The most difficult thing to attain in motorsport may look to be success. But anyone who has been there will say even more difficult is sustaining a race team season after season. Racing is unique in that success does not always mean survival. Flying Lizard Motorsports, out of Sonoma, Calif., roared out of the gate and made an impression straight away. There were a few setbacks on the learning curve, but it currently may just be the best GT team in this country. This month we feature a roundtable conversation that goes beyond the usual press release patter.
The players are: Seth Neiman, Flying Lizard founder and principal driver for Flying Lizard No. 44; Johannes van Overbeek, co-driver for Flying Lizard No. 44; and Eric Ingraham, team manager and strategist for No. 44.
EC: I'd like to get to the heart of what it took to start the team. It had to be more than Seth winning a race with Johannes and saying, "Hey, let's go racing together." It has to be business first, or a hobby.
SN: The underlying motivation to start the team was really the result of a few things. In 2003 it became clear to me that what I enjoyed about racing-the challenge, and the competition-was going to push me to get involved with professional racing, starting a team. The "rent-a-ride" approach didn't provide the level of performance I wanted to be involved with.
And as we learned more, my experience as a manager and executive seemed valuable in organizing a competitive group. That led to the decision to create Flying Lizard Motorsports, an effort that took more than six months before we were ready to run a race on our own. As for business vs. hobby-pro racing requires all of the disciplines of business, and more. I'd say that building and leading this team both depends on and has added to my business experience.
JvO: It's a hobby in the sense that we're doing something that we love and are passionate about. It's a business in that it was revolves around a professional set of expectations and measures.
ec: It's no longer simply hooking up an open trailer to the pick-up and going off for a weekend. Being successful means being prepared on all fronts. If someone wanted to emulate the Lizards, what kind of figure would you put on a start-up today?
EI: You can look at start-up as a monetary investment, in which case you should expect to spend at least a few million dollars for a shop build, trucks, infrastructure (tools and equipment), parts inventory, etc., even before you've spent any money on the year-to-year costs of going racing. But to achieve any level of success, you really need to approach it from the start as a pursuit of people, of talent, of abilities, of experience. And that's the hard part: finding the right group of people to build a successful team. And once you have those people, determining how to approach the planning and management needed to find success on the racetrack.
JvO: The level of commitment required to be competitive in the ALMS goes beyond money. You can throw money at it and still not win a championship. It's starting a team with a long-term view and having the necessary pieces in place to ensure that you can make the right course corrections, each race, every year. And having the people and the processes to execute 100 percent of the time without making any mistakes.
ec: How did you break down the choice of personnel when forming the team? Did you recruit or have a clear idea of whom you wanted?