One thing that most every successful business does is develop a five-year plan, some type of strategem that helps everyone, especially management, know where the company is going and how to get there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a race driver is a business. Therefore, it is just as important for a race driver to have a 5-year business plan as it is any company. But, in the case of a race driver, let’s call it a Career Plan.
The bottom line to this plan is this: where do you want to be in five years, and how do you plan on getting there? It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. That’s certainly true in this case, and the flipside of that is also true: if you want to get somewhere, you better know where that “somewhere” is.
Understand that this Career Plan is a roadmap to help you reach your goals. As with any roadmap, you will encounter many side roads. Along the way, you may find a shortcut or a quicker, more efficient route. You need to be prepared to take one, to deviate from your path, although that doesn’t mean jump at every opportunity that comes along. It does mean constantly being on the lookout for new opportunities, and being ready to take advantage of one if it truly is a better route. In any race driver’s career there will be many tempting opportunities, some good and some not so good.
Many of these opportunities will sound too good to be true. Often, that’s the case – they are too good to be true. Other times, outstanding opportunities do come along for those who have prepared, who have planned, and who are deserving. That’s just what this career planning is meant to do – to prepare you for all opportunities.
I believe that every driver should have a small core group of people on whom they can rely for career advice. Obviously, this group of advisors must have your best interests at heart, and most often the group is made up of your family and a few friends. Sometimes, drivers will hire a manager to advise them and assist them in reaching their goals. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. I know of some managers whose only concern was their own personal financial gains. If that gets you to where you want to be, that’s okay. But sometimes, this type of manager will trade the long-term for a short-term financial gain. In other words, they will convince you to take an opportunity for a quick cash that will hurt your career in the long-term.
Therefore, no matter who you have advising and managing your career, you must always make the final decision on any opportunity. And, by always having a written Career Plan in mind and in front of you, you can make better informed decisions, ones that will truly help you achieve your goals.
So, how do you go about developing a Career Plan? Start by asking yourself some questions, the first and most important one being: what are your long-term goals and objectives within racing? Define that a bit further by imagining yourself a year from now, two years from now, three, four and five years from now. Where do you see yourself? What are you racing? What do you want to be racing? Are their specific cars that you want to race, and others you do not want to race?
The next step is defining the plan - the ladder or steps that it will take to get you to your goal, taking into consideration the answers from the previous questions. Begin to map out the path you plan to take, writing out each step for each year. For every step, estimate the budget it will take to compete at that level, what teams are potentials for you to run with, what sub-steps are required to get there, and a deadline by which to have things in place to make your goal a reality.
It’s important to identify the resources available to you. For starters, list every possible series you could ever compete in along the path to your goal; this will provide you with a big picture view of things. You may not be planning on running in these other series, but be aware of them – have them on your radar screen, simply to be open to an unexpected opportunity. List the people who could play a role in helping you achieve your goals, and any of the marketing/sales tools (PR kit, sponsorship proposals, website, social media presence, etc.) you currently have or need to develop in the future.
As with any business plan, it’s important to establish where you are right now – your strengths and weaknesses. This is not just your behind-the-wheel abilities. List everything that you currently have as an asset, in and out of the car, that will enhance your ability to reach your goal. Then list your weaknesses, in and out of the car – things that you will need to overcome to get there. It’s not until you are aware of these specifics that you can do something about them. And without working with your strengths, and overcoming your weaknesses, it’s unlikely you will get to where you want to go.
When I work with a driver, we develop a plan that is made up of five main headings: Goals/Objectives, Plan, Resources, and Current Situation (strengths/weaknesses).
Here’s my final and perhaps most important piece of advice regarding your Career Plan: write every last detail down on paper, review it on a regular basis, and don’t be afraid to update it. For sure, the racing landscape will change, as racing series evolve, so your plan will need to evolve as well. And, while it doesn’t have to be exactly this format, this is what I’ve developed for the drivers I work with, and it’s proven very successful. Of course, one of the benefits I have is in being able to ask the “right” questions, while being an objective “outsider.”
When you take an active role in “engineering” your career, rather than just waiting around for it to happen, you’ve greatly improved your chances of truly having a career. And a career driving any type of race car is not a bad thing!