October 2021 – He’s the boss, but if Dave Alpern’s (photo inset, above) in the pit with the crew during a race, he’s learned to stay out of their way. Picture the setting. A few seconds watching a NASCAR pit stop and one senses the adrenalin, the precision demanded in every split second.
Alpern’s “help” once almost led to disaster in a race when he was asked to put a bottle of water on a pole and extend it for driver Bobby Labonte to grab during a pit stop. Based on this quote from Alpern’s new book, Taking the Lead, imagine this:
Then the one scenario I had not contemplated occurred. Bobby waved off the water bottle. … He didn’t need more water yet. … Caught off guard, I pulled the pole back, and the bottle snagged on the edge of the window net, came off the pole, and fell to the ground. … I gasped.
The bottle rolled until it wedged itself under the car in the precise spot where a jack would be placed for a speedy tire change. Fortunately, the loose bottle didn’t lose the race.
Alpern, like all men, learns some things the hard way, but he’s always able to use his experiences to encourage others with common sense and uncommon wisdom that will apply in any workplace.
“I started my career in a broom closet,” Alpern told AFA Journal. “I was an unpaid intern, so I can relate to being lowest person on the totem pole.” That career began in 1993, and he’s still with the same employer, but he’s moved out of the broom closet.
Dave now sits in the president’s chair at Joe Gibbs Racing, the winningest team in NASCAR history.
As of last June, the team had hit a high point – 370 wins in NASCAR’s two top series. And Joe Gibbs Racing had grown to about 500 employees.
Faith in abundance
Alpern’s solid faith, positive attitude, patience, strong family, and servant’s heart combine to paint a portrait of a man of character and integrity. In Taking the Lead, he shares a wellspring of wisdom not only for leaders in need of new and creative principles to try out, but also for disenchanted employees and job seekers.
Taking the Lead is an insightful read – great advice and fully engaging stories delivered in the context of the fast-paced NASCAR world. One could amass a long list of pithy proverbs and principles in the words he dispenses. In fact many of them are encompassed within these principles:
• Be great at the little things. Never say, “That’s not my job.”
• Be you-focused, not me-focused. Make others look better.
• Be indispensable. Deliver more value than they pay you for.
• Be an encourager. Smile and be positive with every interaction.
• Be a fountain, not a drain – a giver, not a taker.
For Alpern personally, his Christian faith instructs his attitude and his actions day and night, in the workplace and out. That was true even in the broom closet. He enjoyed an innate positive attitude toward life.
He was always proactive about everything, always an idea man eager to contribute to the big picture of an upstart company in a highly competitive field. Now as president of Joe Gibbs Racing, he still practices those enduring principles. Being a Christian is not a must for employment at Joe Gibbs Racing, but a Christian atmosphere is maintained.
“We have had an in-house chaplain, Bob Dyar, from our start,” Alpern revealed. “For almost three decades, we have held a weekly chapel with a guest speaker and free lunch. On any given day, small-group Bible studies take place … within our facility.”
Humility in short supply
His pointers can be nuggets of gold for leaders, first-job employees, and seasoned workplace veterans as well. However, Alpern cautions especially young job seekers about what he perceives as one of today’s common challenges that could work to their disadvantage. That challenge? The absence of humility.
“By the time today’s kids get to the workplace, their whole life has been about competition,” he observed. “It’s compete for a grade point average, compete for a sports team, compete to get into a good college.” That kind of pressure leads some toward what he calls the me-focused outlook, even if it’s through no fault of their own. Why should they be expected to think about serving others?
“Now as a decision maker in a company,” he added, “I can tell you the most valuable people to me are the servant leaders, the people who … make everyone around them better.”
In reality, the me-focus attitude may not be the singular culprit, but it understandably contributes to a setting in which children are often allowed to conclude that they are the center of the universe. And that mindset will not survive well in any work environment – just a caution to take Alpern’s insights seriously.
“I have a chapter in my book titled ‘Be a Fountain, Not a Drain,’” he said. “What does that look like? Are you the person trying to make everyone else better? Then you’re a fountain breathing life into every interaction instead of sucking the life out of it.”
Patience in demand
In one overarching theme of Taking the Lead, Alpern is careful to emphasize that, in whatever field and at whatever level one works, patience is a critical key to success. Patience with coworkers. Patience with the boss. Patience with oneself.
“I hope my book will resonate with people whose career path is not going the way they anticipated,” he said. “For me, each step along the way was often frustrating. I’d think, ‘If I could just see what happens next, I’d be more faithful with where I am now.’”
But that’s not the way it works. Patience is obviously a virtue that serves all parties well. Patience brings one back to Alpern’s dependence on his faith, an apt landing pad for a look at this leader’s life.
As a trustworthy guide to leading well, Alpern commends the character traits Paul listed in Galatians: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB).
Father and sons
Dave and Stacey Alpern are parents of three young adult sons. For a glimpse of his regard for family, consider these lines from his personal journal:
It’s actually happening. The day I’ve dreaded for almost 19 years. It’s the first time I’ve ever been upset getting ready for a family trip. Normally that’s my happy place – loading the car for another Alpern adventure. Only this trip is different. There won’t be an amusement park or a beach, there won’t be singing in the car or fighting over who gets to pick the movie. There won’t be a vote on where we go to dinner or who gets what bed. And after this trip, only three of our family of five get to come home. Tomorrow we take our twin baby boys to college.
Taking the Lead is available at christianbook.com.