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Prepared to win

By Ralph Hood

I have a friend who helps coach would-be Olympic male wrestlers. He always starts with the same question:

“Men,” he says, “you’ve heard a lot on television about ‘the will to win.’ Mary Lou Retton had the will to win. Sugar Ray Leonard had the will to win. FloJo had the will to win. Before we begin, I want to know right now: How many of you men have the will to win?”

Every hand in the room is raised.

He looks each man in the eye, then slowly shakes his head. “It’s useless,” he says. “The will to win is absolutely useless unless you also have the will to prepare to win.”

And then they begin to prepare to win.

I was reminded of that years ago, when I met a fellow named Bobby Allison. At the time, Bobby Allison was — by anybody’s definition — one of the great race drivers of the world. One racing magazine, in fact, called him perhaps the best all-around driver.

Back when I sold airplanes for a living, Allison was a customer of mine. I called him one day to see if I could drop by his office that afternoon at 2.

“No Ralph,” he said, “at 2 I’ll be sitting in a sauna bath.”

I couldn’t believe it! Bobby Allison, world-class macho tough guy, sitting in a sauna bath like some sissy Ivy League croquet player?

Listen, this is a guy who thinks formal wear is a golf shirt with blue jeans. And he is spending the afternoon sitting in a sauna bath?

I couldn’t believe it. I just had to ask.

“Bobby,” I asked in my subtle way, “what the heck you doin’ that for?”

“Ralph,” he replied, “this is May. On July 4, I race at Daytona Beach and it’s going to be hot. Every day from now ’til July 4, I will sit in that sauna as long as I can stand it. Those young drivers can show up hoping they can stand the heat, but I want to be sure.”

Bobby was preparing to win.

If you rode in Bobby’s car in July in Alabama, you quickly learned that he never turned on the air conditioner. If he rode in your car, he’d politely ask you to leave the air conditioner off.

He was preparing to win.

In 1987, Bobby Allison raced at Daytona on July 4. It was hot. He was not winning. He was not doing very well. On the last lap there was a big crash among the leaders. An opportunity arose and Bobby Allison was there. He slipped through before anybody realized he was there. He won.

He was prepared to win.

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