There may be frost or snow on NASCAR flag stands at race tracks across the U.S. before the next green flag, but champion teams are not exactly dormant.
Even while champion drivers rest and teams get a much-deserved break for the holidays, they are thinking about next season. Many are preparing mentally and physically as well.
Prior to the end of the dramatic 2013 motorsports season, NASCAR and NHRA champions were quizzed about their thoughts on winning and strategy on going all the way to championships.
Select stellar performers in NASCAR and NHRA Jimmie Johnson with crew chief Chad Knaus, John Force and Jeg Coughlin Jr. have a phenomenal combined 28 championships and 275 national wins.
The fierce competition at the NASCAR and NHRA levels leads to a scarcity of wins for any driver or team. Yet some drivers and teams excel.
Probably no one knows more about winning than Johnson and Force. When asked what they would advise drivers and teams about attaining championships, they were generous with their thoughts.
Johnson wastes no time identifying reasons for his success.
“It's such a team sport, and I think that gets overlooked at times,” Johnson said. “Certainly people just think of the driver's impact. Next in line would be the crew chief.”
“As you work your way down through the different positions and the department heads and even people back in the shop, the ability to repeat comes from the depth in your organization.”
He just secured his six-pack of NSCS championships and may be on his way to unprecedented victory history, but he doesn’t dwell on his huge talent.
“I really put a lot of our success into the depth we have, the systems, the support we have behind the scenes,” Johnson added. “That lets the race-day crew, the guys that go every weekend, to do their jobs. It boils down to depth, I believe.”
Both Johnson and Force admit to losing early in their competition efforts.
“A lot of kids weren't even born when I was winning championships,” Force said. “Nobody remembers when I was losing, when I was being spanked by the Snake and Mongoose and Kenny Bernstein."
Like Johnson, Force trusts his team's efforts.
“When I started winning, I knew how to turn off that switch of pressure,” Force said. “Every now and then, it would come back. I'd find myself sitting there in the car, you've got the team, you've got the car, you've got luck, all you need to do is not screw this up.”
He even shared how he was able to go after and nab 16 NHRA Funny Car championships.
“Find yourself, turn off that switch, the fear that makes your knees knock, you know what I mean, makes you sweat so bad you can't see through your visor,” Force said. “I learned to handle it. But I studied a lot of sports books about how to do it, how to fail, but how to do it right. I'd learn from it.”
Speedy NHRA straight tracks across the U.S. may look like closed roads during the winter, and the lights on electronic Christmas trees unlike the festive trees in homes will be dark and inactive.
But the incredible speed and competition will return. Competitors have to be ready.
Coughlin became the new five-time champion in NHRA Pro Stock Car ranks and shared two important paths on how to win and repeat championships.
“The drive for five came to fruition,” Coughlin said. “You can own the whole team from start to finish, the engine development side, which is extremely important in Pro Stock. Horsepower is king. There is no mistaking that horsepower is very important.”
“Secondly is having a good car and car management program, which includes suspension management, the drive-line management,” he said. “I think when you couple those two things together, then in comes the driver from a driving standpoint.”
In the end, Coughlin—like Johnson and Force—never strayed far from the significance of human input.
“Depending on however you put your program together or however you put your plan together,” he said. “It is all about people and communication.”
Knaus in his crew-chief role is thought to be a big half of the Johnson championship puzzle and has specific reasons for the success of Johnson and the No. 48 team.
“Honestly, it's just about the details,” Knaus said. “There's so many things that you cannot control in motorsports or in any other type of sport. You've got to make sure that the things that are within your control, that you're on top of and prepared for to the best of your ability."
It doesn’t take long for Knaus to join Johnson, Force and Coughlin about the human factor.
“Playing out the scenarios in your head with the group, making sure everybody is on the same page, communicating, that's what you've got to do,” Knaus said. “You've got to. It's not an individual process."
“It's a team process,” he said. “That's something I learned a long time ago. And the more I bought into that and the more I realized it, the better we were.”
Aspiring motorsports champions might want to carefully read the words shared by these four great speed producers.
Many competitors at the national level of NASCAR and NHRA never take home a win, let alone walls full of coveted, shiny trophies that multiple winners own.
When it comes to winning in motorsports, it takes many shadows to own a trophy that can only cast one silhouette.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from firsthand interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.