I have seen that many people who have tasted success often think that they no longer need the people who helped them get there. Believe me, you can’t attain success alone, just like you can’t maintain success alone. This is why it is vital to keep whoever was there on your way up because you will need them to maintain the top spot.
I was blessed to have Carroll Shelby as a good friend, starting way back in the late 1960s. One day, during a conversation with Carroll, I asked him if he could speculate as to any one thing in particular that helped him become as successful as he was. He didn’t hesitate at all.
“I’ve been asked many times how I became a famous racecar driver and I’ve been asked how I became a famous engine builder or a car designer. But the facts are, I was none of the above. Oh sure, I won a few races and I dabbled a bit in building some hot rods, but the one thing I did know how to do was delegate. For example, when we went up against Ferrari to go after the world championships, I didn’t drive, but I did find the best drivers around to drive. And when my drivers asked if we could find more horsepower, I didn’t know how to machine a damn engine but I did know who the best engine builder was and the same thing when it came to aerodynamics and so on. The bottom line is, what I was good at was surrounding myself with everyone that it took to make me look good.”
Much of what I learned from Carroll resonated with me all the years I raced cars. When I needed more motor, I found out who the best engine builder was, and I found the best driving instructors and so on. But one very important part of my success was my crew chief, Junior Rodriguez.
Junior did everything, it seems, which included many late nights working on the car at the track and the shop. I don’t believe it’s possible for any team to find great success without having their own Junior. Someone willing to dedicate themselves to the driver, the car and to having the desire to win.
The reason many racers often have failed in their racing efforts is because they don’t maintain relationships with the people who helped them build their team. One of the biggest assets in my racing career was my crew chief and team members that helped prepare the car and dial it in during a practice session or a race. Another important duty was to keep me focused on driving the car. Team members and especially a crew chief that give you all the right mental and moral support you need are invaluable.
To remember the importance of those around you who help you succeed is as important to them as it is to you. One of the things I like most about NASA is how teams become a family. I can’t help but smile as I walk through the paddock when I see teams that have tables set up filled with food and drinks for their team and see them seated together, just like one big happy family. When laughter and camaraderie mix, that alone is a sign of a winning team and that is where success is born.
As Carroll Shelby told me, remember to surround yourself with those who are best suited to make you look great, and remember that doesn’t have to end at the track.