As a boy growing up in Oregon, I never knew what it was like to idolize great “home team” athletes like those from the National Football League or Major League Baseball, because there were no NFL or MLB teams in Oregon. Like most other boys of the 60s who were in awe of celebrity athletes, I too admired Major League Baseball greats like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Sandy Koufax, and National Football League players like Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, and Bart Starr, but because they weren’t from my home state, somehow, I felt cheated. Eventually I found the connection I longed for, a bond as it were, a celebrity I could connect with because he was someone who was from my state of Oregon.
It all began when I started reading about cars and racing. Some of my fondest childhood memories were those times my dad would ask if I would like to watch a race on TV with him or when he would hand me a magazine with a well written article about racing. There came a time that I began following a driver by the name of Hershel McGriff, who was not only from Oregon, but he was in the lumber business, just like my dad. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. It didn’t take long until I was hooked, not only on racing, but with following McGriff’s racing career. I finally had a sports celebrity to idolize.
As if it were just yesterday, I vividly remember using Testors model paints to hand-paint “McGriff Special” on my go-kart, and then standing back to admire my handiwork while thinking “Man, do I own the coolest go-kart in the world or what?!” Even though it feels like not all that long ago, that was almost 60 years in the past. Since those days, so long ago, Hershel has gone on to become a legendary, Hall of Fame, NASCAR driver. Even better, Hershel and I became good friends and enjoy a close and meaningful friendship. You can only imagine the pride I felt on September 18th, my wedding day, when I married the love of my life, Karol Faules, as Hershel McGriff stood at my side as my best man. How awesome is that?!
On many occasions, I have written about another racing legend, who I also idolized and became friends with, Carroll Shelby, and a conversation I had with him. When I asked Carroll what he attributed his success to, he said, “I’ve heard and read so many stories about all the things that I supposedly did right, my days as a driver, the cars I designed and built, and so on. But the truth is, what I did best, was surround myself with great people. In doing so, they just made me better.”
It’s this train of thought that leads me to believe I have learned a valuable lesson from the best, and have in fact surrounded myself with great people, including my wife, my family, and my friends, as well as my business associates. We all know one of the best ways to improve is to practice with someone who’s better than you. This idea translates nicely to your personal and career successes as well, and that’s why its so important to surround yourself with people who are winners.
It’s this same thinking that helped me perform well on the track, and when you too surround yourself with great drivers, crew, fans, and NASA, you too will be taking a giant step into being better than you could have ever imagined.