The Driven Life: Blake Koch on the power of positivity and passion

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed interviews involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Blake Koch, who founded the business FilterTime after losing his NASCAR ride.

We’re here at the track and you’re not driving. I’d think, “Oh geez, maybe he’s going to be down in the dumps.” But I follow you on social media, I see how your life’s going. You seem super happy. Obviously, you’ve had tough times and I’m sure you’ve had bad days, but you’ve managed to stay positive through all of it. How do you stay positive and how can people reading take some of that for themselves?

You’re right. I’m extremely happy, and to be honest with you, I had two good years there running in the playoffs and my career was taking a different path to the good side. It was fun, it was good — and then I lost my ride.

I was pretty upset and a little down for about a day. That was all I let myself kind of pout. I pouted for a day, like, “This shouldn’t happen,” and then you find yourself pouting and you’re like, “What’s that gonna do?” So I decided to pump myself up. You know me, I’m a Christian, so I prayed, like, “God, what do you want me to do next?” Nothing’s going to change from me sitting here and pouting, no one’s going to feel sorry for me, I have a wife and two kids, I’ve got to provide.

And I just started working. I didn’t even know what to work on, really, but I just was excited about what was going to happen next for me. I started doing the sponsor hunting, but doors were closing and no sponsors were showing interest, no teams were reaching out. I was like, “Man, God’s really shutting the door on driving. So what else should I do?”

An opportunity with FOX popped right up, and I was like, “Oh, this is great! I get to talk about the series I love, the Xfinity Series, on the show Race Hub. So that opportunity came in. And then (Matt) Tifft asked me if I was willing to help him. He was really looking forward to being my teammate over at RCR and asked if I’d be willing to help him work hard and teach him how to work hard, is what he said. And I said, “Dude, that sounds awesome, I’d love to help you!”

A part of the reason why I wasn’t a great driver is because I wanted to help people too much. I was too nice. So it really kind of fits me, because I get to be myself and actually help people like I really want to.

I know I’m going long on this answer, but how do I stay positive? I just start my day, every single morning, with some prayer, reading the Bible, and just motivating myself — listening to some motivational stuff (like) a podcast and just being grateful for everything I have: my wife, my kids, my family, my house.

I start my day like that every single day, and then I just attack. Whatever I can do to make today the best I can be is what I do. And I think what drives me is my passion, and my passion gives me that adrenaline — (even if) it’s selling air filters with FilterTime. Like I love FilterTime just as much as I did racing. I don’t know why, but I love when people email me and someone signs up and someone sends me a question about air filters. I just love it. So I think it’s just the passion that keeps me positive, motivated and just always on the go.

Going back to the times when before you realized there were other things out there like FilterTime for you and you’re on that sponsor hunt and the doors are closing, those had to be discouraging days. Even on those days, were you able to find some positivity? Let’s say someone’s been laid off and lost their job, they’re going through a job hunt right now. What advice would you give to people who are feeling like, “Man, I don’t feel like I have a sense of purpose right now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m looking for that next thing.” How do people sort of steer themselves in the right direction?

You just have to make yourself be positive, right? It’s not a natural thing for me. There’s days when I wake up and I’m just not motivated, not excited — but I don’t let myself think that way. I immediately stop and think about all the things that I’m grateful for; little things, right? Little things like I have a vehicle to drive, little things like knowing my wife and my kids, we’d be happy if we had to go live in hotels because we couldn’t afford a house, we’d be happy because we have each other. So me just knowing that we’d be happy in any and all circumstances is very comforting for me just to go where I feel led to go and work towards where I feel I need to be working at.

And like you said, there was a time where I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I carried a notebook with me everywhere, and I wrote down who I need to call today. Every morning I need to make five phone calls to teams or drivers, and then I need to make five phone calls to somebody in another area, and then I’m writing ideas down.

I’ve had ideas down on wrapping people’s garage doors to make it look good in front of their house instead of this white plain thing. I had an idea of a mobile oil change unit that I could start and go to people’s houses to change oil. I had all these ideas that I was ready and excited to go, but you start working on it and then you kind of feel like, “Ahh, that’s not really the direction I feel led, doors aren’t opening.”

Then when FilterTime popped in my head, I knew. The doors were just flying open everywhere and it was full force, everything was just lining up perfectly and that’s kind of when I knew my calling — my next calling was to start an air filter subscription business. (Grins)

What you said about forcing yourself to be positive is really interesting to me because I assumed in some ways, “He’s just a happy person. He’s just the kind of guy for whatever reason is not going to get down.” But when you say you had to stop yourself and say, “Wait, I see myself going down this path mentally, I’m starting to have negative thoughts creep in” — it sounds like it’s something you have to initiate within yourself. It doesn’t just happen.

Yeah, you just don’t lose weight by thinking about it. But a lot of that is surrounding yourself by good people, too. You are who you hang with, and there’s guys I can call — Trevor Bayne, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier — if I’m feeling a little down or whatever. And my wife, too, a lot of times I have to pump her up a little bit. But when she sees me getting down, she’s like, “Babe, it’s OK, it’s going to work out,” and she pumps me up, too.

But to give you an example, when I came to this track here in Daytona one year ago, the first time not driving in a decade, I was like, “Man, I’ve got to walk in this Xfinity garage and pretend to be happy.” But I committed to it, and people came up to me saying, “You were done wrong, it stinks you were bought out,” and my answer — I committed to making it positive — was, “No, it’s OK, it’s how it works, he deserves to be in the car.” And it’s just part of it.

Whether it’s social media or turning on the news, sometimes it’s kind of tough not to be affected by like what you see as the state of the world. How do you not let that seep into your life? How do you rise above that?

I think just not worrying about things. It would be really easy to worry about the world we live in and the direction it’s going and what kind of world are my kids going to live in. But there’s nothing you can do about it other than just have a positive attitude. For me, it’s being a great leader for my wife and my kids and just creating that positive energy in the house. And if I can help somebody else be positive, that’s one less person being negative on social media, you know?

Think about if everybody just stayed positive on social media. I think attitudes would be different, and quite frankly, the day would be a lot more enjoyable.

I’d also like to talk to you about the energy that you have to do this stuff. Where do you get the energy from? Is that a natural thing where you’re just feeling enthusiastic?

My dad is super passionate and energetic, too, so I do think there’s something in my genes that just gives me that drive. For me, I never drove a race car until I was 20 years old, made an Xfinity start at 24 or something. So that doesn’t happen by an unmotivated, undriven person. So I’ve always had it.

Even before I raced, before any of you guys knew me or who I was, I did pressure washing. I pressure washed houses for a paycheck, and I loved it. I wanted to be the best pressure washer in the world, I was so competitive to make sure people were happy with the work I did.

So I think just naturally, I just want to be the best at whatever I’m doing, and that all starts with goals. You’ve got to have short-term goals. I have a goal every day of what I want to accomplish in the day, I have weekly goals, I have annual goals and I have five-year goals. And you know, if you are being lazy that day, it’s not going to get you any closer to your goal.

It all comes down to starting your day off right. I don’t sleep in, I wake up early — 5:30 or 6:00, before my family — I go into my office, I read, pray, write down goals and mentally get prepared for life. Life is tough. You’re going to have to make so many decisions every day, you’re going to hear so many bad things throughout the day that you have to really get prepared for it.

You’ve talked about your goals. You said you have daily goals, all the way up to five-year goals. Is that stuff you write down in your notebook, or is that just in your head?

Yeah, I have a whiteboard in my office. It’s like a three foot by five foot whiteboard on the wall, and I just write them on that whiteboard. And those aren’t little goals; those aren’t like, “Call this somebody.” Those are big goals. Like with FilterTime, it was, “Start FilterTime.”

For me, what I knew I wanted to do was something that was helping people and competition and something that can help me provide for my family. So those were the three things I knew I wanted to do after racing.

Helping people is my driver coaching — I work with Harrison Burton and Tifft, sharing the stuff I’ve learned over 10 years that I can help these guys with and give them true honesty. I really love doing that. The competitive side is that and the FOX Race Hub thing, so I knew that was happening. And then when the air filter business started obviously, that was helping people change air filters and it’s making me money. So that was kind of tying it all together.

If somebody just needs like a kick or a pep in their step or something, what do you think is one thing or one change they could make to sort of just help their overall life?

Literally, you have to be positive and passionate. Life and careers and jobs is all about relationships, people. And people don’t like hanging around and talking to negative people. They just don’t. So if you’re expecting to advance in your career, advance whatever you are doing, it’s all about relationships that people like to be around. If you’re not naturally positive, you’ve got to make yourself be positive. It’s just really not an option.

The Driven Life: Jimmie Johnson on finding motivation to be healthy

This is the first in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed interviews involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up first: Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson, who offers tips on how the average person can choose a healthier lifestyle.

I know you started a little bit later in life compared to some others. How old were you when you first started getting serious about working out and all that?

I swam in high school and grew up racing motocross — both super physical — and I was in great shape then. But as I started my four-wheel career, there was so much to learn about the vehicles and the tracks and there’s traveling and driving equipment to the races, and I developed all these bad habits along the way of eating at truck stops and fast food — and the fitness just tanked.

So I would say up until 17, 18, I was fit and an athlete and then had this hiatus for a long period of time. I would say probably ’08, ’09, somewhere around there is when I started to get serious again (in his early-30s), and it filled some piece inside of me from my day of feeling accomplished, feeling good about myself, confidence going up and I know that I’m doing that’s important for my career. There’s a lot of positive boxes that I mentally check when I get my workout in, and it’s evolved into many things. But just at a very basic level, that hour or whatever it ends up being in a day, is just vital for me and it gives me such a positive outlook on the rest of the day.

A lot of people have at least tried to get on a workout program, getting healthy habits at some point in life, or maybe they’ve tried diets that haven’t worked out. I noticed that you’ve really stayed consistent with it — and obviously part of it is you’re a professional athlete — but also a lot of it is that you’re doing it on your own. I see sometimes you’ll go on vacation, so you do get off it for a couple days and let yourself enjoy life, but then you go back on it. So how do people, if they want to be healthier, how do they stick with it? What are some of the steps they should take?

I think being honest with yourself about what works for you. New Year’s rolls around and we’re all guilty of saying, “I need to lose 10 pounds, I need to go on some crash diet,” and that’s not sustainable. Three or four days in, you’re like, “The heck with it. I’m out.” So I think setting realistic goals, trying to make just a small change to start with and carrying that for a month — if it’s your eating habits or your training habits, just put one foot in front of the other, literally. Just one step at a time, see what works for you.

And then from there, trying to find things that you enjoy. Being outside has been a big part for me and why cycling and running and all that has worked so well. I just like being outside and that pulls me out.

Signing up for a fitness event is another really good tool for me. For some reason, when I commit to doing some event, I’ll get up earlier or I’ll stay up later, I’ll eat better, like there’s motivation within that. So I think setting some realistic goals and then trying to chase them down from there is really important.

It sounds like to not put too much pressure on yourself. Like you want to better yourself, but without getting to the point where you’re going to fail and then you’re just going to fall off the wagon completely.

I think so. I honestly believe that fitness, health, quality of life, a healthy life — it’s a journey. It’s not like something you’re going to do (overnight). There’s no silver bullet, there’s no quick fix. You need to make adjustments that are going to last through your lifetime, and having a realistic approach and thinking of it as a long journey, I think, is much more useful. And maybe not for all personalities, but for most, I think having that long-term view is key, so you set some realistic goals.

If we can get kind of specific here, it seems like consistently you get up early to do a lot of your workouts, and you have two kids at home. My excuse for myself would be, “Well, I need all the sleep I can get, I’m maxed out with this, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I just need that extra hour of sleep.” Whereas I see you, you’re getting up at 4:30, 5, something like that to go work out. How do you get yourself up out of bed to do that in the first place?

For me, it’s not easy, and the hardest part is literally putting my feet on the ground and getting out of the bed. From there, everything gets easier as I go. But the way my life works and the way our house works, the kids get up at 6:30, and they go to bed at 7:30, so if I’m going to work out after the house goes down, it’s just not going to work. I’m exhausted. And I find I don’t put in the effort or have the motivation to train later in the day, so I try to get it done early if I can.

Oftentimes, in order to get up early, I’ve got to go to bed early. So the kids go down about 7:30, and I put my phone on silent mode and I’m out most nights by 8, 8:30. That’s the only way. I still need my eight hours of sleep. I mean, I can get by on five to six for a couple days, but I get cranky and don’t function well, so I’ve just got to go to bed earlier to get up earlier.

And then how about with temperatures, because I see that as another excuse that I see myself slide by with. Like it’s either too hot outside or it’s too cold. You live in Charlotte and you also live in Aspen, so you’re having a lot of extremes with the temperature — and yet that doesn’t stop you from working out. So how do you not let that create an excuse for yourself?

I think that’s the nicest thing about my interest in being outdoors, there’s a lot of versatility and sports and a lot of opportunities that I have. In Colorado, one thing that I love to do is to go uphilling or go skinning — you have these downhill skis with carpets on the bottom and the boots and bindings work in a way where you can hike up the hill and you can lock in and you can ski down. So when it’s cold and I want to get a workout in, I do that quite often. I’ll just skip going up on the lift and at least do one trip up the mountain, which is probably an hour, hour and a half to get up. And then ski down and then jump on the lift and do it after that.

So you’ve just got to be creative and take advantage of the environment you’re in. Cycling is tough in the winter; I kind of cycle less because it’s hard to stay warm on a bike. But running works really well, and even going to a pool and swimming works really well.

So just keeping an open mind, and again, thinking of that long-term thing: I just want to have a healthy life and I want to feel good about myself, and I really like to eat — so if I wasn’t training and burning all these calories, I don’t think I’d fit in my suit.

Speaking of eating and diet and things like that, I was at Supercross earlier this year and Aldon Baker, who trains some of the guys, I mean he’s talking about no cheat days ever. He won’t let Jason Anderson and Marvin Musquin enjoy Thanksgiving, nothing. And I see you, you like ice cream, you said you like to eat. So obviously you allow yourself something while still trying to stay healthy. How do you manage eating well with also enjoying the food?

Everybody needs to be pushed and everybody needs to be uncomfortable to succeed, right? I firmly believe in that. I go through windows at times through the season where I get hardcore like that. The motocross world in general, their career span is much shorter than NASCAR. So there’s no way one of those riders is going to go 18 seasons living like that. I have many friends that have ridden for Aldon and they’ve got about a five- to six-year window where they can live life like that, and then they just can’t do it anymore. It’s a tough pace to keep up.

So it depends on what you’re doing. You’ve got to be realistic with yourself and your environment, what you need to be successful. In car racing, we don’t need to be as regimented as those guys do. We just don’t. I’ve found what works for me and I’m playing the long game. A lot of those motocross riders, it’s a short season for starters when you just look at Supercross alone, and then a short career where they’ve got to be so committed. And I respect them all for how high that commitment level is, not only from a fitness and nutrition side, but also the danger that’s involved in riding those things.

So if someone is reading this and they’ve never done anything or never tried to work out, they feel like they can’t do it and they’re just not an athlete, what are the basic first steps they can do just to start? How does somebody learn where to start that’s healthy for them?

I think first and foremost, it’s about not making excuses. And I’m not saying in a way that is harmful or dangerous for yourself, but we all have that little voice that tells us what we probably should do, and it’s usually a really faint soft voice in the back of our minds. Maybe listen to that a little more.

And then just take some realistic first steps to get going. Depending on your health requirements or issues, an event that you have coming up, whatever it might be, there’s different reasons to be highly motivated. And in most cases, and certainly for most of the readers, I think it’s about just consistency.

I see a lot of people start off and they do too much, too soon. If it’s too crazy of a diet, too much lifting, too much running, too much riding and they come out of the gate and they almost burn themselves out in a short period of time. My coach often says, “Quality over quantity.” Just get a quality base started, diet and fitness-wise, and then let the quantity show up down the road if you’re enjoying it.

The 24 Minutes of Daytona podcast

While attempting to stay up for every hour at the Rolex 24, I recorded podcast segments throughout the race. Featuring cameos from Nate Ryan, Jenna Fryer, Holly Cain, John Haverlin, Christopher DeHarde and race fans attending the event.