly but incessantly, in the #18-car pit area. There's not much room in the pit, and with the pit cart in front of me and stacks of tires behind me, I was forced to confine my pacing to a relatively tight area, but I kept moving nonetheless. I focused intensely, oblivious to everything and everybody except the action on the track. To a casual observer, I must have looked much as I did along the sidelines during my coaching career in the NFL, radioing plays to the quarterback over my headset microphone. Now, however, I wasn't saying anything at all, but the microphone and my sunglasses helped to conceal my anxiety. I struggled to maintain a cool, calm demeanor, while inside my heart was pounding. We really might win this thing! I thought.
One hundred fifty-five laps to go! Tony continued leading the race, lapping cars all around the track. Most of the lapped cars simply got out of the way, but not Dale Earnhardt. As Tony came up behind Dale, "The Intimidator" was not about to go easily. Dale was in hot pursuit of Bobby for the 2000 championship, and whether it was losing points or pride, Dale didn't take kindly to going a lap down to the leader.
Tony moved up behind Dale and attempted to slide by him on the inside. But then Dale roared back and cut Tony off, costing him valuable time as Ricky Rudd picked up nearly half a second on the leader. Tony backed off momentarily, allowing Dale to move slightly ahead, as both cars bore down on a pack of others in front of them. One by one, Tony slipped past the other race cars, but he couldn't get around Earnhardt. Consequently, Ricky Rudd loomed ever closer in Tony's rearview mirror. This was NASCAR racing at its best! Even when Dale Earnhardt was not in contention to win the race, he was a fierce competitor and a force on the track.
Finally, Tony found an opening. He powered past Dale, but even then Dale wasn't done. As Tony rounded the turn in front of Dale, the black #3 car nearly nudged the back of Tony's car. Had Dale gotten into Tony's bumper, the #20 car could easily have careened out of control.
Fortunately, Earnhardt slid off higher on the track, and Tony picked up some breathing space between them. In doing so, Tony helped his teammate's quest for the championship by putting Bobby's closest challenger a lap down.
Now all we had to do was hope and pray that Bobby could finish near the front at Homestead.
|1.||Racing to Win||9|
|The Game Plan|
|Success in Your Career|
|3.||Do What You Love||43|
|5.||Brush with an Angel||67|
|6.||Free to Succeed||73|
|Seven Cornerstone Principles for Success||87|
|Your Financial Success|
|8.||From the Super Bowl to the Porcelain Bowl||95|
|9.||Working Out of a Financial Mess||105|
|10.||Back from the Brink||113|
|Eleven Cornerstone Principles for Success||121|
|Success in Building Your Team|
|11.||Building the Team Builder||129|
|12.||A Leader's Toughest Job||141|
|13.||Thriving in Troubled Times||157|
|Eleven Cornerstone Principles for Success||167|
|Success in Your Personal Relationships|
|15.||The Keys to Quality Relationships||185|
|Seven Cornerstone Principles for Success||203|
|Success and Your Moral Choices|
|16.||Reaping What You Sow||211|
|17.||Making the Tough Calls||223|
|Seven Cornerstone Principles for Success||231|
|Success and Your Health|
|19.||Some Problems Can't Be Avoided||245|
|Seven Cornerstone Principles for Success||251|
|The Final Lap|
|20.||Your Turn to Win||259|
|Why I Believe the Bible||271|
|What the Bible Says About Success||279|
Posted June 11, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted January 4, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted July 26, 2011
No text was provided for this review.