"Punch It and Coast"

Alexander Rossi celebrating his victory at the 100th Indianapolis 500 - Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Alexander Rossi celebrating his victory at the 100th Indianapolis 500 – Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Running on fumes, we've all been there.

Alexander Rossi was running out of fuel on the last lap of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. With a half lap lead there wasn’t much room for error. You could hear Rossi and his crew chief, trying to balance the need to preserve the lead and maintain enough fuel to make it to the finish. "Punch it and coast," said Rossi's crew chief at the start of the final two laps of the race. The radio transmissions were filled with doubt as Rossi's average speed plummeted. He averaged, what must have been an excruciatingly slow, 179.784 miles per hour on his last lap. Rossi and his team gambled the humiliating outcome of running out of fuel on the last lap and finishing last versus a glorious victory at a historic Indianapolis 500. We all can take a lesson from this.

Racing is just an analogy for life. Ever so often there is an opportunity to seize and we must choose whether we should let doubt and the fear of failure stop us or take a chance on the unknown. Race car drivers hone their craft from an early age. Not all of us have the opportunity to be a race car driver, but we do all have innate strengths and we can choose to be the best or the worst versions of ourselves.

Life is about taking chances and we watch racing, and sports in general, to see those chances taken on the big stage by supremely talented athletes. Their actions inspire us to be a little bolder in our lives. Rossi could have played it safe, pitted for fuel, and maybe finished in the top five. He is a rookie of course. No one would have judged him for playing it safe and going home with a top five victory, but that isn’t what life is about now is it?

We identify with the journey of the rookie. We feel like rookies many times in our life. Doing something for the first time is stressful. It is easier to just stick to your routine and know your place. Let the experts handle it. Rossi and his team could have done just that. They could have listened to the 66 to 1 odds that they would win, but they didn't. Seasoned drivers like Tony Kanaan pitted in the final laps, but Rossi decided to push the limits of his nerve and the twin-turbo V6 engine built by Honda. He pushed four extra laps out of an engine with a fuel range of 32 laps. Right after Rossi crossed the finish line you can hear him say over the radio, "I'm out of fuel guys." Rossi was less than a quarter mile away from complete failure, but his willingness to believe in his team, his car and his crew added to the outpouring of emotion as tearful, "oh my Gods," came over the radio. These are the moments fans live for in racing.

Moments of pure joy are why we risk it all. Our lives may not be filled with moments as intense as the Indy 500, but the joy that comes from reaping the rewards of a hard earned success are much better than living a life of could-haves. Sports are not just entertainment they are the great drama of life brought to life. Instead of just watching sports passively we should look at sports in relation to our lives. We should ask ourselves if we are succeeding at the goals we set in the narrative of life. Moments like Rossi’s victory show us that it is worth playing the long odds.

Watching the finish was an emotional affair for me. Life isn't always flashy or intense. Sometimes it's about staying the course. Alexander Rossi's story is of a man who searched for acceptance in Formula 1, but found none. Despite being spurned by Formula 1 a new opportunity arose to test his skill in IndyCar. Sometimes it takes turning your back on everything you thought made you, you to move forward in life. It was powerful to see a story from my own life brought to life on a 2.5-mile ring of tarmac.

As a born and raised Hoosier the Indianapolis 500 is a significant part of my life narrative. It is what I think of when I think of racing. Hearing the rush of emotion in Rossi's voice was a reminder of why all of us get up in the morning. Why we work long hours and come home to put more hours into what we love. We tell our own stories. We are the Rossi of our own life. When we are running on fumes and we're not sure that we can take another step is when we find out that the limitations we wrote for ourselves are just the end of a chapter of our life where we didn't know what was possible.

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