Lessons From Business That Made Me A Successful Racing Driver

Entrepreneurship can feel like a thrill ride, but is it more like motor racing than we think?

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Entrepreneurship can feel like a thrill ride, but is it more like motor racing than we think?


Lessons From Business That Made Me A Successful Racing Driver

Entrepreneurship can feel like a thrill ride, but is it more like motor racing than we think?

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Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a racing driver. Throughout my life and career as a founder, chair and mentor for multiple businesses, the opportunity didn’t really present itself and I didn’t really pursue it with any conviction.

Through my angel investing and business advisory roles I did get involved in a motorsport business. As a result of this and a couple of inspiring conversations with the CEO, I found myself at Silverstone racing circuit – the home of the British Grand Prix – doing a test day in a little sports car. At the age of fifty-six I was about to become a racing driver.

I enjoyed six wonderful years of racing against people much younger and more experienced than me. Having learned many of the essential business principles for success throughout my career navigating companies through the often turbulent world of investment, it struck me that I applied those principles to my racing and racing training, and used those lessons when achieving success on the racing track.

Here are six of the lessons I used:

  1. Know where you are going

The first thing my Pro driver coach told me was that I had to lift my head and look at least two corners ahead. This ensured that I didn’t spend all my time looking down and was not surprised by how quickly the next challenge came at me. It made for a smooth drive and a faster time. It's very easy to say and incredibly difficult to perfect.

It's just as important in business to do the same thing. If you are a business leader it is your job to know where the business is going and chart that route.

  1. It's all about the team and their skills

I drove in a Pro/Am series, and I was the Am. I worked out that I needed my Pro driver to be completely different to me. The chosen pro was a hard taskmaster and was constantly pushing me.

Conversely, the engineer and the team boss needed to understand me and be more like me.  They needed to be coaxing rather than challenging.

In business you need the right people in the right jobs. They cannot, and should not, be all the same type of person.  You need different people with different skills and personalities. Shared business values will be what ties people together.

  1. Be prepared

In racing there is a whole level of preparation, set up and testing that has to happen before you get into the car to race. The successful drivers spend more time doing all of this than they ever do racing. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

In business, preparing yourself, the team and the company for whatever is on the agenda will always pay enormous dividends. You can never spend too much time on preparation.

  1. Set targets

When I was racing, my pro driver would always be setting me targets to try and achieve. His target setting was always on the tough side of realistic but when I hit them, I felt amazing.

These targets would usually be around how close I could get to his lap times. It often took some time to get there but once I did, I stayed there and finally felt like a proper racing driver.

In business, everyone has targets, but you need to set realistic targets and take them seriously. Constantly missing them is poor practice and ultimately demotivating.

  1. Be ready to change strategy

I remember one weekend where the weather was hot and sunny. We were all set up for a dry race. Except on race day, it was raining and in for the day. This triggered a complete change in the way I needed to drive and a complete change in the race strategy that was required. All of it was unexpected and I had nowhere to hide.

In the race it took a little while to get there but by the end of the race I was on the pace and doing ok. The other amateur drivers were having similar issues. It was about who could adapt the quickest.

In business, changes, challenges and difficulties are inevitable. . Markets go in unexpected directions, the global economy can change, a pandemic can strike. Being prepared to review followed by fast reactions and changes in direction and strategy will help ensure continued success.

  1. Knowing when to quit

When I was racing, I got to the point where I knew that the stress of the racing was outweighing the enjoyment and ‘buzz’. So, with three races to go in the season I decided that I would quit at the end of the year. It was the right decision and I haven’t regretted it for a day.

In business I see a lot of company managers doing a job they don’t like, or companies trying to achieve things that are never going to happen. You should always be aware of what is causing the company or the team angst and be prepared and willing to change things as a result.

My time in motor racing was a joyous and successful fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition. Using the business lessons I had learned throughout my career undoubtedly helped with that success. It seems I am not alone in spotting this, as increasingly the overlap in the disciplines between sport and business are there for all to see.

David Pattison is a start-up funding expert, business chair and mentor, and author of The Money Train: 10 Things Young Businesses Need to Know About Investors. The book won best Startup / Scaleup book at the Business Book Awards 2022.

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Lessons From Business That Made Me A Successful Racing Driver

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