The death of
Australia’s racing legend Peter Brock on September 8 moved me to
write this piece.
Brock was killed
in a racing accident at age 61. His partner survived the crash.
His partner said Brock did not make a mistake. Frankly, I disagree.
He made a mistake when he climbed into a 1964 racecar at age 61
in an attempt to beat the clock and other drivers one more time.
His motto was
"live life." The motto is fine. The life actually lived
seem reconciled to this daredevil endings. The most famous exit
was Harold Holt’s, who at age 59 went swimming in the shark-infested
Australian surf, which was turbulent that day, and disappeared.
He was Australia’s Prime Minister at the time. Today, 39 years later,
he is famous for how he departed, not for how he ruled the country.
While this event was of course sensational at the time, Australians
seemed to take the attitude that "these things happen."
It’s part of the Australian heritage.
"swimming with the sharks" refers to competing with sophisticated
and sometimes ruthless investors, who will "eat you alive."
It doesn’t mean swimming with the sharks, who will eat you alive.
Australia is different.
Coming in the
same week as the death of the crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, Brock’s
death was a blow to the country. He was Australia’s most honored
race driver. He dominated racing there throughout the 1970s and
1980s. He won the Bathurst nine times — a feat no one else has come
near. He was known as "Peter Perfect."
in a radio interview on the day he died that the car was new to
him. Previously, he had problems handling it. He quipped, "I’ve
really got to get to grips with this car. I think by Sunday night,
I might." Famous last words.
In one if the
many obituaries, published on GrandPrix.com,
the author wrote: "Although he retired from racing in 1997
he could not stay away and raced whenever he could. Racing was his
It was also
Half a century
ago, Stirling Moss was my only hero in the world of athletics. He
was Britain’s greatest grand prix driver, but he shared the era
with the dominant international driver of the time, Argentina’s
Juan Manuel Fangio, a three-name athlete. Moss has been called the
greatest driver who never won the grand prix championship.
like his website. It has a section, 50 years ago, where you
can see which races he was in 50 years ago.
Moss was very
fast, but he was also very methodical. He paid attention to details.
He recognized that racing is a life-and-death sport, unlike other
major sports. Second, at 150 miles per hour or higher, a split second
can make a big difference.
In 1962, he
was involved in a crash. He never regained his reflexes. He retired
from the Grand Prix circuit. He did not press his luck. He saw that
what he had to do involved split-second timing, and that when his
body no longer met his standards, he retired. However, I am told
that he has on occasion and without fanfare raced lower-horsepower
cars for the thrill the competition in the years after 1962. I have
not verified this.
17, Sir Stirling is scheduled to celebrate his 77th birthday.
For some great
recent photos of Moss driving The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno around
the track in the last run of Moss’s 1955 victory car, the Mercedes-Benz
300 SLR #722 — vroom, vroom — click
Fangio, won his fourth world championship in 1957. No one won five
championships until 2002, when the German driver, Michael Schumaker,
did it. (Schumaker then won two more.) Fangio retired in 1958.
Why did Fangio
quit at the height of his career? Because he was 47 years old. He
had seen too many of his peers killed, and he decided to enjoy the
rest of his life, as he said at the time. He died in 1995, at the
age of 84, the Grand Old Man of grand prix racing.
In the careers
of Peter Brock and Stirling Moss, we see two rival views of life
of life was "live life." But what he meant by this was
very different from Stirling Moss’s view. Both men drove very fast.
Both men became legends in their time. Brock retained public popularity
longer than Moss did, but Brock was not well-known outside Australia,
whereas Moss was an international figure in an international sport.
Moss was a
businessman in an era when athletes, especially in auto racing,
were not. He demanded top payment for appearing in a race. He sought
after endorsements. What we regard as normal today — star athletes
making more money off the field than on — was pioneered by Moss.
He lived to spend his money. He remains wealthy.
Brock could not disengage from the sport that made him a legend.
He loved life, but that life was put on the line every time he climbed
behind the wheel and started the engine. So was the life of his
In the United
States, another driver had this same inability to quit at his peak:
Paul Newman. He would say I am wrong. That is because he peaked
in this sport later than anyone else in history. Newman entered
his first race at age 47 — the age when Fangio quit — and proved
to be a competent driver. At age 70, in 1995, he became the oldest
driver ever to be on a winning team in a major sanctioned race,
the 24-hour Daytona. He survived his driving career, but he took
his life in his hands every time.
There is an
American saying about wanting to die with your boots on. This is
a very different goal from dying in bed in the arms of a 20-year-old
woman at age 93 — unless you (and she) have a unique attitude
toward boots. Dying with your boots on means dying while still pursuing
your calling — "the most important thing you can do in which
you would be most difficult to replace." If the most important
thing a 61-year-old man can do is drive a 1964 car in a race, then
he has not maximized the uses to which his life might have been
will be easily replaced on the racing circuit. The racing world
will not notice his absence on the track. Whether or not someone
wins a race in a 1964 car is neither here nor there for most Australians.
But Australia will miss his presence as a spokesman for the sport
and for Australia generally.
I contend that
Brock made a fatal mistake regarding what his calling was. He was
addicted to participating in the sport as a driver. That was an
addiction — a personal liability, not a mark of success. If there
is a 12-step recovery program for aging sports car racers, he should
have been in it.
He had an amazing
gift: the ability to drive very fast. He had an even greater gift:
the ability to drive fast under racing conditions. Moss said it
To race a
car through a turn at maximum speed, is difficult, but to race
a car at maximum speed through that same turn when there is a
brick wall on one side and a precipice on the other — Ah, that’s
There are critics
who think auto racing is a waste, a risk of one’s life for nothing
substantial. I fully agree with respect to the personal glory of
winning car races. But for the development of auto technology, racing
is a useful testing program. The quest for speed leads to a quest
for new technologies. First users pioneer such development in a
free society. There is a trickle-down phenomenon in auto racing
as in all other consumer products. The people with money to spare
buy them first and test them under competitive conditions. Then
they become mass-market, price-competitive items later, if they
prove useful to early users.
Here we have
an institution that exists to amuse one group of people which produces
positive results in the lives of other, seemingly disinterested
people. The side effects become positive effects, despite the fact
that "side effects" usually means "effects we don’t
We have a similar
phenomenon in the commodity futures markets. Two men put up money
on opposite sides of a price move. One says the price will rise.
The other says that the price will fall. A commodity futures industry
takes its share of each participant’s guess. One wins, the other
loses, and the brokers take home their share.
lose? No. Society gains because the transaction is based on the
bearing of uncertainty. Very smart people make money by guessing
the movement of prices. The best forecasters survive the competition.
This makes demonstrable information — "Put your money where
your mouth is" — available to the public at no cost to the
public. The public becomes a free rider on the zero-sum game of
commodity futures speculation.
to get rich drives most commodity futures speculators. This is a
third-rate goal in life, hardly worth pursuing. But a free society
puts this natural desire to productive service. Men get rich by
serving the public. The public benefits.
WHEN TO QUIT
stayed too long behind the wheel. He could have remained a good
spokesmen and a great legend. He could have served as a shining
example of a man who performed his task magnificently, but stepped
down when his body could no longer perform as it had. He lasted
a long time, but he did not know when to quit.
writer who wrote, "Racing was his life," unknowingly spoke
poorly of the dead. There are other ways to be productive in racing.
Newman remains part of a racing team, just not a driver. He still
represents the industry — most delightfully, by doing the voice
of the old Hudson Hornet in Cars,
which gets my vote as the best movie of 2006.
said 3000 years ago,
thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the
heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted (Ecclesiastes 3:1—2).
(We are not
sure exactly who the Preacher was. It may have been King Solomon.
It was not Bob Dylan.)
someone else — also not Bob Dylan — said:
to know when to hold’em.
when to fold’em.
when to walk away,
when to run.
to fold the cards and walk away takes either luck or wisdom. The
wise man assesses what his contribution can be in the likely time
remaining to him and then acts on this assessment. This takes a
great deal of self-awareness, which is a commodity always in short
supply, even at high prices. (Economists would say that the supply
of self-awareness is inelastic, when they really mean "not
price-sensitive." For 45 years, whenever I have heard "inelastic,"
I have had a mental image of a fat guy whose elastic-belt pants
have fallen down.)
How a man is
remembered is closely associated with what he was doing when he
died. Peter Brock has fame. He will get a state-funded funeral,
as will Steve Irwin. He will be remembered as a man who died with
his boots on. But there comes a time in life to trade in your boots
for a pair of Reeboks.
It is good
to die on the job. But the job should determine your footwear. Don’t
wear boots if the job requires wing tips.
a short career expectancy. There are a few exceptions, but not many.
There is a good case for making the transition beyond your peak.
There was no good reason for Michael Jordan to retire until he could
no longer play any better than a bench warmer. Leaving at the peak
is for legend’s sake. But being a legend when you can be a better-than-average
performer makes no sense unless you can convert legend into something
more valuable than being very good.
I would say
that race car driving is an exception to this rule.
Some men work
for years to be above average, and never make it. Some men begin
above average and decline into it. The rule still holds: Don’t settle
for average. You may not attain above-average status, but don’t
settle for average.
the management guru, argued that the great advantage of starting
an outsourcing firm is that it enables an above-average performer
to become the best. He narrows his field. He concentrates. If the
firm that’employs him is broad-based, his entrepreneurial talent
in a narrow field will not be allowed to flourish. He will not get
to the top. Also, he will spend his career serving the needs of
only one small segment of the market: his’employer’s segment. Better
to walk out and branch out.
This is the
division of labor in action. It increases men’s productivity. It
increases society’s wealth by increasing the consumer’s supply of
was an average car racer when he died. His fame was not based on
his recent performance. It was based on memory.
He was unwilling
to rely on his legend to open doors of opportunity. He could have
put his legendary status to better purposes than remaining an aging
performer in a young man’s deadly sport. He confused his occupation
— racecar driver — with his calling: Australia’s legend. It was
time long ago to leave his occupation and put his status to productive
poorer for his not having made the switch.
was his life." If so, he wasted what remained of his life.
Life is a tool, not an end. So is your occupation. Life is for service.
What was the higher purpose of his life on the day he died? That
should define what we all leave behind. The Apostle Paul wrote:
I have fought
a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith
(2 Timothy 4:7).
Know ye not
that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain (1 Corinthians 9:24).
What is it
that you want to obtain? If it is fame, then die the way Brock died,
but make sure you are a legend first.
When I think
of Peter Brock and Stirling Moss, I don’t think of how fast they
drove, but how wisely they lived. Star athletes are not legendary
for wise living. True, they may not match George Best’s self-assessment.
"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds, and fast cars. The
rest I just squandered." But they don’t seem to be able to
leave the spotlight gracefully. They don’t leave much of a trace.
Leaving a trace
in the spotlight is difficult and usually not necessary. But leaving
a trace is necessary. It’s a responsibility.
should have followed the lead offered by Moss and Fangio. He should
have become a Grand Old Man. Then he should have helped change lives
by means of that status.
Plan your exit
strategy now. Don’t wait until that last race when you crash into
please, don’t swim with the sharks.