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organized sport, NASCAR is unique in that its drivers are treated like independent contractors rather than employees. As such, they must behave in addition to seeking their own sponsors to finance their race teams.5 Traditional NASCAR sponsors, including RJR Nabisco, Pennzoil-Quaker State, and General Motors have been joined by relative newcomers such as M&M/Mars, Lowe’s, and Procter and Gamble. “If you look at where NASCAR was in 1993 and where it is today, you see it’s a completely different sport,” states Dave Elgena, senior executive vice president in charge of motorsports for MBNA. “Today you see lots of big corporations involved that wouldn’t have been here six years ago.”6
With a history of great drivers, including Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Davey Pearson, a new crop of young drivers is exciting spectators. Compared to the “good-old-boys” who dominated the racing circuit for years, the new crop is younger and more sophisticated. One of the most successful young drivers in the league is Jeff Gordon, racing for Hendrick Motorsport’s #24 Dupont Automotive Finishes.
Jeff Gordon — Racing Sensation
Jeff Gordon, on the Winston Cup racing scene since 1993, has been a sensation ever since he started racing go-carts and quarter-midget cars at the age of 5. In 1979 and 1981, he was the quarter-midget national champion, and in 1990 he won the 1990 USAC midget championship.7 He has captured the imagination of race fans around the world, becoming the youngest driver ever to win three NASCAR Winston Cup overall championships and has over 40 individual race wins in a four-year span.
Gordon, 27, says his strong family upbringing in California and Indiana and his marriage to former Miss Winston beauty queen Brooke Sealy have made it easy. “There’s no question Jeff has helped take our sport to the next level as far as image,” said Ned Jarrett, a CBS analyst and two-time NASCAR champion during the 1960s. “He’s helped raise the level of competition and also helped get the sport places it’s never been before.”8 The question becomes, what does Gordon have that others have trouble imitating?
As the driver of a successful race car, Gordon represents the most visible part of an incredibly complex team of individuals—all with a contribution to make on race-day. “To build a winning team, you need three major ingredients—peo-ple, equipment and money,” states Don Hawk, president of Dale Earnhardt Inc. “You can’t do it with only one, not even with two, you need all three. Look at Gordon, his team has crew chief Ray Evernham and the Rainbow Warriors pit crew—their multicolored uniforms match Gordon’s multicolored car, the best in the garage area, they have the fastest and most reliable Chevrolet on the track, and they have great finances from DuPont. You couldn’t do what they’ve done with just a great driver, just a great car, or an open pocketbook. You must have all the elements meshing. I liken a winning racing team to a Rubik’s Cube. All the pieces must fit, and be in the proper place.”9
The High Performance TEAM
“Success is a ruthless competitor, for it flatters and nourishes our weakness and lulls us into complacency.”
The quote above is found in the shop of Gordon’s crew chief, Rav
Evernham, recognized by many in NASCAR as the premier crew chief in the business. While Gordon represents the star attraction, many believe that it’s Evernham who pulls the whole act together. He is responsible for a group of over 120 technicians and mechanics and an annual budget estimated between $10 and $12 million. And he has strong opinions as to what it takes to consistently finish first: painstaking preparation, egoless teamwork, and thoroughly original strategizing—principles that apply to any high performance organization.10
You win as a team. Evernham believes that teams need to experiment with new methods and processes. When he assembled his Rainbow Warriers pit crew, none of them had Winston Cup experience and none worked on the car in any other capacity. With the use of a pit crew coach, the Rainbow Warriers provide Gordon with approximately one-second advantage with each pit stop, which at a speed of 200 miles-per-hour, equates into 300 feet of race track.
When you coach and support a superstar like Jeff Gordon, you give him the best equipment possible, you give him the information he needs, and then you get out of the way. But racing is a team sport. Everyone who races pretty much has the same car and the same equipment. What sets us apart is our people. I like to talk about our “team IQ”—because none of us is as smart as all of us.
I think a lot about people, management, and psychology: Specifically, how can I motivate my guys and make them gel as a team? I surround them with ideas about teamwork. I read every leadership book I can get my hands on. One thing that I took from my reading is the idea of a “circle of strength.” When the Rainbow Warriors meet, we always put our chairs in a circle. That’s a way of saying that we’re stronger as a team than we are on our own.11