The Racer’s Edge by Kent Kirchner (2006)


First off it is an honor to be here and an honor to have an opportunity to address you all. Just so you understand – I am going to talk to you like I do my teams – any team that I have ever coached so you are going to be a part of my team this morning.

In 1975 when I graduated from Cleveland State University I decided I wanted to get into coaching and I am glad I did. The first thing that I wanted to do was go to a Clinic and in 1976 the World Clinic was held in New Orleans. I said, “Boy – I have got to go to that thing.” I had a 1974 Ford Pinto with a sun roof. A crank sunroof that went back – somebody asked me yesterday – well did it pop up? And I said no, it cranked straight back. I jumped in my Pinto and left Solon, Ohio where I was born and intended to drive 20 hours straight through to New Orleans. I got to Louisville, Kentucky and my muffler fell off. I am thinking – oh boy – going to New Orleans – my muffler falls off. So what did I do? I pulled off the side of the road and I just tore that sucker off and I threw it in the ditch. I got a coat hanger and I wired the thing up to the frame of the car. I drove all the way down to New Orleans – I thought it sounded great, but other people didn’t. My brain was kind of rattled. I pulled into the Marriott in the garage area with no muffler on, if you can imagine how I sounded pulling into this garage area at the World Clinic. I am going – man – I am here – I don’t care what I sound like – I am here.

And so anyway – that was my first experience and then my wife wanted me to tell you this too – on the way back home – that we were not married at the time, but I wanted to get some pictures and on the way back home with that sun roof down as I was going back across Lake Pontchartrain I just held the camera out the top of the sun roof – and was clicking pictures off all the way back – those were my photos – memories of New Orleans, but anyway – once again – that was 31 years ago or 30 years ago and lo and behold – today I feel very honored and blessed to be a speaker at this particular clinic.

The next thing that I want to tell you is a little bit about my background – when I was a kid growing up in Ohio. The way we got into swimming – our family got involved in swimming was through our cousins – Chris and Gretchen Kluder who were members of the 1959 Pan-American team and they taught me and my brother and my sister how to swim up in Ohio in a lake. People will say – where did you learn how to swim? And I say – l learned how to swim in a lake and if you can learn how to swim in a lake you can learn how to swim anywhere.

Prior to that my dad was involved with auto racing – starting in 1939. He passed away my freshman year in college in 1972 and we had all this racing equipment and cars and motors and so on and so forth and we had to sell everything because us as kids – I was only 18 years old and my brother was 12 and my sister was 10 so we had to kind of get rid of all that stuff. We never lost our contacts in the racing world and growing up as a kid, when we first got started in competitive swimming – one weekend we were at a race at a race track – usually a dirt track in either Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana or New York or Illinois or Missouri. Then the next weekend we were at a swim meet and some people said well, why are you going to a swim meet and I said well, I have to get all the dirt off of me, you know, from the race track and clean my ears out and all that stuff. So that is the way we grew up – one weekend at a race track and the next weekend at a swim meet.

We had many drivers who drove for us that were in the Indianapolis 500. We went through a list one time and there were 75 race drivers from the Indianapolis 500 that had driven for my dad at one point or another throughout his racing career. The things that I have learned through that have paralleled what we do in swimming or what I try to do in swimming. Basically it is the same mentality that a race driver has and I try to convey that over to what my swimmers have to be thinking.

So, that is what I am trying to do with my athletes. When I work with them I really don’t get all balled up with time. I get basic stuff and our motto is “Hammer down. Fight for every spot and never let up because you never know what is going to happen at the end. The race isn’t over until the checkered flag falls.” The race isn’t over in swimming until somebody hits the wall before you do. That is what I try to convey over to my kids and anybody that I coach that it is not about time – it is about racing. And the result of great racing is your time so I have tried to have them focus on that. I don’t want them thinking about anything else. I wondered if I could say this, but I will say it anyway – is that all I care about is them kicking somebody’s ass in the lane next to them. That is all I care about and I tell them that.

I establish a really good personal relationship with my team and I think that is very, very important – is to communicate with your team and they know this. And I pick up all these things – when I go away on a trip, you know to a racing trip or whatever and I come back – I talk to the kids about what happened to me. I mean, I have cried in front of them – I have done just about everything in front of them and I tell them just about everything – about what I do outside the pool and we try to tie that in together about what we are trying to get done in the pool. Basically, the communication lines are open. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I am not afraid to tell you how I feel about certain things and I am not afraid to tell the kids that either. Somebody told me this a long time ago: “It is not really how much you know, but it is how much you show that you care about people.” They don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. That is what I try to convey to my kids on a daily basis.

One of the ways to be successful in that aspect (caring) is to show up. All you have got to do is show up, be on time. And those are the two things that I kind of pride myself on: never being late – hopefully never being late unless something catastrophic happens.

The kids know when the bus leaves at 3 o’clock —- If you haven’t you need to try it – because it will make them pay attention, but if the bus leaves at 3 o’clock that is exactly what time I leave and they had better be on my time because if it is 3:01 – guess what? The bus is gone and good luck to you. I mean, one time I was coaching at Arkansas and we were leaving at such and such a time – we were going to Tulsa to catch a flight. We leave at that time – this one kid didn’t show up and all of a sudden we pull into the airport – we are loading our bags up and we see like this ball of smoke coming – literally – a ball of smoke coming and there is this guy driving this little bitty car over from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Tulsa and it was him and he had to bust his ass to get there. He pulls up and he says can I still go? And I said yes, you are here, yes – I will let you go, but he had to drive all the way from Tulsa.

We loaded up a bus one time when I was coaching up in Kokomo and we were swimming over at Lafayette and we drove back to Kokomo and one of the kids says, “where is so and so at?” and I said – he is not on the bus, you know? And one of the parents had picked him up and we didn’t have cell phones – well, I didn’t have a cell phone anyway so nobody could let me know that, but they made it back alright. One time we got done with the meet at Kingwood and we left Kingwood and one of my kids got a phone call and I will be dag gammed if I didn’t have to turn the bus around and go back and get this kid. He was left behind. These kids understand that when we leave, we leave on time and it only has to happen a few times and they will all pay attention – I promise you that.

But anyway – getting back to the racer’s mentality I have had the pleasure of being involved with a lot of people that used to run with my father. There is a friend of ours up in Mitchell, Indiana – his name is Kevin Briscoe and he has been driving since like 19?? – well, since he was 18 years old and he is 38 years old right now so he has been racing for 20 some years. His dad used to race with my dad and that is how we have maintained our connection in auto racing. Before I finish here I want to let you all know that I am giving out a prize at the end of this talk for the person who can name somebody that I mentioned during the course of this talk – it is a good one too – I mean – it is 25 bucks. Gift certificates – I mean that is better than nothing – it is more than what you had when you came in here right?

So anyway, Kevin Briscoe is our racing connection up in Indiana right now and I wanted to show you this picture here that somebody sent me a while back. This is a picture of my dad’s car. And there is a little kid standing in there with some kind of goofy-assed-looking hat on. My mom used to dress me up like that and I think I was wiping buggies or something you know – at the time – out of my nose, but anyway – this was about 1959. This is my dad up here and this is the driver here, his name was Gaze Byrow – a famous racing family also. That is how I grew up as a kid.

I am going to show you some videos here and then we are going to talk about those at the end and I am going to even bring it closer together about racing and swimming and race car racing. This first segment here is going to be our district meet and then we will go to the region meet and then to the state meet. In Texas you have to transfer out of the district meet and then you have to transfer out of the region meet to make it to the state meet so basically your time doesn’t mean a whole lot. You are fighting for 6 spots to get out of district – you are fighting for four spots to get out of regions and then the time comes into play. This is the racing mentality that I am talking about here too and I am going to show you a district event here – if I can find the play button.

This was Klein High School and the boys 200 medley relay. I will just let you all watch this real quick. Here we are the one on the bottom here – with the W on the cap.

Q. Are you first or second? A. we are leading right now – at this point we are leading and then our breaststroker takes off – now they have closed the gap on us okay? And now he is even. Our breaststroker you know – he is doing the best he could, but the kid is kicking the crap out of him – okay – now we go on to the fly leg – but then it gets even worse after this one, but this is just the district meet. Now, they take the top 6 here so I mean – we are in a transverse spot here. Yeah, you getting kicked pretty good there. And now the freestyle leg – these are a compliment to – I don’t do the filming – are you kidding me? These are compliments of some of our parents who do this. Okay – so we got smoked pretty much, alright? and got second.

Okay, I am going to start this thing here and then we are going to move on to the next stage here – the regional meet. Yes sir? You know what? As long as we beat somebody that is all I care about. That doesn’t make any difference.

This is our regional meet in San Antonio. This is Brian Stahl who is now a swimmer at the University of Virginia. This is the exact same team in the regional meet. This is where they take the top 4. Basically, in the state of Texas, in our region, you have to get out. I mean you have to do just about everything you can do to get in those top four slots – that is how competitive it is. So now the team that beat us the week before is this team down here on the bottom – that we are checking on right now. The breaststroker has a little better day this time. But, somebody is pulling up on the outside there – do what now? Butterfly leg – okay – oh – they showed the time – I didn’t want to see that. Anyway, as long as it is set #1 that is all we cared about.

Next step here – this is our girls at the state high school meet – medley relay. Oh excuse me – this is the region meet for girls – medley relay – lane 4. Well, they announced the record. They do that too and I hate that too when they announce the record, because it doesn’t make any difference. Austin Westlake is in lane 6 there. We are getting a little closer – it is tight – okay – we won that. They didn’t show the board, but we won that. This is our state championship in Austin – we are in lane 3 here for the girls – I am just showing you relays because I like relays. They are exciting.

Anyway – let me stop here and then I am going to put you in another little video that I did to show you what it is like in the racing series that we are involved with and then I am going to talk about the comparison of both here. Lanny has never seen this one and I will just let this run. It is about a 5 minute deal here so don’t forget you have to stay awake if you want to win the prize. First off – I don’t know if I can talk for 45 minutes and I don’t think anybody would listen to me for that long either.

Now this is sprint car racing from El Doro Speedway and this was the Mopar Million – this paid $250,000 to the winner. This is our car right here the Briscoe Mobile Homes Car right down here on the bottom – the # 5 car. And this is what happens when you are racing on the edge – I mean – these guys are laying their life on the line every time they get into a car. Kevin is a real good personal friend of ours and you know he is out there doing it and battling all the time – fighting for every spot and he is on the hammer too. He came out of it alright. That was Tracy Hines – he now runs in the Craftsman Truck Series. – I just kind of wanted to show you some action photos, okay? Now they got to look at it again. Any time somebody crashes – as long as nobody gets hurt. They are running on this track here – their average speed is like say 120 miles an hour.

Okay now – can you hear the sound on this thought? Jimmy Laser is your winner at ……..the Mopar Million.

This is the interview that I wanted you to hear – “Did you happen to know that you were up front? Yeah, I knew I was up front, but I just had my foot down on the gas and took nothing less. This is an awesome facility and boy you just get up to some amazing speeds going around here, hammer down and hang on. Kyle took a rough start yesterday – I didn’t think I could get up there and run the fence with the big boys, but I locked into a front row spot with the 80 – went out there and just wanted to show myself, my guys and my fans, friends, family – everybody that I could run could run around the big 8. We have a long road ahead of us, but we are going to go out there and have some fun.
Top 4 advance – but still it is nice to finish up front isn’t it? Yes sir, that is exactly right. After yesterday’s sorry performance I just……. Step on the gas, but this is a big deal. This is the coolest race and the biggest thing I have ever been a part of. I would like to thank Manufactured Housing Enterprises for their help this year – Dad, Brad, Mikey – all the help back home – you guys are great. Jimmy Laser from Platefield, Indiana.

We have one more clip here at Bloomington Speedway – we are starting in the 6th position here – 5th position – on the bottom of the third row here – just coming into the picture here and this was for a big show up there – it was called “Indiana Sprint Week” – probably 70 cars from all over the country follow this circuit. But there are a few that come out of this, but now they are going to Nascar – out of this series they are going to the Nascar series. Okay, you watched Kevin here – he was following those people and what Kevin always says, “You can’t pass anybody if you are following” so he moved to the top and starts driving around him on the top. It is whatever the track gives you basically. I’ll shut it down as soon as he gets the lead here, but okay – now – he took the lead there and it was a battle to the end and he ends up winning this, but we want to show you this last little segment here and this guy dumps it. To show you that he did win this race, here is our victory lane photo – in the upper right hand corner.

Since we moved to Houston from Indiana I told my wife – I said: “If we do this move to the Woodlands, there is one thing you have to make sure you let me do is two weeks in the summertime I have got to be snorting ethanol. You have got to give me two weeks to go up there in Indiana so I can play. I would much rather go up there and roll in the dirt than sit on the beach.” We are part of the race team – my brother and I and my son Kirby. And we go up there and crew on that thing for two weeks straight and some of the things that we bring back from those racing experiences – like I said before – I conveyed that over to the swimmers.

The first thing that we do is when you swim – what is the first thing you do when you go to a meet? Grab a suit. Well, that is true. Warm-up – okay? And that is what we do in auto racing too – they do the same thing – they put heat in the motor. So – heat in the motor – warm-up. So what do you do after you warm-up? What do you do after you warm-up? You do some — you do some sprints. And in racing you take hot laps. To get the car dialed in after you put heat in the motor. Then the third thing you do is you qualify Everybody qualifies and that is what we do in swimming too – we qualify and then you position yourself after qualifying and then you race. Now in those relay events okay? How many kids in those relays were concerned about what the heck their time was? Probably none. They didn’t give a flying rat about what their time was – they wanted to win. And the same thing in auto racing here – these guys do not have radios in their helmets to tell them lap times or anything like that – they can hear stuff around them, but the thing is their objective is to pass the guy in front of them – to get ahead of them and move forward and go to the front and that is what we talk about all the time is going to the front – getting to the front. You have already heard this probably – from Dale Earnhardt, Senior when he said you know “2nd place is the first loser.” Well, I will tell you what – I believe that. And I say that to the kids. And I don’t hold anything back you know?

And the thing is that you know you are getting something through to these kids because – and it doesn’t matter what level – I had a JV girl – you know she – well, let me put it this way – I wont tell you how much time she dropped, but she is racing this other girl in the JV 500 freestyle – she lost by 2/100 of a second. She gets out of the water and she walks back to me like this – and I said good, good – I liked that – even though she went her best time by 30 seconds, okay? I didn’t care. And she comes up to me and says, “I should have beat that girl.” And that is what I am talking about. This is about racing. It is about beating other people and time is a result of being a great racer.

So, we do the heat the motor, warm-up – those are the analogies that I have drawn through auto racing. Also, I can tell you another thing too – is like when I tell them when they put – when the girls and some of the guys are putting their caps on – I said – you have got to think you are putting your helmet on and you are strapping into that race car and you are going to stand on the gas and if it blows up – who in the heck cares? We will put it back together and we will stand on it again and see what happens and just lay it out there every time – time after time after time because you never know when the big swim is going to happen and we do that in every meet that we are in.

Our state meet to me is no different than a dual meet that we had last year with Clearlake – it came down to the freestyle relay for the girls and it was nip and tuck – we were missing some kids because they were sick and this one girl came up to me before the relay and I was jacked up. I mean – it was a dual meet, but I am still jacked up. It doesn’t make any difference to me – it is a race. And we want to win. And everybody wants to win, but anyway the girl walks up to me and she goes – and she has hardly ever said anything and she comes up and she says, “Coach, we are not going to lose this – I promise you” and I said, “Good – show me, alright?” So they get up there and they won by .2 of a second – the 400 freestyle relay.

Now it is a lot better when you win than when you lose, but anyway – the other thing is that Kevin was in a race one time – he started 18th – he went from 18th to second in 30 laps. He qualified terrible. And that is the thing we talk about qualifying – you have got to qualify well to make the A main – you don’t want to be in the B main – you want to be in the A main because you cannot move up if you are in the B main, okay? And we call it the main because that is what they call it in sprint car racing – A main – B main. A feature – B feature and anyway so he started 18th and gets up to 2nd place and after the race – in the pit –pulls into the pits and we are going like man – that was a hell of a job – you went from 18th to 2nd and he says “well, you know what I thought? I didn’t win. He said, if I would have qualified better I could have won this thing so everything is important and those are analogies that I have drawn over the years of being involved with both sports and it is a challenge and you have got about 15 seconds to capture the attention of a 14-17 year old if you don’t do off the wall stuff.

And I do this all the time and you can ask my kids and I told them I would be talking about them here, but I do this all the time just to get their attention because I am the same way. If somebody doesn’t get me in the first 15 seconds – man – I am gone – it is over. So anyway, I appreciate you guys listening to me and allowing me to share this with you and once again – I am going to be talking about the same stuff tomorrow. I am a pretty simple type person. But the thing is if you know somebody that wasn’t here today – tell them to come tomorrow and get in on the same show that I put on today.

Yes ma’am? Obviously you have an aggressive style…………….. Effort – very simple and I say this too, it is not nuclear physics that we are doing here. Effort equals results. You put forth the effort and anything that you do training wise – you are going to get the result that you want – it is pretty simple. You get out of it what you put into it. You swim in meets the way you swim in practice – same deal. And I go over that time after time after time – that is a simple way of saying the same thing three different times the same way. So that from a physical aspect, I make them bust their butt. In the weight room – I don’t care if it is in the weight room or in the pool – whatever we are doing – they have to put forth their best effort and that will equal a good result and then when you get up there to race – that is all I want them thinking about. I don’t want you thinking about anything else except racing and beating the snot out of somebody next to you – that is all I care about. The time will take care of itself. Pretty simple philosophy, but I believe it is a good one – it works for me and since I have this background growing up, I enjoy relaying that to the kids and I will be honest with you – when we go to big meets and Lanny doesn’t even know this, but I will give away some of my trade secrets since she is not coaching against me any more. On the busses to the meets the kids will request that I put in the racing videos. They will say – do you have any from last summer? I’m like – what do you think? And I get them out and fire them up there and they love it and that is what they watch on the way to the prelims and the finals – to put them in the race mode again and you know it is true – it is really true – even though some are like oh my God – what is he doing? Hey, I have brought helmets on the bus before – everything okay? Racing helmets – the whole deal. One other thing I was going to show you here real quick before I wrap it up here – when I go to different races okay? I try to find out some really neat T-shirts and I know this might be offensive to some people but you know? That is too bad – anyway – this is called Bad Ass Race Gear – okay? Now they got some other ones that I couldn’t bring, and I didn’t show those to the kids either – I promise you that, but here is on the back here – what does that say? Why don’t you read it to everybody. “You ran out of gas – I will be kicking your ass”. Okay – so I show that to the team – a little motivational thing okay? And then we got this one here – another Bad Ass Race Gear. Oh no – negative – that is a big negative. I can get away with it if nobody tells. What does this one say – another bad ass racing gear – Good morning – the Surgeon General said nothing about smoking your ass. Okay, there is another one. Anyway – I try to find these little tid-bits of information and then I let my seniors come up with like a T-shirt designed for the next year and you know, we really approach everything from a team aspect so on the front of this one it has “TWHS Racing Team.” Now if I take this out at night it glows in the dark – they like the glow in the dark stuff. Because I have worn a couple of racing T-shirts that glow in the dark and on the back they had this on the back – I had nothing to do with this – maybe subtly – but anyway that is what they had on the back and that is what they wanted and I said are you sure you want that and they said yes – without a doubt and it says “dropping the hammer since 1999” and that is when I first came to the Woodlands in 1999 and I am going to be starting my 8th year here – 8th year this fall

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