Thursday, September 23, 2004
Nothing left to chance
By Ed Carpenter
Special to ESPN.com
I probably should have been paying attention to Peyton Manning or Edgerrin James or Marvin Harrison, but I wasn't. Tony Dungy was much more fascinating.
I should have been watching the stars of the Indianapolis Colts, but I was watching their coach. He's mellow but demanding. He's a players' coach, but he's totally organized. He's an all-around impressive person.
Red Bull Cheever Racing recently was invited to the Colts' training camp. Team owner Eddie Cheever Jr., managing director Max Jones, my teammate Alex Barron and I were all impressed by what we saw. It was a special treat for me because I'm a native of Indianapolis, go to most of the Colts' home games and have been a lifelong fan. By the time practice was over, I was ready to suit up.
During the practice, the team huddled up and Coach Dungy introduced us. We received a warm welcome. The players are extremely interested in what we do, just as we are interested in what they do. It was a meeting of two professional sports teams from the same city, and we discovered that we have more in common than we thought.
Probably the one thing we share most is organization. Dungy is into details. He chatted with us while watching practice, but he kept an eye on his stopwatch. Each drill was timed to the second. He would be talking to us and say, "Hang on a second." Looking at the stopwatch, he'd wait until the exact second, then blow his whistle to signal the start of a new drill. Then he'd go back to talking with us.
Not one second of time was wasted. Everybody knew where they had to be and when they had to be there. It's a routine the players are used to. I saw the similarities between them and us right away.
Like a football team, we run plays, plan strategy in advance, alter that strategy to fit what the opponents throw at us, and carefully dissect every move of a race. Like the Colts, we watch tapes before and after a race in an attempt to improve.
Just as the different elements of a football team -- offensive line, defensive backs, etc. -- break off during practice to work with their coaches, so do we. We brief and debrief extensively. Racers meet with engineers, engineers meet with Eddie and Max, drivers meet with Eddie and Max, crew members meet with chief mechanics, who meet with other team leaders.
Everything we do is planned. We're organized just like an NFL team. We practice just like they do, and we go over our past and future races. Nothing is left to chance. Our pit crew spends hours practicing pit stops, going over each motion, timing everything and trying to make each stop perfect. They watch video of their stops during the races, and break down each frame of the tape. Just like football, it's very technical.
The Colts don't just show up to play football games, and we don't just show up to race. It's a team sport, and it's extremely organized, just as Tony Dungy and the Colts were extremely organized that day we visited.
Think of a race team as a football team. You have a team owner (Eddie) overseeing the entire operation. You have a coach (Max) calling plays, an offensive line (the crew guys) and a quarterback (in our case, two quarterbacks: Alex and myself). You have people behind the scenes who get no credit or glory, but without whom we couldn't function. Like the Colts, it's a major operation involving a large number of people. Everything has to be organized or it won't work.
Sometimes people see racing as an individual sport. They see only the driver. On the other hand, when people watch football, it's obvious that it's a team sport. Sure, sometimes fans focus on Peyton and miss a wicked block by Jeff Saturday, but we know that there are 11 people out there working together to make that one play happen.
Likewise, when the No. 52 car makes a nice pass or moves up a few positions in a lap, it's not just me making that happen. It's the owner, the coach and the offensive line making it happen. It was a decision by Max to stay out on the track while everybody else pits, or a quick pit stop, or a decision to use different equipment. It's all of the elements -- just like the Colts -- working together for a positive result.
As I watched Coach Dungy and his stopwatch, I realized just how impressive and complicated both of our sports are. When it works right, it's magic. It's many people working together to make one thing happen. It's fascinating to watch, and even more fascinating to do.
IRL IndyCar Series owner Eddie Cheever Jr. owns the Nos. 51 and 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara Chevrolets driven by Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter, respectively. He provides a regular diary to ESPN.com, and Carpenter is filling in this week. Cheever's team Web site can be found at www.redbullcheeverracing.com.