“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing!”
This past Sunday was the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The “Greatest Spectacle in Racing!” Each year, I recall one of the greatest privileges of my professional, as well as personal life!
It was 1986 and I was the development officer for a small non-profit in Indianapolis. We had taken a risk of faith and asked Mari Hulman-George, owner of the track to be honorary chairperson of our 2nd charity event: Elizabella Ball.
Fortunately she said “yes” and nearly a year of planning commenced.
If you’ve never been to the “greatest spectacle in racing”, you can only imagine the amount of strategic planning that goes into pulling off a multi-million dollar race accommodating nearly a half million people – and that’s just for race day. Throughout the month of May, there are multiple functions associated with the race that requires the expertise of scads of folks – both professional and volunteer. The miracle is that it goes off with nary a glitch. At least none of which the public is aware.
And there’s a very good reason it goes off with nary a glitch! I know because I had the privilege of having just a glimpse of how the 500 folks plan and execute such a phenomenal event. The amazing thing is that we who plan and execute our business and professional pursuits can learn from these folks who do it with such grace, charm and apparent ease.
In the Midst of Experts!
Here’s what I experienced as we approached the 1986 Elizabella Ball held at the old Indianapolis 500 Museum of Racing!
- Overall success is dependent on a series of single successes superbly executed – On 3 separate occasions prior to 1986 Elizabella Ball; I sat at the huge 500 corporate conference table with the experts as we walked through every second of that event. From the time the 1st car turned into the speedway from 16th Street to the time the last car departed many hours later!
- Take nothing for granted during the planning stages – As the Hulman-George team and I walked through each minute detail of the evening; the process stopped when I could not answer an anticipated aspect of the event. No one on the expert team ventured to help me unwind the potential glitch in order to take the next step to a smooth running process. In other words, I had to think as strategically and with as much expertise as those on the other side of the table who did event planning par-excellence’!
- Start the process early and up front – Elizabella Ball 1986 was the Saturday following Thanksgiving. But it was early October when the 1st Hulman-George conference room session took place. I thought it a bit early; but since the famous featured orchestra for the evening was flying in and would not arrive until after the evening’s program had started; the process was even more complicated than originally planned! The speedway experts had to carefully and accurately arrange to get the Lionel Hampton orchestra from Indy International to the speedway in time to strike up the band at the appointed hour! It was up to me to handle the museum room while they handled orchestra transport. In other words, I had to know my “p’s and q’s” too!
- Accept upfront something will not work as planned – I learned that one reason the speedway team was so relaxed and nonchalant is they accept that something out of their control will always happen. No matter how early and upfront the planning; something unexpected will present itself. Knowing that and accepting it helps to minimize the fallout from such an unexpected event. As one of the team said, “unexpected happenings need not lead to unexpected consequences!” (Remember this one – it’s important and will serve you well in the future!).
- Plan for the unexpected by exercising all the “what if” scenarios – Unexpected consequences were avoided because we accepted upfront that something unexpected would happen. Deciding early on, as much as possible, what that might be permitted us to plan accordingly. In other words, if this happened, how would we handle it? And the process continued until we had exhausted all possible “what ifs” and planned how to execute in the event of said “what if”!
- Learn from the best – This was an important lesson for me. I learned that I didn’t have to have all the answers for such a classy, glitzy event hosted by the owner of the internationally famous Indy 500 Mile Speedway! I also learned great lessons about planning and execution of events – large or small. I learned that to sit at the table with Mari and her team was a privilege I would never have guessed I would have – not in a million years!
Each year as the famous words, “Gentlemen, start your engines” roar around the world, I recall how fortunate I was to learn valuable business and professional lessons that would last a lifetime. Not only were the Indianapolis Motor Speedway folks among the most expert folks I’ve had the privilege of knowing, they are among the kindest, humblest folks as well!
Sharing the Privilege is a Privilege Itself!
Great business, professional – and personal – lessons learned in the cradle of professional auto racing from the very best. Hopefully what I learned from “the privilege” I had will be helpful to you in planning and executing for business, professional – and personal – success too!
Linda S. Fitzgerald, M.S.Ed, CEO & Visionary Partner
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