When Andy Papathanassiou talks about being in the fast lane, he’s referring to something other than his life experiences. Starting in 1992 as the “pit crew coach” for Hendrick Motorsports, DuPont, Sprint Cup Race Team, Andy has been an integral part of the team building and communication talents that have led to many victories on the NASCAR Circuit.
A native of Emerson, New Jersey, Andy grew up as the only son of Greek immigrants who favored education over sports. An honor student, Andy sought physical achievement as well. Not only did Andy become a three-sport high school athlete, lettering in football, wrestling, and track, he was voted a USA Today All-American placing second nationally in the shot put as well as an academic All-American in football. He held the New Jersey state record in the shot put for twelve years.
Upon graduation, Andy accepted a football scholarship to Stanford University. He chose Stanford because it combined an unparalleled education with Division I athletics. He competed in both football and track, earned an undergraduate degree in Economics and a master’s degree in Organizational Behavior, while at the same time excelling on the gridiron. He started in 45 out of 45 football games as an offensive lineman. In track, he was a Junior-Nationals champion and qualified for the PAC-10 track and field championship finals, for three years.
Following graduation from Stanford, he sought to explore various industries to start a career. Though he didn’t know much about it, NASCAR racing was on the list. His first racing experience was sneaking into the garage area at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA for the 1991 event. He made some contacts and got to help out a team for the weekend by cleaning the car, sweeping the garage and helping in the pits on race day. Two months later, Andy gave notice to his employer and moved to Charlotte to pursue a career in the industry.
He aggressively sought out and worked as a garage hand for over a year as a member of several NASCAR crews. In 1992 he was offered a job with Hendrick Motorsports as NASCAR’s first ever pit crew coach. The job was with the newly formed, DuPont race team, driven by Jeff Gordon. Andy immediately put Gordon’s pit crew to work beginning with rigorous workouts and training designed to build power and teamwork in the pits. Over the years the paradigm shift pioneered by Andy became the standard in racing and revolutionized the way pit crews operate.
Andy explains, “A pit crew is just like any high-performance team or business unit–you need the right perspective, dedicated players, and a good system. Without all the components you will never achieve your potential. Most spectators don’t realize the coordination and timing required of the pit crew. There are potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line when a NASCAR Sprint Cup car pulls into the pits. Our six-person crew is expected to change four seventy-five pound tires and fill the car with eighteen gallons of gas, in thirteen seconds. At the same time, there are forty-two teams out there that are trying to do it better than us.”
To book innovation speaker Andy Papathanassiou, contact Executive Speakers Bureau at (901) 754-9404.
Pit Crew Simulation Team Building Programs
Join the exciting and competitive world of professional motorsports by transforming your executives, marketing divisions, employees, guests and their spouses into NASCAR pit crews. You’ll use the same equipment the pros use even down to real race cars that have turned laps at tracks like Daytona, Indy and Charlotte. Organize your team – choose your positions – create your choreography. Use nitrogen powered air-guns to zip off lug nuts. Swap out tires then tighten ‘em back up! Every tenth of a second counts because you are competing for best time on the stopwatch against your fellow teams – just like race day.
Over The Wall Teambuilding
Pit crews operate in one of the most dynamic and demanding teamwork environments imaginable. In racing, like in business and in life, there are no guarantees. Make one mistake that’s too big or at an inopportune time and your day at the race is over — you go home while the race continues on without you. This creates incentive to be safe and conservative. Balance that against the fact that there are forty-one other teams you compete against at each event and you never have even the chance to win unless you push people and equipment to their limits and beyond at the proper moment.
Communication and empathy are critical factors in this world that judges human performance in tenths of a second. So is innovation. Do something successful at the race track and you can be sure that everyone will soon copy you. If you don’t have the next improvement ready, and the one after that, you quickly fall behind. Innovation is a process, not an “aha” moment. Andy Papathanassiou, a Stanford University master’s graduate, shares how passion overcomes obstacles and makes things happen. He talks about the make-up of highly successful teams. Whether it’s pit crews, sales teams or groups that come together to accomplish any goal, the characteristics of successful teams are universal. Papathanassiou discusses leadership and the role of the individual. He coined the term, “Over the Wall Thinking,” to describe his philosophy. “Over the Wall Thinking” focuses on the athletic mindset. It doesn’t matter if you know anything about or participated in competitive sports such as racing. It doesn’t even matter if you like sports at all. The cognitive building blocks of competitive athletics give each of us the ability to lead a more engaged, successful and happier life.
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