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.

Blake Koch undeterred after losing Xfinity Series ride

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement Blake Koch would not return to the Kaulig Racing Xfinity Series team, he went on Sirius XM for an interview, did a Facebook Live chat and even personally called his biggest fans.

Then he got to work.

“That first week, I made more phone calls and sent more emails than I have in my entire life,” Koch said via phone, nearly two weeks after losing his ride to Ryan Truex. “I didn’t want to sit at home and pout or feel bad for myself, even for five seconds.”

Koch has been going through his entire contact list — everyone he’s met in a decade of racing — and reaching out. Of course, like the vast majority of drivers in his situation, he’ll need to find a sponsor to land a new ride.

That’s something he hasn’t had to do in three years, since Kaulig Racing owner Matt Kaulig’s company, LeafFilter, was also the sponsor of the team.

It’s a daunting task, as is catching up on all the little things you wouldn’t think about: Regaining control of his website (LeafFilter had controlled that) and even his Dropbox account.

“I’ve never gone through a divorce, but it almost feels like going through one,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s just a lot of stuff to deal with.”

Of course, nothing is harder than trying to find a company willing to invest in him and make him the face of their brand — even after making the Xfinity playoffs as an underdog the last two years.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Koch said of the sponsor search. “Nothing is remotely easy about it. There’s no standard way of doing it. And you have to think outside the box.

“But the good news is, it’s still doable. I’m glad it’s hard, because if it was easy, there wouldn’t be any sponsors left. You have to go get it and put in the work.”

The reality, he said, is it’s late enough in the offseason that finding something full-time for 2018 may not happen.

“But you always have the next year,” he said.

Koch is open to anything — even Global Rallycross, which he called “very appealing to me.”

Even though Koch is not in a good position at the moment, he’s determined to keep a positive attitude. He’s been through much worse in his career, like the time in 2012 when a ride fell through after he had just bought a house.

After that, he found himself doing whatever he could to pay the bills and stay in the sport: Driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome, spotting for Michael McDowell and start-and-parking for Rick Ware and Jennifer Jo Cobb.

“What’s happened in the past has made me strong enough and tested my faith enough that when I’m put in this position, I handle it a little better,” he said.”This (Kaulig Racing) was such a great opportunity, but these things don’t last forever. Whether it was nine years or one year down the road, it was going to come to an end eventually.

“Fortunately, I have a much better resume now than I did before. I’m more motivated than ever to succeed and work and keep pushing.”


12 Questions with Blake Koch

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Blake Koch of Kaulig Racing. I spoke with Koch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This interview is available in both written and podcast form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Oh man. I would say that it’s probably 50/50. You can work as work as you want to, but if you don’t have that natural ability to drive a car at speed, it’s gonna be really difficult to make it. And if you have that natural ability to go fast but don’t put in the work, you’re not gonna make it, either. So I feel like both are equally important. You have to have that natural talent — that natural ability to drive a race car or for whatever you’re doing in life — and then you have to have the ability to work harder than anybody else at it to become successful.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I welcome all fans. I think that’s the most important part of NASCAR, are the fans that come out to watch us. It wouldn’t be as fun racing in front of nobody, you know? I truly appreciate the fans. I like to get to know them. I like to utilize my social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook Live or Instagram Stories, to just show my fans the behind-the-scenes of my life and also follow them, too, and get to see what they do and what they’re like.

And you know the story of the Koch Krew, and how I just welcomed those guys in (through a tweet) and now they’re my biggest fans. They have their own T-shirt line now. So I just encourage people to follow me because I’m a real person. I am a race car driver on the racetrack, but I also didn’t grow up in it.

Six years ago, I was pressure-cleaning roofs Monday through Thursday to pay the bills and then racing on the weekends. And only four years ago, I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome and spotting for Michael McDowell in the Cup Series, just trying to stay at the racetrack, be in front of the right people and just keep working at it like you have to in order to make it in the sport. Ever since I’ve met (LeafFilter owner) Matt Kaulig, he’s turned my career around and here I am competing for a Xfinity Series playoff position.

I love the story of the Koch Krew. They were people who were “Carl’s Crew” and they were looking for a new driver, like so many fans are now, and I retweeted them and said they were looking for a new driver. You were the only driver out of all the possible drivers to tweet them back. And now it’s like a match made in heaven.

It is cool. I remember they wrote a letter and you reposted it. I saw it and I was like, “Man, if they’re that big of fans of Carl Edwards, I would love to have those fans.” And then they just jumped all in and they showed up, I think Daytona was the first time I met them. Then they flew all the way to Vegas, they’ve been to Pocono, Dover, they go all over the place. And the Koch Krew is getting bigger now. I mean, they use the hashtag #KochKrew and they have the shirts like I said. We’re selling a lot of those shirts. And they’re just awesome people, man; they’re just really really nice and good people, and I’m proud to be their driver.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack would have to be just balancing time. I think that goes for any person that’s married with kids and has a career: just trying to balance that time, spending enough time with my kids, spending enough time with my wife, spending enough time working at my job and focusing on how to get better. So that balance is a constant struggle for me. And not really a struggle like I’m bad at it, but I make sure it’s a priority to have a good balance of time. That’s probably the most difficult part.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Absolutely! Yeah! Definitely come over for an autograph.

What if you’re in the middle of eating or something?

If I’m in the middle of eating, I would say still come over and talk to us. But if I’m with someone else, make sure you talk to them, too. It’s always kind of awkward when I’m talking to somebody or a fan and it’s my wife or friend sitting there and they’re feeling awkward. So make sure you say hi to everybody at the table.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I don’t know about a story, but I would like to hear the sponsors mentioned more. Like when you’re watching the races, watching practice, you hear, “Blake Koch, No. 11.” It would be nice to throw in LeafFilter. Every time you say my car, my name, it’d be nice to have sponsor plugs. We work really hard to get these sponsors and spend a lot of money. Anytime we can get their names mentioned on TV more is better.

6. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yes I do. I do think we are entertainers. Our job is to put on a good race and a good show for the fans watching on their mobile device or on their television or through Twitter. There’s so many ways to relive the race, but our job really is to entertain people, especially at the racetrack. If we’re doing a Q and A on stage at the Chevy trailer, you wanna be an entertainer; you want people to be excited and not just bored. So I think it’s important to entertain our fans.

7. Who is the last driver you texted?

Well that’s easy, let’s look. (Pulls out phone) Justin Allgaier is the last driver I texted.

Can you say what you were texting about?

It was last night at 8:30. We were doing media availability (on Friday of Indianapolis race weekend), and he’s like, “I figured out something about Indy where I didn’t really want to show my cars to everybody.” I texted him saying, “Hey what do you know about Indy? Call me.” And he said, “OK, I’ll call you.”

That’s a nice friend. He shared some info.

We’ll see if he shared. (Laughs) He gave me some info but it doesn’t sound like a big secret, so we’ll see.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Zero tolerance for the middle finger. It makes me more mad than I can even explain to you when someone flicks me off. The last person that did it, we ended up having a talk the next weekend. And I like to have a talk, I don’t like to jump to conclusions. So I just tell them, “You can’t flick me off. It’s not OK.” And I’m looked at as the nicest guy in the garage, so when I come up and have that serious conversation with you, I mean it. So that’s my policy: Zero tolerance.

So you’re just offended? If something like that happens, you’re like, “This is deeply offensive.” That’s why you’re so mad about it?

The way I was brought up, the middle finger means a particular word to you, and it would be like walking up to somebody and saying that to their face. What do you expect the reaction to be? It’s not gonna be good. So I literally see red on the racetrack, and I have to calm myself down and it kind of ruins my whole section of the racetrack. So it’s bad.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Absolutely. I entered into NASCAR with respect for every single driver I race around. I don’t really keep a payback list, like I have to pay somebody back, but they do lose my respect and I will race them differently than I race someone that does cut me breaks.

So you remember who races you which way. I race people the way I wanna be raced, and then they race people the way they want to be raced. So if they’re racing you like an idiot, they obviously want to be raced like an idiot. That’s kind of how I look at it.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

The most famous person I’ve had dinner with, well it was dinner in the hauler, more like a late lunch, but Mark Wahlberg.

How did that come about?

He sponsored my car in 2015 with the AQUAhydrate water company that he owns part of. So he came out to California Speedway and just sat in the lounge. We were up there for about an hour eating, so I can say we ate dinner together. It might not have been dinnertime, though. But I got to hang out with him and he sat on the pit box, went around the track after driver intros with him and spent some time with him. So that’s definitely the most famous person I’ve spent time with.

Did you find him to be down to earth, or did he have a celebrity air about him?

The most down to earth celebrity I’ve ever met was Mark Wahlberg. He’s just like he is in the movies; he’s just this tough guy. He was walking around, didn’t have any bodyguards with him or anything.

I think the funniest thing was he was walking behind me to driver intros, and you know at California you walk underneath that little tunnel. Well three people stopped me for my autograph and they didn’t even ask him for his autograph because they had no idea it was him — because why would he be there? So I think that was kind of funny.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

That’s always a question I ask good friends. I’ll ask Michael McDowell in particular or Lonnie Clouse, our chaplain (from Motor Racing Outreach). Like what do you see? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses as a person? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll work on those things.

But to improve would probably be something simple as remember people’s names. I wish I remembered everybody’s name. Our team owner Matt Kaulig, I feel like he knows every single person’s name at Leaf Filter and there’s like a thousand employees. Every time he talk to somebody, he says their name, and I think that’s very impressive and I’d love the ability to do that.

12. The last interview I did was with David Ragan. His question was: After a race, you typically go back to your hauler. What’s the first thing you look at when you get to your phone? 

If it’s a good race, it’s the text messages. If it’s a bad race, my phone’s blank. There’s not even one single text message. So I instantly go and answer some of my text messages and I’ll try to find my wife first and say, “Hi, I’m OK,” if it’s a bad race. Or if it’s a good race, thumbs up. So my wife’s the first one I text.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question I could ask a driver?

Yeah, one that’s already been asked that I thought was a really great question, and we’ll see if people will be open and honest about it: Who was your favorite teammate, and who was your least favorite teammate? I think that’s very interesting and when I was reading your responses, it was interesting to see that Kenseth said it was Carl. You would never think that anyone wouldn’t like Carl at first. I kind of like that behind-the-scenes information. So the next guy, I wanna know who their favorite teammate was or is, and who their worst teammate was or is.