Speed Secrets: Why Natural Talent Won’t Always Get You To The Top

By Ross Bentley

July 18, 2018

I'd like to tell you a story about a young man, one who has become a slightly bitter young man. Let’s call him Buddy.

Buddy started racing karts at age ten, and was immediately very fast. He was smooth and brave, two factors that quickly led to speed. He was a tough racer also, one that rarely lost in a wheel-to-wheel battle. From his first season to the time he was sixteen, he won at least one championship per year.

People in the karting community talked a lot about Buddy’s “natural talent,” and how far he would go in the sport. Unfortunately, they also talked about his attitude, which wasn’t one of his positive traits. He was known to have a bad temper, wasn’t the most friendly guy in the paddock, and he was always having some kind of confrontation with the officials. Despite his speed on the track, Buddy was not well-liked.

His father, who had been a fairly successful race driver himself, spent a lot of money supporting his son’s racing. In fact, he spent just about everything he could. At sixteen years of age, it seemed to all pay off, because Buddy got an opportunity.

A friend of the family offered to pay for Buddy to go to a racing school in Europe. So off he went. He turned some heads there as well. In fact, they invited him to come back at the end of the year for a “shoot-out,” where the winner would get an all-expenses paid season of racing in Europe. All he had to do was prove he was fast – at least that’s what he thought. That fall, Buddy finished second in the shoot-out. He was the fastest driver there, but the judges were also looking for other assets in their winner.

Of course, when he returned home, all anyone heard was how “crooked and stupid” the test was. Everyone involved was a “?%$#.”

Buddy and his father looked at ways to get him behind the wheel of a race car. Dad dipped into his life savings (what was left of them) and bought Buddy a ride in one of the “ladder” series. Once again, Buddy kicked butt, and offended just about everyone along the way. Fortunately, someone noticed his driving skills, and gave him a chance the following year in the next level up.

A funny thing happened. Buddy didn’t win every race in sight. Yes, he did win two. But a couple of other drivers – one who couldn’t get close to Buddy in karts – beat him in the championship. Surprisingly and unfairly – at least to Buddy and his father – this other driver was chosen to drive for a top team for the next season in a series another step up the ladder. Buddy’s father once again dipped into his bank account and bought his son a ride in this series, as well. “We’ll show ‘em they made a mistake by not choosing my son,” he said.

A not-so-funny thing happened. Buddy didn’t win a single race. Not only that, he didn’t even manage a podium finish. And the other driver, the one that Buddy had dominated in karting? He won the championship, despite “not having half as much natural talent.”

What’s Buddy doing now? Nothing, other than whining about how a driver with much less talent than he has is driving for one of the best teams, and he can’t find a ride anywhere. “It’s not fair.”

And this other driver, the one with the fully paid drive in the big leagues? He’s doing the exact same thing he has done for the past ten years. He doing everything he possibly can to improve his abilities as a race driver. He continues to use a driving coach, something he’s done since his very first outing in a race car, to improve both his physical and mental abilities. He continues to work with a marketing consultant on sponsorship, even though he’s not expected to pay a dime for a ride. And even if he did have to, he doesn’t feel it is below him to help on the financial side – that “with all my natural talent, people should be begging me to drive their cars.” He takes public speaking and media training courses. He spends a lot of time with his engineer, learning about the technical aspects of racing. He works hard on his fitness and nutrition. He trains daily on a simulator. And he works very hard at building his team around him. In fact, everyone he knows, and many people he doesn’t know, would do anything to see him succeed. He has a reputation as a good person. And an all-round complete race car driver.

Buddy never has, nor ever will, do any of these things. Why should he? His natural talent is going to take him to the big time, right?

In the end, the driver with “much less natural talent” worked hard at improving his skills. He practiced, he worked with coaches, and he became a very, very good race driver. Did he have as much natural talent? Who knows? But one thing for sure: ultimately, with all his hard work, he was just as good, and maybe even better, than the “hero” of our story – the one with all the natural talent.

You might be wondering if this is a true story, or one I made up. Or you may be wondering who I'm talking about. While many details have been changed to protect the innocent, the story is true. In fact, you probably know of someone that almost fits this description. And that's the saddest part of the story - that it's happened so many times.

The point I’m trying to make here is this: If a driver wants to make it in the world of auto racing, they better be prepared to do more than just rely on their natural talent. There are thousands of drivers with natural talent. It’s what a driver does with that natural talent that’s going to determine how successful they are. And it also takes much more than what you do behind the wheel to be successful.

What’s that? You say all it takes is money, and that the ones that make it are the ones who have and can get money? I won’t disagree that money makes this sport. But money is not at the top of the list of things a driver needs to be successful. One thing that is way above, and maybe even at the top of the list is people. If you surround yourself with the right people, if you motivate them, if you build them into “your team,” the money will look after itself. If you focus only on the money, and not on the people around you who can help, you are more likely to fail. If you don’t focus on finding new and more people to help you, you are more likely to fail. If I haven’t already made my point, I’ll say it again: people are the key to your success.

With your natural ability – whatever that is – plus the baseline you’ve developed to date, and a lot of hard work at being a complete race driver, you’ve got as good a chance as anyone to make it to the top – and stay there. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you will never have the motivation to make the sacrifices it takes to be truly successful.

Ross Bentley


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