This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing.
I see on the walls of Stewart-Haas Racing, you guys have motivational quotes. And here in the hauler right here on the door it says, “I believe that we will win.” Why is that important to try and show that to the team?
I think our number one priority for any race team or any business or anything like that is you have to believe in it and all your employees have to believe in it. You see a lot of successful businesses — whether it’s a race team or not — they have the personality of people that believe in the business.
You look at the Disney mentality, and that’s what Ray (Evernham) preached at Evernham (Motorsports) for so many years: If you see a piece of paper on the ground, then pick it up and throw it away. Don’t walk over it. That stuff was started years and years ago and it has carried on through these race teams. You have to believe that you can perform and you have to believe that you can win and if you can’t do that, you really don’t have a chance.
Obviously you’ve worked for some great leaders and some great race teams and you are now heading up your own team. How much of what you do now is a product of lessons you learned from Ray, and how much is stuff that you’ve decided on your own?
I think most of my work ethic started with my dad (Gary). Totally different careers, but he’s been a car salesman in Charlotte for 45 years. He would get up and leave home at 7 o’clock every morning and he would get home at 8 o’clock every night and he never, ever complained. And he sold cars six days a week, he didn’t worry about whether he ever had a day off, he just got up and went to work and he enjoyed it.
That kind of carried on into me when I started racing go-karts and Late Models and All Pro series and different things. I just worked and I never needed an alarm clock; I got up when I needed to get up and I worked 12 hours a day like it was nothing. It didn’t bother me. So that kind of started it with my father and then it led into Ray.
Ray was probably one of the biggest influences on me and the way that he was a leader — I’ll be honest, I still miss that. I told somebody this week I wish Ray would come back. But he just conducted things the right way.
We had meetings every week, everybody in the entire company knew where we stood, what we stand for, what our priorities were and where we were going. He always preached that Disney mentality of keeping things nice and neat and clean, and if you got on an airplane and you were caught with an ink pen in your pocket, then you’re in trouble. You better have pencils on the plane because you didn’t want ink pens getting on the seats of the airplane. Man, I appreciated that stuff. Some people it aggravated the crap out of, but for somebody like me, I loved it. So he was a huge influence.
The rest is just watching people. I think watching Chad (Knaus) and the 48 team was my third-most thing that improved me as a person and as a crew chief — watching how he operated and watching how he expected his people to act and how they dressed and their equipment and how it looked and their cars and how presentable they were.
These guys who have been on the 4 team for five and a half years will tell you the first thing I said is, “I want to be like the 48 but better.” And that’s what we’ve tried to do. I think through some of these years they’ve proved to do that; sometimes we fall short of that, but overall we’ve done a good job.
One thing I kind of struggle with sometimes is there will be days where I’m totally fired up to go work hard and put in a solid effort, but then I see myself sometimes where I’m just like, “Man, I’m just tired today” or something like that. On those days when you have that, when you wake up and you’re tired or your kids have something going on, how do you get yourself to go still work hard through that?
Well I’m fortunate that get to do something that I love. I wish I could say everybody in the United States and everybody in the world needs to just do whatever they love. Sometimes that’s not a possibility. Sometimes you just have to go get a job, no matter where it’s at, and you have to do something to make money and provide for your family.
Like last year, for instance, I felt like I ran on adrenaline the whole year. We were winning races and I never needed an alarm clock. I woke up five minutes before my alarm every day and I knew exactly what time I needed to be at work and my system was just working on its own. I would drive to work and have all this stuff in my head that I had thought about in my sleep that we needed to do better and what we needed to fix.
You turn around this year — it hasn’t been as good as what we have hoped — and yeah, there’s some mornings when you wake up and you’re like, “Oh God, we gotta go do this” or whatever. But the biggest thing is having people around me that also believe. The days that I’ve had a bad day, my group has a good day and they support me. And then you’ll have another guy on your team that is having a bad day and you have to bring him up and support him.
It works in any business. You walk in a Chick-Fil-A and you’re amazed at what they can do, or you walk into Jimmy John’s and you’re like, “Oh crap, they’ve got my sandwich ready already.” But they work as a team and they know how to help each other and get each other through days.
But like I said, all this stuff has started many years ago with great leaders and probably most of it started in the military. Ray used to always preach to us or give us things that came from military people and quotes and stuff like that. Sometimes you just have to be around the right people, and until you’re around the right people, you really don’t know what it’s like.
But you have to do something that you enjoy. I think that’s number one, and you have to do something that makes you happy every day and that you don’t dread to get into your car and go to work.
When you have success, how do you keep the pedal down and keep going forward and not just say, “Well, this is probably good enough?” Like, “Do I really need to put in this extra couple hours? We’re probably going to be fine.” Do you know what I mean?
I think you have to have that mentality that nothing’s ever good enough. Sometimes it drives my wife crazy. But you know, that’s kind of how I stay. Unless you can stay that way, it’s not going to be good enough. I hate to carry that home and say, “Well this isn’t right and this isn’t right and this isn’t right and this isn’t right” and it drives her crazy.
But on the other hand, we’ve got over 350 people walking around at Stewart-Haas Racing now. It’s so easy just to come in and do an eight-hour day and just do what you’re told and walk out. You’re really looking for those exceptional people that come in 30 minutes early and leave 30 minutes late and then come and ask you if there’s anything else that they can do before they leave. Those are the ones that really stand out.
It’s all about mentality though. You have to stay on task and stay focused and it really comes down to the total team. You know it always starts with a leader, but you have to have the right people under you. I’m fortunate enough to have a great group of guys that stay working hard. My engineer, my shop foreman, my car chief, all those guys — they help me corral the group and stay motivated. I have bad days, like I said, but overall we keep each other going.
I know a lot of success in any business has to do with a combination of talent and hard work; you can’t have one without the other. Do you believe if somebody is really talented, they can get by without working as hard? Or does success at the ultimate level require hard work no matter if they have talent or not?
I think you can have a lot of talent and somewhat make it. You see that in some race car drivers that have a ton of talent, but they don’t do everything that they could possibly do. And you look at it and you’re like, “That’s a shame that they don’t work any harder than they do, because they could completely destroy the field every week.”
And then you see other guys that don’t have as much talent and they work their guts out and they study and study and they run pretty good. So yeah, that’s possible.
I think there’s different ways of looking at it for different careers. I think most careers you have to work hard, and unless you work hard you’re not going to be successful and do the things that you need to do. So it really comes down to being focused and working hard.
What’s your lifestyle like as far as the amount of sleep you get or what you eat? Do you have to do anything to keep your energy level up? Do you have any secrets that people might be able to help themselves with that way?
I think the easy answer for people is to get up and drink three cups of coffee and then get their day going, but I don’t drink any caffeine at all in an entire day. I may have a little bit of tea now and then, but I try to stay away. I drink water the entire day and it would have to be a pretty bad day to catch me making a cup of coffee — which I do every now and then.
But over the last couple years I’ve tried to take care of myself better and try to eat better. Everybody’s like, “Well you never needed to lose weight,” but last year I lost 30 pounds and I feel 100 percent better. I may have gained about 10 back over the winter.
But overall, I try to eat a little bit more healthy and I try to drink water. I think if your body gets used to that, you’re better off because you don’t want to be relying on caffeine to get your through the day because at some point you’re going to crash.
And as far as sleeping, it changes every week. It can be eight hours or it could be five hours, and some nights you just don’t sleep well and you have a lot on your mind.
I put in a lot of hours at the shop and some people may think that I have a lot of toys and I like to play and this and that, but that’s kind of my way of getting racing off my mind. But I really don’t get to use them much. I love the lake and I love UTV riding and stuff like that and I love to be with my family.
Most nights, the boys (his 10-year-old twins, Brody and Gavin) are asleep when I leave to go to work and they’re going to bed as soon as I walk in the door. So I don’t get to see them but about 10 minutes when I get home in the afternoons and try to get them in bed pretty much.
A few weeks ago, somebody was talking about my week and I said, “Well I worked 14 hours on Monday, I worked 16 hours on Tuesday and I worked 14 hours on Wednesday. Thursday morning I stayed home and I got on an airplane and flew out Thursday, and then I worked at the racetrack Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And then I was back at the shop on Monday morning at 9 o’clock.” And everybody’s like, “How in the world…?” But it’s my job, and I enjoy it and that’s the only way you’re going to be successful, is to work hard.