12 Hours of Sebring, Twelve Life Insights

Each March for the past 65 years tens of thousands of race fans, drivers, crews, and support personnel descend on Sebring Florida for a grueling 12 hour endurance race. In 2017, 46 cars in four classes challenged the rough 3.7 mile track from mid-morning until well after the sun disappeared. Over 115 drivers from nearly 20 countries competed against other drivers, crews, the track, and the limits of mechanical endurance! Only the best survived all twelve hours.

Sebring – Competition At The Highest Level

Yes, that is the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring! In 2017, the winner covered 1,269 miles at an average speed of 105 miles per hour! Each of the 5,900+ turns, every straight, every lap required total concentration. Cars running side-by-side, nose to tail at up to 180 miles per hour for twelve full hours! Yet, the focus could not remain on a given curve or given lap. Pit strategy and hundreds of other considerations also determined the winner. Beyond that, this was just the second race in the twelve race WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series(source).

Indeed, the competition was intense, yet many teams thrived – achieving amazing results. In 2017 the winning team, #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R., completed 348 laps. Surprisingly, the second place car, the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, was only 13.6 seconds behind after 12 hours. Yes, less than a quarter of a minute gap between first and second after 720 minutes of white-knuckle racing!

Competition in the “slower” GT-LeMans class was even more intense. Seven cars completed 334 laps – over 1,200 miles at an average speed of over 100 mph! The yellow #3 Corvette, crossed the finish line first with a trio of Ford GTs, a Ferrari 488, a BMW M6, and a Porsche 911 nipping at its heels.

While race day is the focal point, a year, or more, of preparation is also vital in achieving success. The design of every car, reliability of each component, the installation of each electrical fuse, the lubrication of wheel bearings and attention to ever changing tire pressures all contribute to the success or failure in the 12 hour race. Yet 37 of the 46 cars that started the race were still competing at the end of the 12 hours with 32 of those traveling over 1,000 miles.

Winning Principles In Racing And Life

What makes the difference between the winners and those who were less successful? Are there a few key principals that define the success at Sebring? Do these have application to us as gearheads or regular guys living an ordinary life?

These are the questions we will explore in this Alpha Gearhead series.

Consider twelve attributes of Sebring winners that are demonstrated by their actions:

1. Clarity of Purpose and Measurable Goals

While the goal is to win the race series championship, it is achieved one race at a time. It is not necessary to win every race but a DNF (Did Not Finish) is a deep hole to recover from. As in life, the reason for achieving this goal is important. Is the purpose fame, financial gain or another higher calling?

2. Prepare Relentlessly

Preparation starts months before the season with car design, testing, driver selection. Pit crews are selected and stops rehearsed. Closer to the race, every bolt, every electrical connection and every adjustment is confirmed. “What else can we do?” is the pervasive question. Do we have this view in preparing for life?

3. Qualify Well

While the team claiming the pole position may not ultimately win, it is a great start. It is hard to catch the pack when well behind, having to overtake others who are competing for the best line through a turn and making up positions lost before the race started. How does this concept apply to our life?

4. Stay on Course

There are stories from the distant past of cars getting off the track and racing down the wrong abandoned landing strip in the darkness of night. Even today, many cars miss a turn allowing others to pass. Likewise in life, we are tempted to lose sight of our goal and wander in the dark. Are we “on course”?

5. Rely On The Team

Unlike some sports, a single individual cannot pilot the entire team to success. Instead, racing requires the diverse talents of many. Whether it be a pit stop or trouble shooting, each member fulfilling their unique role is essential. The benefits of “collective intelligence” provide the winning edge in both racing and life.

6. Focus on Going Fast

Yes, driving fast is essential to winning as clearly shown in 2017 when seven GTLM cars finished the race on the same lap as the leader. Any of those seven could have won! In life, it is a sense of urgency, the need for action now, that often makes the difference in success.

7. Drive Beyond Your Lights

While Sebring is relatively well lit, driving at night is far different than in the day. Drivers are out of their comfort zone, required to trust their knowledge and experience. In life, it is the willingness to try something new, beyond our comfort zone that often leads to transformational advancement.

8. Exploit Unexpected Opportunities

Success in a race determined by seconds requires quick decisions to seize unanticipated opportunities. Tucking in behind faster cars when your competitor swings wide in a corner is a great opportunity to make the pass. In life, volunteering to fill a critical role while a colleague is on long-term sick leave not only helps the company but gives you valuable experience.

9. Treat Failure As An Opportunity, Not Defeat

A poorly executed pit stop or fuel pump failure may place the race car a few laps down and exclude it from the awards podium. It is the focus on learning, on resolving the underlying failures that turns that failure into future success. Isn’t it the same in life?

10. Explore Options

“We have always done it this way!” is the slogan of the “also rans”. Exploring the rules for opportunities, giving up a handful of horse power to improve reliability at Sebring or regaining that power for a shorter race all require innovation. In life, relentlessly relying on the tried and true will also leave us in the dust of those who consistently seek a better way.

11. Develop Deep Relationships

In the end, it is the relationships among designers, mechanics, drivers and even parts suppliers that provide the margin of victory. Developing trust and commitment among these diverse entities creates a winning advantage. Likewise, success in life depends on strong relationships to provide support and opportunities.

12. Finish the Race

Perseverance! Thirty-two cars raced over 1,000 miles in 2017. There was no hope of winning or even placing well for those who got off track in any of the above attributes. So it is in life, many start well but lose their commitment along the way, ending up in the crowd of mediocrity, never realizing the joy of true success.

Application To Life

So it is with life. We must develop and grow in each of these areas if we are to be truly successful. Unlike the race, the course of life is not well defined – there are no overt markers, no clearly marked road to guide us. As a result, we often stray from our desired, successful path in three areas:  our career, our finances and our relationships. It is easy to find our career unsatisfying, our expenses too high and our family too distant. We are off course – struggling to regain our position on the lead lap.

Like the racer, we need to have clear commitment to each of these areas – a career path, a financial plan and a picture of the relationships we desire. We then need to take action to follow the defined course and periodically evaluate whether we are achieving our goals. We need to ask, “What did I do today to build a better relationship with my boss?” “My child?” “How does this new car fit into our budget and life plan – is it more important than replacing our unreliable washing machine or saving for college?”

These are the opportunities we will explore as we pursue “12 Life Insights From The 12 Hours of Sebring”. Return to AlphaGearhead.com for the next article in this series.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Proverbs 15:22 – ESV

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