Racism, career pivots, and goals with kids
Jordan Raynor sits down with David Ragan, a thirteen-year veteran NASCAR driver, to talk about how he is responding to instances of racism in NASCAR, how disconnecting from all news and noise brought him clarity about retiring from racing, and why he sets concrete goals with his 6 and 4 year-olds.
[00:00:04] JR: Hey, everybody! Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I’m hosting a conversation with a Christ-follower who is pursuing world-class mastery of their vocation. We’re talking about their path to mastery, their daily habits and routines, and how their faith influences their work.
I loved my conversation that I'm sharing with you today with David Ragan. He's a professional NASCAR driver who competed in 606 races in 13 years. He recently retired from the sport, just a master of his craft, named Rookie of the Year in 2007.
Here's the deal, guys. I'm not a NASCAR fan. I know barely anything about the sport. I had no idea how this conversation was going to go, but it ended up being a phenomenal episode, and I'm so glad I have a new friend in David. We recently sat down. We talked about how David's responding to instances of racism in his sport, how disconnecting from all news and noise for an entire week brought David tremendous clarity about retiring from the sport that he loved for many, many years. We talked about why he and wife set concrete measurable goals with their six and four-year-olds. I think you’re going to really love this episode with David Ragan.
[00:01:37] JR: David, it’s good to officially meet you, man, I’m so glad you're here.
[00:01:40] DR: I'm so glad to be on. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:44] JR: I don't usually check new followers on Twitter. I'm sure you don't either with 125,000 followers. But if somebody follows me and it's a verified account, I usually check to see who it is. So, a few weeks ago, I click over and see that you started following me and I’m like, “A NASCAR driver? I don’t think I’ve ever tweeted about NASCAR in my life. Why in the world is this guy following me?” We traded a few messages. What’s the story behind this? You heard something of mine on one of Dave Ramsey’s shows. Is that right?
[00:02:15] DR: Yes. I am a big Dave Ramsey fan. I love his show. I’ve read a lot of books. I listen to his podcasts pretty regular. I’ve got a couple of small businesses in the Nashville area, and Dave’s daughter, Rachel, her husband is Winston, and he helped us on some of the real estate several years ago when we were trying to work through some commercial lease agreements or some small businesses that I’m a part of. That’s kind of how it all ties in together, and I heard maybe your name or your book roll across. I don’t know if Dave mentioned it or maybe Rachel did or one of the other personalities. Yeah, I just Googled you, and I saw you just got a cool podcast and enjoyed listening to a lot of different people, some that I've never heard of, some of their inspirational stories on their call to mastery. So, yeah, I’m like, “I’m going to follow this guy on Twitter.” I’ve got a love-hate relationship with social media.
[00:03:07] JR: Me too, yes.
[00:03:08] DR: Sometimes, I despise it and I'm ready to cancel all of my accounts. But because of the line of work that I'm involved in, I’m a little required to be engaged with a lot of our fans and people around the country that follow the world of motorsports. Anyway, yes, I enjoy following you and I’ve enjoyed listening to some of your podcasts over the last several months.
[00:03:28] JR: That's really funny. One of my favorite episodes ever is with Luke LeFevre, who is the Chief Creative Officer at Ramsey Solutions.
[00:03:35] DR: Yes. I’ve listened to that one.
[00:03:37] JR: Yeah. That’s a dynamite. Rachel’s is good too. We did both of those at Ramsey HQ and were both a lot of fun to record. All right, David. Here’s the deal, man. I know nothing about your sport, like seriously closed to that. I went to Daytona once. I live in Tampa, so I drove over to Daytona when I was in high school with one of my best friends and watched a race. But other than that, I know nothing, so I’m like genuinely curious. How do you get into NASCAR? There’s no Little League for NASCAR. How does this work?
[00:04:09] DR: That's a great question, and I often tell the story a lot. When you attend NASCAR races, you would be surprised. There are a lot of people that don't know that answer, and a lot of them aren’t diehard motorsports fans or gearheads that they just love racecars and performance and high speed. So, we do get a lot of casual fans that they’re just there for the entertainment and maybe the adrenaline rush to see some action.
My story, I was born in a very small town in Middle Georgia, Unadilla, Georgia, right off of Highway 75 about an hour south of Atlanta. I'm a third-generation racecar driver. My grandfather owned and drove some racecars in the 1940s and 1950s. He had a small automotive repair shop. My father raised some at the local level. He ended up racing a few NASCAR races during the mid-1980s, and he also owned a parts store and a machine shop, and so they did work on local racecars and engines and sold parts and pieces. As a kid, that was our weekend hobby. We would go with the family to a local racetrack or watch my father race. I grew up around the racetracks.
When I was a young kid, I did play some other stick and ball sports. But with the guidance of my father, I started racing when I was 12, and it was just a fun weekend thing for several years. We didn’t really take it really serious until I was a teenager and I was at that point where I had to decide am I going to go to college and pursue a career or get a real job as what some people would say or am I going to chase this dream of being a NASCAR driver because there's only 40 NASCAR drivers that are licensed and suit up every single weekend, and there's thousands of potential candidates around the world that are qualified to go out and enter into that race. So, it’s an exclusive club and it's very hard to break into.
Like you mentioned, there's no Little League. There's no formal recreation that would allow a young guy or girl to get their feet wet in motorsports. So often you see a lot of family involvement, second, third-generation drivers because if it wasn't for the help and the knowledge that my family had, it would've been hard for me to break into the sport.
To make a long story short, I caught a couple lucky breaks when I was getting out of high school. I got a couple of good opportunities to go and drive for an established team. I was able to win some races at the right time and eventually got a long-term contract to drive for one of the bigger teams in NASCAR in 2005.
[00:06:42] JR: I didn’t realize that there were only 40 drivers. That’s crazy. It’s crazy exclusive.
[00:06:49] DR: Yes. There’s a couple of divisions in NASCAR. So, NASCAR is the sanctioning body that sanctions motorsports races all around the countries, but the premier division is the Cup Series. Forever it was the Winston Cup, then the Sprint Cup, and now it’s the Cup Series. Yeah, 40 drivers every week. We have 36 races a year, plus an All-Star race and a preseason race. Yeah, that’s it.
And so, it's very unfair for a lot of the young boys and girls that are great drivers to work their way up through those different divisions because it's very expensive to own racecars and to travel. A lot of times, families – Maybe the mom or dad, they're not mechanically inclined. They don't have the parts and pieces to build a racecar or to purchase one, so it is unfair in that sense to where they’re maybe the best racecar driver in the middle of the United States but he doesn't have a fair shot. So, it is tough to get up to the premier level. Like I said, I felt like I was very fortunate and grateful to have a family history but also be in the right place at the right time.
[00:07:58] JR: I respect that you recognize that, yeah, this is like graced to you largely, right? If you hadn’t grown over the family biz, it had been a lot tougher. Sure, skill keeps you in the game but grace got you in the game.
[00:08:13] DR: Absolutely. Once you’re there, it’s a cutthroat environment because we don't have collective bargain agreements. We don't have a union where there's certain rules and regulations. Even though I have a multi-year contract at any time, the owner can sever ties. A sponsor can leave. So there’s always that next young guy or girl who wants to get my job. I'm very blessed that God looked after me. For 13 years, I was able to race full-time. I never missed a race for 13 straight seasons and had a lot of fun, won some races. It was a great journey, and I'm so excited and pleased to kind of be on my next step of my journey at the age of 34.
[00:08:52] JR: Yes, right. You retired from racing 2019. You’re going into broadcasting, so I want to come back to that in a minute. I got to clear this up though. You're racing at the age of 12 but you can't drive a car on a highway until you’re, I don’t know, what the driving age is, 15, 16. How does that work?
[00:09:09] DR: I was maturing at a very fast rate when I was a young kid, and I tell a lot of young kids and I see a lot of young guys and girls that are racing go carts and maybe quarter midgets and small racecars. I always tell their parents like even if they don't have the dream to go on to the next level, if you guys are just doing this for fun, I think motorsports teaches you a great work ethic. It teaches you how to interact with maybe older adults and to mature at a faster rate than some of the other young kids.
Also, it teaches you respect behind the wheel of a car because you know that they can be dangerous, and that is a fast automobile. Whether you're 16 years old and you're getting your driver's license or you’re 12 or 13 years old and you're racing, you know that you take that serious. You buckle up. You don't have many distractions inside of a racecar. So, I think that young kids that do race, they have a greater appreciation for that automobile once they do get their license.
[00:10:05] JR: That's an interesting perspective. You listen to the podcast. You know we talk a lot about what it takes to master a bunch of different vocations from entrepreneurship to writing, to sports, whatever. I’m curious, in a sport like NASCAR, what are the keys to mastering your craft? What separates winners from losers, the people who get into that tight circle of 40 as opposed to the thousands of applicants? Besides grace, what's the delta between good and great as a racer?
[00:10:32] DR: Yeah, that’s a great question, and I think there's a few factors and I don’t know that any one person knows that exact formula. We would critique it and work on it very hard. But I think, first, you have to have some natural talent. You can’t be claustrophobic to be a racecar driver. You’re sitting inside of a very tight cockpit with seatbelts around you and a helmet and all that stuff, so you got to be comfortable inside that environment.
You have to have a natural ability to drive the racecar and tell the crew chief and engineer what you need that car to do in order to go faster. The cars are all built to a certain spec, meaning that all the engines are similar. The body styles are similar. The weight is similar, but it's the driver and the crew chief’s job to get the car to handle properly. What I mean by that is when the driver turns the wheel a little bit, he wants it to react in a certain way. He wants the rear tires to feel a certain way going around the corner.
Some drivers have a little bit better feel and how to describe that in order to get their car faster than their competitors. But I think the biggest thing that separates the winners from losers on a consistent basis is mentally being in the game. You're racing 500 miles, which is usually a three to four-hour race. We don't have a break. We don't have a half time. We do have some caution flags on occasion. But generally, you're racing for hours at the time. You’ve got to have a very high level of concentration, not to make any mistakes. You’re driving on the edge. It's not like you’re driving down the interstate with the air conditioner on and listening to the radio. You are literally on the verge of over slipping a tire or maybe spinning out or you’re inches away from the wall, and you can’t afford to make mistakes.
That’s where I struggled some when I was young and still to the year that I retired, retaining that high level of concentration for that three or four-hour range without making a mistake, and that’s what separates the guys that can win races on a consistent basis versus the guys who may lead a bunch of laps or qualify fast but they're not into running on lap 500 or 475.
As I matured as a young adult and I grew on my spiritual walk, I found myself being in a better state of mind where I could control some of those emotions throughout a course of a race, throughout the course of a weekend and certainly a course of an entire season.
[00:13:00] JR: I'm thinking about Paul's command that we take thoughts captive. That's got to be a skill you have to learn when you're in the car to be able to stay focused, especially when you're just repetitively going around a track. How did you do that? Do you have like practical strategies for what you would do in the car to stay fully engaged on the task at hand?
[00:13:20] DR: Well, I think that you study the weekend, the racetrack. All the racetracks are a little different. We do have some time on a simulator that we can go. It's very much like an aviation simulator that pilots are trained on, so it’s a multi-axis machine that moves around. It’s not your PC and your gaming center in the back of your room. I would spend some time weekly on that, just getting visual and guidelines to the upcoming race. I think the more that you could prepare your mind and making those fast, quick second decisions, the better decisions you did make. A lot of times, you react on what your gut is telling you. If you have to take several seconds to process or analyze a scenario, that's often too late. I think the more educated and the more prepared you could be going into a weekend, you make more efficient decisions during the race and over the course of the weekend.
[00:14:16] JR: It's about eliminating a lot of the thinking, right? It’s about establishing the routine, making the plan, doing the practice of the route so that your body can basically just take over and respond automatically.
[00:14:27] DR: Yes. You can respond and respond in the correct way. I’ve learned that I even use some of those tactics in my home life, with a business, with my children, maybe with employees that the more you know someone or the more you know a situation or the more that you know what your goals are and kind of you’ve already thought about the process to get there, I feel like you make better decisions. Your adrenaline doesn't spike as much. A lot of times, I would wear heart rate monitors during the race, and you could see your heart rate up and down and the level of calories that you are burning throughout a race. There’s a lot of factors with heat, how well you're running, the size of the racetrack. But I could tell, as I was in a better place mentally, oftentimes my heart rate was lower, I burned less calories, and I was more effective behind the wheel.
[00:15:17] JR: It’s a crazy sport, right? We can agree on that. You’re like sitting in this baking hot car. It’s just insane. I have so much respect for it. It is like physically demanding, right? At the end of the race, you got to be physically and mentally exhausted.
[00:15:33] DR: Yeah. Like I talked about earlier, there’s different style of racetracks that require different thought process. The toughest tracks are the short tracks and the road courses. So, the road courses, you're breaking and shifting, and you have to really pay attention to every upcoming corner because every corner, how you exit that corner dictates how you enter into the next corner. Those are mentally and physically very draining. Sometimes, the bigger tracks might be a little easier from that aspect of it. But you’re right. We don't have air conditioner inside the racecar. We have all the heat from the brakes and the engine, so it's often hot.
I tell a lot of people that you don't have to be able to benchpress 300 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in under five seconds, but you do have to be physically fit because when you're thinking about muscle that’s pulled or you're getting maybe tired in your upper body or your arms, you're not concentrating on the task at hand. You're thinking about other things. That’s a distraction.
Again, as I grew older, I wish that I would have known all of these things when I was 20, 21, and 22 years old. But that is some things that you learn over the course of a career being coached by the right people. Again, what I found, just having a better perspective on life. As I grew my relationship with Jesus Christ, I think all of those things helped me confirm I'm in this sport for reason, and I didn’t always have to look over my shoulder and think about the next guy that’s going to take my job or always thinking about a contract year coming up. Those were a lot of things that helped calm some of my nerves that also helped me perform better.
[00:17:08] JR: Yeah. I think a lot of people who are on the path to mastering anything vocationally, we understand that, okay, yes, 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become masterful at anything. But one of the most challenging things about pursuing 10,000+ hours of purposeful practice is it just gets old after a while. I mean, you raced more than 600 times in 13 years. How did you keep from just getting stuck in a rut professionally? How did you keep putting more weight on the bar if you will and just keep getting better at your craft?
[00:17:40] DR: Early on, I relied on my personal strengths early and I don't think those are always correct. I thought, “Man, I need to train more. I need to eat better. I need to have a better team, a better engine. These are some things I need to work on.” While those are all true, I felt like a lot of it is just being in a good state of mind and having a positive attitude, going into some of the tough challenges. I always tried to improve the things that I could control, and we talk about that a lot in motorsports because there are so many other factors that are outside of my control.
Early in my career, I let those other factors. I call them the B factors. I let those B factors weigh me down sometimes. Maybe it was an engine that blew up that I didn't have anything to do with. Maybe it was raining over the course of a weekend that messed up our strategy that we didn’t have the finish that we needed, maybe an accident in front of me that I couldn’t avoid. A lot of times, I let those things bring me down during a week or really weigh on me the whole rest of the week as we prepared for the next race.
As I learned to control the A factors, the things that I can control, the B factors let them take care of themselves. But if I can control what's in front of me, if I can stay focused on my job, I think that the end product will always be better, and so that helped me a lot, just working on the things that I could control and let the other team guys on our team work on theirs. I was there to support them and encourage them and be there if they needed anything. But I really try to focus on what I could do to be a better teammate, to be a better employee from our race team, and ultimately to be a better team player as a racecar driver, as part of the big puzzle that needs every piece working together.
[00:19:25] JR: So much wisdom there and I’m thinking of Jesus’s command. Not to worry about what we can’t control. Worrying does not add a single hour to our life. Focus on the things we can control and that He's given us some level of agency to change. You retired in 2019 from racing. You’re spending more time in broadcasting and then your businesses. I'm curious, what are the keys to mastery that you think transition over from racing to business or broadcasting?
[00:19:53] DR: The skills that I learned working with the team, managing distractions, overcoming deficiencies in the racecar, maybe having a bad start to a weekend and not letting that get you down before the weekend really even gets going. Some of those things that I’m still learning today and that are still revealing themselves to me at the surface. There’s situation in business or working with employees or managing a problem that I go back and relate that to how I dealt with controversy or an accident when I was younger.
I want to touch on one thing that led me to where I was at in that position to retire. A lot of times, people say, “Man, you're only 33, 34 years old. You’ve got a lot of good years left in front of you. What are you doing retiring from a sport that has been so good to you?” I tell a lot of people the story that I was at a point where I had done and accomplished a lot of things that I wanted to do and I didn’t want to get stale or get stagnant in one particular place. I felt like that there are so many great opportunities to love and serve one another through whatever occupation that you have. I think God had placed me as a racecar driver to make an impact on His kingdom where I was at, whether that was at the racetrack, in a board room talking to our sponsors to their board of directors. Maybe working with the hundreds of team members that make our racecar built and go fast.
While I was there, I tried to do the work that God had called me to do, and I was appreciative of the opportunity that He laid out in front of me. But once I started feeling like it wasn't as exciting, it wasn’t as fresh, I wasn't challenged as much, it’s almost like I knew what was going to happen around the next corner, and so I found myself later in my career not preparing as much as I should have, maybe not taking every weekend as serious as some of the other big marqee events. I said, “Yeah, this is a stale place for me to be in. If I'm going to continue to grow as a Christian, to grow as a husband and a father and always be challenged to be better, I can’t stay stale in one particular spot.”
So, God really revealed to me that it was time to take that next step and whatever endeavors are in front of me keep me interested and really engaged. I’ve seen that play out exactly how I had hoped it would. The first six straight months of the season, I’ve had some different roles with Fox Sports and their broadcasting of the NASCAR races and then also doing some work with Ford Motor Company on developing a new racecar for 2022. That's given me a fresh step. It’s encouraged me to work with some new different people, to think about motorsports in a different way. I always looked at it as a driver. How can the sport be better for me or what can I do to make more money or to win more races?
Now, I look at it in a different perspective, which is really healthy for me to be in. How I got to that point was I did a digital fast for completely. I turned off every TV, every radio, my social media accounts. I just didn’t look at anything for a full week. Every time that I was tempted to turn the TV on or even riding down the road and listening to the radio, I just didn't do it. I listened to Scripture. I was in the word more. That verse in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your request to God and the peace of God which will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” that kept reoccurring and I just felt such a peace that I knew that my next calling was to do something else, to move on, to spend more time with my family, and to be a part of the motorsports world in a different way. I found it to be more challenging and I'm waking up every morning excited because there’s something new around the corner.
[00:23:48] JR: I love that and I love that you recognized that you kind of had to dissent from the kingdom of noise in order to get that clarity. I mean, NASCAR is a noisy sport literally, right, like on the track. But your life outside the track I got to imagine is also crazy noisy, right? Interviews, social media, your phone pinging all the time. Talk about that week and the value of silence and stillness.
[00:24:16] DR: Yeah. You have to be turned on a lot of times, and I tried to be as natural as I could, whether it was representing my sponsors, the manufacturer that I was racing for, the team. I found myself even when I was home eating dinner with my family and I didn’t have a wife and kids for the first several years of my career. But as I got married and had my first job and a second child, I found myself being switched on at the wrong times. I was thinking about the race weekend. I was thinking about different sponsorship obligations that I had, an appearance to go and make at a sales function coming up while maybe my daughter was at swim lessons or I was at the house on a Thursday evening before we flew out.
I realized that that wasn't as healthy as it needed to be. Oftentimes, early in my career, I wasn't actively pursuing a relationship with the Lord. It was three or four down the road. I was fighting what's in front of me and trying to put out the fires on a daily basis with the NASCAR drivers and any professional athlete who represent sponsors, who obviously have a lot of fans that are counting on them to perform in a certain way. We’re all motivated. We want to be the best that we can be. But sometimes, that can be unhealthy when you don't prioritize things in the correct way.
That's where I was at the last couple of years of my career where I was just always one step behind it seemed like. You do three or four things on your to-do list, and I'm a big advocate of scheduling and list. I love a schedule that I’m sitting in my office now and I have a yearly planner with little notes written from now until December. You get in a trance almost where that's all you look at; all you look at. So, it’s important for me to have a good small group to be a part of, to have a good daily quiet time that I can sit back and reflect and just clear my brain for a little bit. I found that I was more efficient at my job and I got more things done. Even when I didn't feel like I was doing some things, I was able to clear my mind a little bit and work in a more efficient way.
[00:26:23] JR: Yeah. Well, those times of silence help you figure out what's actually important on your to-do list. If you don't have that mental space, it's impossible to see the signal through the noise and the mess and all that good stuff. I'm curious. You mentioned schedules. You know we talk a lot about routines and daily habits. What does a typical day look like for you now? From the moment you get out of bed to the moment you go back to bed, what does a day in the life of David Ragan look like?
[00:26:48] DR: Well, my friends make fun of me all the time because my wife and I, we’re very old-school, kind of old creatures of habit. We’re up early and we’re in bed early. So, I get up at five o'clock every morning and I head straight to the gym. I'm still going to race a little bit on occasion, part-time. I’ve ran one race this year. I had a couple more races scheduled. But with the whole COVID-19 crisis, those have been pushed back a little bit. But I'm up at 5:00 AM. I go straight to the gym. I'm back at my house at 6:30. I can shower and sit down and have breakfast with my family. I usually go to my office for the first little bit of the morning just to follow up on some emails to kind of get my day started.
Then I'm off to the FOX Sport studio if I’m on the show that night or if I’m working for Ford. We have an office here in Concorde, North Carolina. So, some days, I’m at the FOX Studio. Sometimes, I’m at the Ford engineering office where our simulator is at. I’m there for majority of the day. I always try to get back home. It's very important for us and our family and kids to have some good quality time in the afternoon and evening. We like to cook and eat dinner at our house, and that’s one thing that’s been a really nice blessing if we can take anything out of the whole quarantine and shelter in place that we’ve had a lot of great quality family time around the table, playing some games, outside at the pool. That’s been really, really special.
I put the kids down to bed about 7:00, 7:30. Then I have my quiet times in the evening. I like to turn my cell phone off. I'll put it on the kitchen counter or something, so I’m not tempted to scroll through social media or start texting a lot of people. Generally, from about eight to nine o'clock, I have a good quiet time. I'm still in a small group Bible study with some of the other drivers. We often meet on a Tuesday morning via Zoom. That’s a good way that I’m held accountable in my walk and I also can stay engaged with a lot of the other guys that are in different parts of their walk as well. I have my quiet time in the evening. My wife has hers in the morning, so we’re kind of on different schedules on that end. But I'm in bed by 9:15. 9:30 asleep. So, like to get up early and we like to go to bed early.
[00:29:01] JR: We’re the same way. I'm up at 5:00. I'm asleep by 9:00. It’s my goal every night, so, yeah, very similar schedule. I want to talk just for a couple more minutes about distractions, just because I think you're a really interesting case study here, right? I mean, in a car, a distraction, obviously you don't have your cellphone out pinging you with tweets while you're driving at a race, but a distraction can be deadly on a racetrack. But distractions are also really cancerous and harmful when you're in business or at the studio, doing broadcasting for FOX. What habits do you have in place to stay fully engaged at the task at hand, now that you're off the track for the most part?
[00:29:40] DR: I think you have to know your weakness is at before you get into a situation. A lot of times, I call them roadblocks. You have to set up some roadblocks or guardrails that create some boundaries and know that when I'm going to have my quiet time, I’m not going to have my cellphone within arm's reach because I know that if it pings or if I have a notification, I’m going to look at it. I’m going to have the TV off. I want to make sure that my kids are upstairs or asleep or in a different room because I want to be focused when I’m at the studio or working on an engineering project for a new part or piece. I want to have the tools that I'm going to be working with in front of me and I want to get engaged.
I know it's a little different for everybody. I enjoy to work in a quiet office with no noise, no fans, no hummings. Now, some people like a little music or some background noise, but I like total silence, and that’s where I’m the most efficient because every little noise and person walking by and different things, that kind of breaks up my concentration.
Going into the racecar, I think that it's important for a driver. If you talk to other NASCAR drivers down the road, this may open the floodgates for some other NASCAR guys to jump on and talk to you. But it’s still important to have our seat just right. Our seatbelts are fit perfectly. We don't have anything that’s pulling or tugging a certain direction. That's annoying throughout a race. You want to be very comfortable inside the racecar. The steering wheel needs to be adjusted properly that you don't cramp up or you don’t use one part of your shoulder more than the other because you don't want those distractions because you got to be so focused on getting your marks and getting back to the throttle at a certain point, watching and raising other cars. You’ve got to be on your game.
I talk to a lot of teen drivers early in my career. AAA was one of my sponsors, and they had a teen driving safety program that I went to a lot of high schools and talk to young kids that were getting ready to get their license and talked about have a plan when you get in the car. You know you’re going to buckle up. You know you're going to check your rearview mirror. Know where you're going. So often, we want to plug in the GPS while we’re in route. We know how to get of our neighborhood and you’re trying to do some of that stuff when you're heading in that direction. But I thought it was important to have a plan, whenever you jump in the car, whenever you sit down at your desk. Know what your goals are and then know what your distractions are and try to eliminate those going into it.
[00:32:13] JR: That’s really, really good, and I love that you think about those using a raising analogy as roadblocks. I like that a lot. David, you know we talk a lot in this show about how the Christian faith influences our work. Starting at the very highest level, how does your faith influence your work? When you were racing day in day out, what did that look like? What did that integration look like or not look like or you wish it had looked like? Talk about that for a minute.
[00:32:38] DR: Well, you know, it’s changed over the course of my life and career. As my relationship with the Lord became more intimate and more personal, I definitely felt a lot more contentment in my life. Early in my career, I thought it was all about winning races, the paycheck you would make after the race, the accolades that you would receive from fans, the social media likes and engagement that you had. That was the driving force often and that leads to a dark road sometimes because in our sport and like other sports, you don't win a lot more than you lose. You lose a lot. There's 40 drivers and there's only one winner each week. There's 39 losers. That's hard to overcome. As a kid, I grew up dominating in the short tracks and racing when I was 12, 13, 14, 15 years. I would win 15, 20 races per year. When I moved into NASCAR, if you could win one or two races a year, you had a great season.
Over the course of the years, in motorsports and NASCAR, I think I went five or six races and I lost 600 of them. That can be defeating when you are counting your success on the paycheck or the trophies or the accolades. As I grew up in my faith, I realized that we were here for a bigger purpose. That eternity is a long time and we’re just a little blipping on the radar here in our current life. I found a lot more contentment. Then as I got married and had kids, I realized that there were truly things that were a lot more important than just winning a race or making certain amount at the payoff window after the race was over.
So, finding real contentment, real joy, and just trying to keep in mind what the fruit of the spirit is; love, joy, peace, patience, happiness, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Those are some things that I tried to show my competitors at times. I know that sounds weird. Hey, you're racing this guy for a win and you want to show them love and respect and self-control. Yeah, I think you can do both. I think that you can be very aggressive on the racetrack and you can pursue greatness in whatever you're doing. But you can do it the way.
I think that as I got some of the situated out in my life, I did find a lot more joy later in my career. Even though I didn’t win as many races the last few years, I still had a lot of fun and I felt like I was almost serving a greater purpose those last few seasons compared to early in my career.
[00:35:11] JR: Your comments are reminding me of a conversation I had with Tony Dungy, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, when I was interviewing Tony for my last book, and we’re just talking about this idea of the pursuit of victory and how we as Christians, yes, we should strive for excellence. We should strive for mastery. We should strive to win.
But it's not about obtaining victory. There is no biblical command that we obtain victory, that we obtain perfection. I think God is glorified in the pursuit, right? I loved in my book Tony offered this like great definition of excellence. Excellence is doing something at the very highest level. It could be done by using all your capabilities and everything God has given you, right? It’s basically the best that you can do. Is that kind of how you’ve thought about that in the latter part of your career?
[00:36:03] DR: Yeah, and getting to that point was very healthy for me, and I felt like that’s such a great comment and I’m a big fan of Tony Dungy. I’ve heard him speak a few times and I think that he's got incredible outlook on life, and he reminds me a lot of Coach Gibbs. I don’t know if you’ve ever had any conversations with Joe Gibbs, but he leads his team I think the same way he did his NFL teams, championship Super Bowl winning teams with a lot of love, a lot of respect. But it was in the right way and I think that the winning is just the byproduct of the process. Big guys like Tony Dungy and coach Gibbs are great mentors and people that I look up to and definitely inspire to follow in their footsteps.
[00:36:46] JR: Yeah. These guys are terrific. David, you were recording this in mid-ish July when NASCAR just witnessed one of the most despicable acts of racism, when somebody placed a noose in the garage of Bubba Wallace, the only black driver at this top tier elite level of NASCAR. Other than outright condemnation which I saw from you about nonsense like this, how is your faith informing how you respond to this and other instances of racism in this world of racing where you have so much influence?
[00:37:23] DR: Yeah. That’s a great question, and Bubba Wallace is a good friend of mine. We just live a few miles apart from one another, and it’s sad in one aspect to know that there are still acts of racism that are still going on today. As a kid, sometimes you think that was all in history lesson or in the history books. To know that there are still people like that in this world, it brings a different perspective sometimes that we are still fighting Satan who wants to kill and destroy what we have going.
For me, I don't think that there is any tweet that I can send out or a post or an email chain that I can send out that gives the right instructions on how we need to combat it, other than pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ and trying to love and serve one another. I feel like that if we can do that as an individual, as a community, as a sporting league like NASCAR or any other sports league out there, and eventually as a society and a culture, I think that that's what I can do. It starts with me, and it starts with my kids and my family, and my home, and the people I interact with on a daily basis. I try to remember that and I feel like that I am a big believer that God puts people in different people's lives at the right time in the right places for a reason.
I try to be on the lookout for those situations. I don't want to let any situation just pass by and not act on it. If it’s something like that, I want to call Bubba and say, “Hey, we love you. We’re here for you. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you.” Or maybe it’s a fan that doesn't know what he’s talking about and is ill-informed, and he says something that he shouldn’t. I can say, “Look.” I put my arm around him and say, “Hey, here's what's really going on and here are some things you should consider,” and try to educate them a little bit.
So, I just try to start with me and I just try to be a watch out for whatever situation is in front of me and try to act on it in the most Christian way that I can and try to follow Jesus and how He led by example. A lot of times, He didn’t take the long or the short way. He went right through Samaritan and met that lady there at the well. He did that intentionally and He was ready for that moment. So, I just want to be ready for whatever moment’s in front of me that I can act on and try to change the culture, and I think it starts with me and my household and my community.
[00:39:52] JR: Very well said, and we can't spot those moments, right? We can't be on the lookout for the things unless we’re well-steeped in the word and ways of Jesus, right? It starts with the word, and I love that you’ve made that such a prominent part of your story today. David, you know we wrap up every conversation with three questions. First, really curious which books you tend to recommend or give away most frequently to others.
[00:40:19] DR: Well, a couple and it changes some. I have a lot of rental homes here in the Charlotte area. So, every time we have a new renter coming in, I always give them The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. I think that that can change their course of life and their family tree, and I’ve had a lot of young families and single mothers be so grateful that I give to them that book, and they were able to read it. One of my favorite, it’s a very short read but it’s a short book that Truett Cathy wrote, the Founder of Chick-fil-A, and it’s called Wealth: Is it Worth It? It basically just goes through some of the different things that you can do with wealth and how to obtain it and is it truly worth it in the end if that's what you're striving for. That’s a great short read, and I give that to a lot of my friends and different people.
[00:41:07] JR: It’s been a long time to separate that Truett Cathy book, but that’s a great one. Good recommendation. You guys can find all those at jordanraynor.com/bookshelf. Hey, David, who do you want to most hear on this podcast talk about how their faith influences their work?
[00:41:20] DR: I mentioned his name earlier, Coach Gibbs. I think that I did get to drive for Coach Gibbs for a short period of time in 2015, and just a few months that I got to spend with him was such a great experience. I think that he's truly someone who walks the walk and talks the talk, and he's a very humble successful man in a lot of different endeavors, and I think that he would be great, and you would have a lot of fun talking with Coach Gibbs.
[00:41:48] JR: If you can make that happen, anytime any day I would love to talk to Coach Gibbs.
[00:41:53] DR: I’ll let him know.
[00:41:55] JR: Yeah, please do. My dad, he used to talk about Joe Gibbs is like such a hero, so I’m very, very familiar with him and his legacy. All right, David, one piece of advice you want to leave your audience with who, like you, is trying to do their most exceptional work of the glory of God and the good of others.
[00:42:11] DR: I think that you’ve got to have goals and you’ve got to be prepared for what's in front of you and whether that's through studying, through having good quiet times, maybe family members, your wife, your loved ones that can hold you accountable. I think those are some things that can keep you on the straight and narrow path because it is easy to fall off in any line of work that we do. I think that it's important to stay focused on what your goals are and to always remember that God has you in a place that can make a difference. Whether you’re washing dishes, a carpenter, or throwing touchdowns on a Super Bowl winning team, God has you in that place to make a difference for the Kingdom, and I think that we’ve all got to work together to do that and to give him the glory.
I think that oftentimes our society, we think that we’ve always got to be something bigger, be something better, get to that next day's bigger home, faster car, all the things that our culture wants us to believe. I don’t think those are always true. I feel like God has you in the place that you're in for a reason, and you need to make the best of it and how can you make the best of it? That’s be intentional about your work, have good accountability partners that can encourage you and keep you motivated and know what your goals are. Don't go to work and not know what your goals are. Work towards your goals each and every day, not only at your job but at your home. It’s great to have goals for your family, for your kids, for your relationship with your wife. Those are important to me and those are things that are challenging, but I also try to improve almost every day.
[00:43:54] JR: Do you set goals like personally for your family?
[00:43:56] DR: I do and that’s a little bit of the Dave Ramsey coming out. I don’t set generic goals like, “Hey, I want my oldest daughter to learn how to ride a bike soon with no training wheels.” We try to be specific and I try to give that to my kids to learn from, say, “Hey, all right, we’re going to practice two times a day, and in three weeks we’re taking the training wheels off, and that’s our goal.” Try to be specific for not only the goal but the process on how to get there. We’re not super crazy where we do that on everything.
But at least a couple of times a year, we all go around as a family and we write down some goals. I love to have my kids to be included in that. Now, it's riding a bike with no training wheels, trying a shoe, swimming from the shallow end to the deep end. It’s so much joy for me to see my kids achieve one of those goals and to be so excited. But they learn the process on how they got there. I hope some of those simple goals that we’re talking about today as a six and four-year-old that they can apply that same strategy when they’re 25 years old and they're trying to work at a job or start a new business or do whatever God has called them to do when they’re older.
[00:45:06] JR: I love that so much. I'm stealing this from you and implementing this with my kids. This is incredible. I love it so much.
[00:45:11] DR: Well, I probably stole it from somebody, so you can have it.
[00:45:13] JR: I’m sure you did. Thank you. Thank you. Hey, David, man, I just want to commend you for just being salt and light in the world of racing. Thank you for working hard to reveal God's character of excellence through your work and for your commitment to master your craft for the glory of God and the good of your fans, your owners, your teammates. This conversation has made me a huge fan of yours.
Hey, if you guys want to keep up with David, you could find him at davidragan.com, pretty simple. R-A-G-A-N.com. David, thanks for hanging out with me.
[00:45:43] DR: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on, and you continue to do great work and continue to encourage all of us. It was a lot of fun to talk to you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:45:51] JR: I hope you guys enjoyed that episode as much as I did. Hey, if you're loving the podcast, be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode in the future. If you're already subscribed, take 30 seconds right now. Go review the podcast wherever you do those sorts of things. Those reviews go a long way in helping us get this content into the ears of more listeners. Thank you guys so much for tuning into this episode of The Call to Mastery. I’ll see you next week.