When Jim Nabors sang "Back Home Again In Indiana" for the last time as part of the opening ceremonies of the Indianapolis 500 mile race in 2014, I was there. I've been there almost every Memorial Day weekend since I was nine years old. I'll be there again on Sunday.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!
Among the most famous words in motor sports, they give me the same chills today as when I heard them the first time as a young boy. If organizational change efforts started out like this, they would be a lot more exciting.
Soon after, the crews return to their pits and 33 cars begin rolling. Out in front of them is the pace car. As its name implies the pace car sets a moderate pace as eleven rows of three cars each begin circling the track. The flagman only gives the field of cars the green flag when they are lined up and the conditions are right.
Newcomers to the race often ask why the cars swerve from side to side during the pace laps. Unlike top fuel dragsters that warm up their tires by spinning them in a cloud of thick smoke before creeping up to the starting line to take the green light, the last thing Indy car drivers and their crews want is to wear out the tires before the race has even started. This isn't a quarter mile. This is TWO THOUSAND quarter miles.
Winning a race like this requires months of planning, careful timing and, above all, endurance. If the engine can't last five hundred miles, it doesn't matter how fast it is. If you wear out all of your tires before the race is over, it doesn't matter that you were in first place for most of the race. If you run out of fuel... well, you get the idea.
Like the top fuel dragsters, Indy cars desperately need traction. Each turn on the oval is banked at only nine degrees and twelve minutes. It has been that way since the track opened in 1909. That year, Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer won with an average speed of just 57.4 miles per hour. With the drivers now taking turns at close to 200 miles per hour, one little slip can lead to disaster.
Rookie in the pits
Our seats (I'm just bragging now. Thanks, Mom and Dad!) are in the front row of the main straight just south of the start/finish line and immediately behind the pits. When the drivers come in for a pit stop to take on fuel, make an adjustment or get new tires, they are right in front of us.
Having seen hundreds of pit stops up close and personal, I know a rookie when I see one. For one, they spin their wheels more than necessary when exiting the pits. Whether it is due to nerves, a heavy foot, or just a desire to get the car going faster NOW, the end result does not help them win the race.
Spinning your wheels puts wear and tear on the tires. It also causes the car to lose traction, allowing the rear end to fishtail which can cause accidents as other cars are entering and leaving the pits. It also kills acceleration; the very thing you want as you rejoin the race. While a controlled spin helps heat up cold tires, some rookies haven't yet figured out how much is too much.
Getting to the winner's circle
Making a transformational change in an organization is like winning the Indianapolis 500. Many try and few succeed. Traction matters.
The screech of tires and cloud of smoke are exciting, but unless you are in a top fuel dragster preparing to creep up to the starting line, they won't help you win.
So what do you do when you feel the tires slipping, smell the smoke and hear the screech? It might feel counter-intuitive, but if you want to accelerate, ease up on the pedal.