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A 230mph Lesson in People Leadership, Volatility & Competition

Ed Carpenter | Driver & Owner, Ed Carpenter Racing

Even three-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter was once told his dreams were too big.
“One of the first [college] assignments we had was to write a five-year success plan,” Ed says on this episode of Human Resolve. “I obviously wrote a paper largely based around my racing career. … [The professor] told me that it was nice to have dreams, but you need to be more realistic.”

On this episode, host Mark Minner speaks with Ed about how he went from rookie race car driver to eventually one of the sport’s only driver-owners at Ed Carpenter Racing, and why naysayers only motivated him to work harder to achieve his goals. You’ll learn how to maintain relationships with colleagues, partners and competitors despite the highest highs and lowest lows.

Ed also shares what he’s learned as the leader of a 40-person team, including the importance of compassion, transparency and a clear mission shared by all employees.

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Meet Ed Carpenter

Only one individual in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES handles both the responsibility of driving the racecar and owning his own team: Ed Carpenter. As one of the most experienced drivers in the field, 2021 is Carpenter’s 19th season of Indy car competition as he races the No. 20 Chevrolet in the oval events.

Carpenter began racing quarter midgets at age 8 and is currently the last driver to come through the rough and tumble world of USAC midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown machines. Carpenter has three NTT INDYCAR SERIES victories to his name, including two as an owner/driver. He solidified his status as a hometown favorite when he scored back-to-back pole positions for the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and 2014, then again in 2018. Since joining the grid in 2012, Carpenter’s team has 250 race starts and celebrates its 10th season in 2021.

Three weeks after he graduated from Butler University, Carpenter became a winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by claiming the 2003 Freedom 100. The Indianapolis Business Journal named him to the 2015 class of “Forty Under 40,” a list of local business and professional leaders who have achieved success and excelled in their field. Carpenter was the closing speaker at TEDxIndianapolis 2019 and serves as an ambassador for Riley Children’s Foundation.

Carpenter remains a prominent figure in the Indianapolis community where he resides with wife Heather and their children Makenna, Ryder and Cruz.

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Show Notes

Even three-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter was once told his dreams were too big.
“One of the first assignments we had was to write a five-year success plan,” Ed says of his time at Butler University’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business. “I obviously wrote a paper largely based around my racing career, and kind of tied in my time at Butler and how I was there to complement that as kind of a plan B. … [The professor] told me that it was nice to have dreams, but you need to be more realistic.”

On this episode of Human Resolve, host Mark Minner speaks with Ed about how he went from a rookie to eventually co-owning his own race team, Ed Carpenter Racing, and why naysayers only motivated him to work harder to achieve his goals.

Ed also shares what he’s learned as the leader of a 40-person team, including the importance of compassion, transparency and a clear mission shared by all employees. He describes how, in the small community that is IndyCar racing, it’s extra important to show respect for your competitors.

After the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ed is extra grateful for a team that knows how to think on its feet and adapt.

“I’d like to think that’s one of the skill sets that we’re very good at — just being able to deal with change and drama and unforeseen circumstances,” he says. “But I don’t think anyone was prepared for what we went through last year. Fortunately, we were able to keep our people on through the whole time.”

Notable Quotes

Best leaders encourage growth

“Seeing people achieve their full potential and become empowered to take a project and run with it and really make an impact — it’s fun to see people develop. We have people here that came in at an entry-level position that are key employees now, who really have a large role. So that part’s enjoyable, and on the driver side, working with young drivers and helping them become better professionals — I enjoy that side of it, too.”

Rolling with the punches

“It’s a volatile industry to begin with, in a lot of ways. I think it prepares us to manage years like 2020. And still dealing with it in 2021, it’s probably a little easier because we’re so used to plans changing and making last-minute decisions. Everything’s fast paced that we do and the car has to be on track when it has to be on track.”

Articulating a mission

“There were challenges convincing people and selling people on what our vision was for the team, and that it wasn’t just about my driving career — it was about building a business that would hopefully take me into the rest of my career as an owner once I am done driving. So there’s complications on that side of things, on top of just balancing kind of having two jobs and two careers. One is the race driver, and one is the owner.”

Transparency is key

“There’s a lot of trust within the team, I really try to keep our people informed, especially when things are changing fast like they were last year. Just letting them know what’s going on. At times, that seemed like it was hour to hour last year, let alone week to week, but just keeping them informed of what I knew, whether it was schedule changes or government changes, protocols that we had to adopt to get back open again, etc. But the biggest thing for me was just communicating with them. There’s so much nervousness that can happen in times like that.”

A manager's impact on employees' lives

“Managing our people and what’s going on, whether it’s in the workplace or in an employees’ personal situation, whatever it may be… One of the things that I really enjoy about being in this role is the team aspect and working with our people and providing them with an experience and an opportunity to feel comfortable in their work environment and feel like we’re not only giving them a professional experience, but something that benefits their whole family as well.”

Preparation is a skill

“We do so much work in the off-season to try to turn weaknesses into strengths and not lose the strengths that are your strengths. And every off-season, you feel like you’ve done a good job, you feel confident in the work that you’ve done, whether it’s work you’ve done in the gym training, work we’ve done with both research and development and engineering. … It’ll really take us that first three weeks of the season to get through each of the different disciplines that we race at to understand how we’ve done for each of those types of venues.”

Surrounding yourself with a great team

“The first thing we really had to do — outside of spending money and putting deposits down on equipment — was to find a shop, a home location, home office. From there, it was really finding the right person to help us run the team and kind of their foundations and put an architecture together for how we wanted to build the team. I didn’t want to have the sole responsibility of doing that, especially being in a dual role, still driving full time. So we hired Derek Walker, who had been a team owner, and kind of been through the same thing, similar experience and has had a successful team. … That was a great person for us — he definitely helped us lay foundations for what we are now.”

Respecting and even befriending your competitors

“I really don’t like hiring employees away from another team, especially right before the season’s getting started, especially when it’s a team and people that I have a lot of respect for. So I just picked up the phone and called one of the owners of the other team and kind of told them what was going on. … And he was like, ‘Well, I hate to hear that, but I really appreciate the call and you being above board with me. I understand how hard it is to find people, I know how hard it is to lose people. If you ended up doing something, making a move on him, can you just give me a heads up, let me know so I have a jumpstart trying to find a replacement? I’d appreciate it.’ That’s just an example of something that comes up and it goes the other way, too, we’ve had people leave to go to other teams. It’s such a small community.”

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