Learning from NASCAR Racer Robby Gordon: Why Technology Is Critical

If you’re like one of the other millions of Americans in this great country you LOVE watching car races. If you’ve watched racing for any decent length of time I’m sure you’ve seen Robby Gordon race.

He (and his team – Robby Gordon Motorsports) have raced in the Nascar Nextel Cup, Nascar Busch, Off Road Racing, the Indy 500 and the 16 day race in Dakar, as part of Team Dakar USA.
Robby Gordon’s team, is probably his most important asset, but another key tool for his success is technology. Success Computer Consulting handles the teams technology and I asked them and Robby Gordon Motorsports some questions about their use of technology.
What are some unique aspects of Robby Gordon Motorsports that are unique to their business and not other small businesses?
Most businesses that manufacture a product don’t…..destroy it! Racing is a dangerous sport and while total destruction is not the goal and would be rare, it is fair to say they build and rebuild cars all the time.
The layperson may tend to think the goal is to win a race. At some level that’s true of course. But the people who are into this are passionate about the man/machine interface and about the business of pushing the performance edge as far as it can go, even if that means a personal best of 1/1000 second faster than ever before.
Seemingly minor adjustments — lowering the operating temperature of a part by a tenth of a degree or calibrating something incrementally tighter — can change the car’s performance dramatically. One set of adjustments works well on one track — the same car in a more humid or much colder environment changes the performance metrics. It’s, well, nerdy in a way, but the people who are into it love tuning and retuning and tweaking different aspects of the racing equation to achieve an outcome. Building performance race cars is the integral goal — the race is a test. Pit stops are 13 seconds long.
Another unique aspect is the intense competitiveness – and not just when it comes to racing. The talent pool for NASCAR is largely concentrated (about 90 percent!) around Charlotte NC where RGM is based. There is some, shall we say “movement” of employees around this tight community – watch what you say in a bar.
Other unique aspects: they’re a traveling road show. Their cars, people, equipment and other assets are on the road constantly. Also they are a small independent company in a world where many competitors are owned by large concerns. Kind of an underdog.
What are common aspects that Robby Gordon shares with all businesses?
These include many aspects of day to day business, such as email communication, the need to share files amongst employees (many of whom are mobile), security and protection of confidential data and a common file structure that serves as a growing data repository on their business, the accumulation of which provides management with an increasing degree of insight into their cost of doing business and into their customers and suppliers. Robby Gordon has a substantial line of merchandise (from miniature cars to hats, totes, other mementos) that garners about $1/2 million in revenue yearly. They have an online store which is hosted externally.
Brief overview of a day in the life of a racing team? Contrast with non-racing day….
On a non-racing day the crew chief and engineers run simulations in the shop. They review performance data from the last time a particular car raced on a particular track or in the set of conditions they anticipate on race day (again, a humid southeast location, a crisp fall day….). They tune the car appropriately.
But on race day it’s all for real. Pit stops are 13 seconds. Robby Gordon (the driver!) comes in and says the car was tight or loose. There is no telemetry on NASCAR vehicles and no communication between driver and crew from the track, it’s all when they’re in the pit. Adjustments are made quickly. The ability to access performance data remotely supports those critical decisions.
Overview of IT system in the office
Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition has helped RGM keep its data secure and the ability to control access privileges for different levels of employees is new for them and is something that many small businesses don’t have. Robby Gordon Motorsports uses their network to secure and protect documents so they don’t leave the team if an employee does. Remote/mobile access to such secure documents is critical to race-day decisions and it’s powerful for them that they can feel comfortable working with company assets (performance information) right in the race pit or from anywhere on the road.
Small Business Server, is the infrastructure, the enabler, the backbone. It provides consistent business practices between employees and between in-shop or on-the-road. It stores email, manages scheduling, allows flexible but secure access privileges and a central file structure so they can find business information they otherwise may not even have known they have! They are working to put procedural manuals for each type of race car on the network. Previously they’ve had thick hard copy binders which are a security breach waiting to happen.
The software runs on an IBM xSeries server. They use Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration and NAS for storage. Small Business Server provides many functions including calendar sharing and of course email. Mobile devices include Motorola Q Phones.
How does IT work on the road?
It took a little while for users including Robby Gordon to make full use of mobile access — now he can’t live without it. His Windows Mobile PDA syncs to Exchange Server and Outlook Web Access means constant communication (other users too). The team has an elaborately equipped trailer that serves as an on the road office with satellite internet access, which they can use from the track to access documents and statistics helpful before or during race time.
Rob Harris is the internal IT contact. Erik Thorsell is the lead contact at Success Computer Consulting