The Indianapolis 500 and Me

car.jpg

On the eve of the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, I have many fond memories of this historic race. I was born into a family that loved auto racing and the “500”. I cannot remember a time when I did not listen to “The Race” on the radio while growing up when that was the only way to experience it for me.

When I became old enough to attend the race itself, I did, starting in 1968. I well remember Mario Andretti winning in 1969. I had a great view from my seat right across from the start/finish line and the pits.

Around that time, I learned about my grandfather Otto Schafer’s involvement in racing and the Indy 500. Starting in the 1940s, he owned and raced a series of Midget, Sprint and Indy 500 type cars. To my surprise, I learned that he entered, qualified and then raced a car that he owned in 1948 Indy 500 race! That car, known as The Schafer Gear Works Special #17, started in the 33rd position (last) and after only 42 laps finished 25th. That was the only time grandpa Otto entered a car in the Indy 500, but he continued to race his other cars.

Top left: My uncles Dick, Ray Haroon and Norm Schafer at the IMS standing in front of a 1954 Corvette.  Bottom left: Grandpa Otto Schafer. Top right/middle: My first ‘car’ was a Peddle car, followed by my first powered car, a Go-cart, then the first of six corvettes.

Top left: My uncles Dick, Ray Haroon and Norm Schafer at the IMS standing in front of a 1954 Corvette.
Bottom left: Grandpa Otto Schafer.
Top right/middle: My first ‘car’ was a Peddle car, followed by my first powered car, a Go-cart, then the first of six corvettes.

As a car owner, he hired some of the best professional drivers of that era to drive for him including Johnnie Parsons, the winner of the 1950 Indianapolis 500. As a very young boy in the ‘60s, I remember meeting many race car drivers at my grandparent’s house.

Grandpa Otto spent many months of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1955, he was one of the founding members of The United States Auto Club (USAC), which was the Indy 500 sanctioning body from that time on. And just days before the 1970 race, he died while attending a race-related banquet in Indianapolis.

After his death, the flag hung in my childhood home in South Bend, Indiana and today, a replica of it hangs in my house in Indianapolis (the original is stored elsewhere).

I have always loved cars and racing. More recently, I have driven my Corvette around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track many times, which was always a dream of mine. Thanks go to the Corvette Indy club and its sponsor Roger Penske Chevrolet.

So, I am continuing some of my grandfather’s traditions, in that my first job upon graduating from Purdue University was working at the company he founded in 1934, Schafer Gear Works, which has operated continuously for 85 years.

This is a race flag which my grandfather created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had many of the famous drivers of the day sign it including Ray Haroon, the winner of the first Indy 500 in 1911, and all the three-time winners up to that time — Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louie Meyer.

This is a race flag which my grandfather created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had many of the famous drivers of the day sign it including Ray Haroon, the winner of the first Indy 500 in 1911, and all the three-time winners up to that time — Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louie Meyer.

My entire career has been in the gear business and I continue to share grandpa Otto’s and uncles Dick and Norman’s love of gears and the Indy 500. I hope that I am making them proud.

A time when Will Power had no willpower

Photo by USA Today

Photo by USA Today

When IndyCar driver Will Power became a first-time Indy 500 Race winner on Sunday, he reacted in a most non ‘Will-like’ manner. The Australian, known for being calm as a kangaroo while amassing his double-digit IndyCar career wins for Team Penske, instantly knew this win was different. This was the race that to date, had eluded him. This was THE Indy 500 that Power had just won, and boy did his joy pour out.

He screamed with excitement over and over. Even though he is lactose intolerant, he gladly drank milk from the winner’s bottle – an Indy 500 tradition – then sprayed it everywhere dousing himself and the 500 Festival queen standing nearby. No apologies needed. Unbridled excitement ruled the moment.  

Power was overcome with emotion in Victory Lane and in doing so, it illustrated just how hard he had worked for that moment. His exuberant reaction showed everyone how important that achievement was to him.  

Sometimes when events go really well and a hard-fought goal is met, some people are caught off-guard and react in unexpected ways.

Have you ever felt that giddy child-like euphoric feeling that comes from accomplishing something great – maybe surprisingly so? What was it like? How did it make you feel? Hopefully, that has happened at least a few times in your life.

For me, I got that feeling every time one of my gearbox designs was assembled in the plant and then installed in a customer’s machine. Knowing the customer was satisfied with my design always got me charged up.  And when the US Patent Office notified me not once, but three times that each of my patents was approved and issued, I was animated. For a gearhead like me, that’s saying a lot.

We all can’t win the Indy500, or a gold medal at the Olympics, but we all can achieve an important and valued goal and capture some of that feeling.

When opportunity knocks, take notice

Most people know Bobby Rahal as the Indianapolis 500 race winner from 1986. Do you remember who finished in second place?

It was Kevin Cogan who today lives in relative obscurity in a suburb of Los Angeles. 

Rahal went from winning the greatest spectacle in racing to become an Indy car team owner winning in 2004 with Buddy Rice driving across the yard of bricks, to a successful career in business and owner of 16 auto dealerships in Pennsylvania.

In the 1986 race, fellow Indy car driver Arie Luyendyk crashed on lap 195 out of 200 and Rahal passed Cogan on the restart with two laps between he and the checkered flag.  He took the lead, won the race and earned his rightful place in racing history.

In an Indy Star article profiling Rahal’s career, Rahal talked about that very day, race, and moment when he saw the opportunity to not settle for second place.  That day, Rahal and Cogan’s lives were changed forever. 

There are periods in a person’s life when you either go through the door or you never get to knock on it again.
— Bobbie Rahal

I often wonder how many people never go through that door called opportunity. Perhaps some never even see the door and miss an opening to go in a new direction, to take a step toward achieving their goals.

Events in life sometimes present us with opportunities; doors so to speak, and we can either decide to go through them or leave them closed and forever forgo that choice and opportunity; perhaps never getting that chance again. And we can’t always control this (see, Andretti; Mario. He and Rahal each won the same number of Indy 500 races: 1). Sometimes it is simply luck and fortune, although it is often said that people make their own luck.

Rahal said that in a lot of races (and in life), something happened to put someone in position to win.

The lesson that Rahal teaches us is that when a high percentage opportunity is offered, take it and go through that door. You may have but a brief moment to consider your choices and the potential consequences. The opportunity to choose may not come again.

Be bold. Take the action and take the (slight) risk. That is how great things are achieved and how great and successful people act.

Has opportunity ever knocked on your door, but you failed to open it? Did you miss that one chance in life and it never came around again?  Or, like Rahal, did the decision you made that one day change your life forever?