Gary Faules - NASA Director of Mentoring

I remember being a young teenager, back when my classmates and friends were all talking about cars. Most of the time, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about … throw-out bearings, posi-traction, 427 or 327. I didn’t know the difference between a lifter and a piston, let alone the difference between adjusting the dwell or the air-fuel mixture.

I will never forget one of the smartest gearheads from those days, sharing a story with a bunch of us about how he had inadvertently installed his throw-out bearing backward. Everyone began laughing out loud as did I, but the truth was, I didn’t have a clue what a throw-out bearing was, let alone why the story was funny.

Little did I realize back then that one day my knowledge of the automotive world would far surpass theirs and, in fact, I would find great success in doing so.

It was a common misconception back then that the average gearhead would never have a very high IQ. But let’s take a look at some of the things racing involves and teaches us, most of which are known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), all of which can lead to opening many professional doors.

Racing teaches us about fabrication, welding, physics, geometry, body work, aerodynamics, and heaven forbid, learning about budgeting, marketing and public speaking. Think sponsors and awards banquets. Then again, one must not forget physical training. Stamina is a must for endurance racing and for good health. All of the above must include teamwork and leadership skills. While not the point I’m trying to drive home, last but not least, we all learn exceptional driving skills.

The automotive world, racing, and mechanics have come light-years since the 1960s, when all that was needed to call yourself a mechanic was a shoebox full of hand tools, a floor-jack, and a can of Boraxo, but how far did that get many of them?

Based on all of the above, if you’re looking for an area of study that will prepare you for a successful career, consider entering the STEM fields. Racing can help you enter a satisfying and lucrative field, which provides you with skills that can translate favorably to any workplace environment. Hands-on learning can, in fact, bring valuable field experiences, which will teach the skills necessary to excel.

So, you see, racing isn’t just a pastime. Far from it. For some, it’s an opportunity, a doorway to a career, a future and so much of what I’ve written about above can lead to leadership, teamwork, and winning, all of which make a person more attractive to any organization looking to advance themselves.

In business, focusing on delivering small improvements through the right processes is key. Small changes to the running of meetings, or how to improve how people communicate or how they manage information, can have a large impact on the way an organization becomes a success.

Focusing on the big picture and not obsessing with feeling like you’re just a car guy, is key for real progress. What you really should be doing is learning everything you possibly can, which will surprise you one day when you realize, “Hey, I got this!”

Ultimately, some of those guys and gals that didn’t know the difference between a lifter and a piston, let alone the difference between adjusting the dwell or the air fuel mixture, will open their eyes and find themselves standing among giants, and that might include many fulfilling possibilities. Racing with NASA isn’t just about racing. It’s about opportunities.

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