“There is an analogy from this experience that I think is corollary to the business of the SCCA,” President and CEO of SCCA Mike Cobb explains to me following his Club Racing Driver’s School and wheel-to-wheel racing debut. “I was very strong at the start of the race, and even though I was watching for you in my mirrors, I probably did relax in the middle of the race – that’s when you pounced. But that’s when I got my focus back and I finished strong.”
Keeping focus, he explains, is also vital in his job as the head of the SCCA, especially as new programs are brought online. “Don’t relax, don’t let up, don’t back off,” he states. True words about racing, life, and business, indeed – but maybe this conversation would make more sense to you if I offered some context.
It was early on a crisp February Friday morning when I met up with Cobb at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. We were set for a packed and tiring three days as Cobb was about to launch himself into a completely new world. A lifelong motorsports fan and longtime autocrosser, this weekend was to be Cobb’s first time in a wheel-to-wheel road racing situation.
The weekend was Cal Club Region’s Driver’s School, where, if all went well, Cobb would graduate on Saturday evening, obtain his Full Competition License, and then prep for his first Club race on Sunday. I was at the track to support his endeavor, but as any good crew with a sense of humor would do, I brought a spare race car for myself – you know, to witness his driving skills firsthand come Sunday, hopefully to dog him for an on-track position, too.
This isn’t the first time since June 2017 – the month Cobb took the position of president and CEO of SCCA – that he has tasted what the Club has to offer. Just weeks prior to this Driver’s School, Cobb was standing on Turn 6 at Daytona International Speedway alongside a crew of SCCA workers, flagging the Rolex 24. That experience made him commit to working on his F&C license. His goal, he says, is to experience everything the SCCA has to offer, but if you think he’s just here to have fun, you’ve never met Cobb.
Beneath his humble demeanor and well-timed self-deprecating humor, Cobb is an astute businessman – he may be having fun with cars, but he’s also taking notes and knows how to turn those notes into actionable scenarios.
“The bottom line is, your view of life changes viewing an apex versus driving an apex – at least, it does for me,” Cobb tells me of his recent flagging experience. “If you consume motorsports watching TV and you see a corner station pull out a flag, I don’t think you really understand what that means until you throw a flag yourself and communicate with a driver at speed. That’s a pretty big shift in reality.”
Ultimately, he says, flags are a big responsibility for both sides. “When I’m working a corner, I’m trying to communicate to the driver via telling them the status of the track; when I’m driving, I’m looking to a corner worker to provide me that same communication.”
Interestingly, “communication” was the prevalent concept during two of Cobb’s 2017 SCCA National Convention presentations. “How we closed the Convention was around consideration, communication, and collaboration,” he says. “Those are the three concepts we closed with and, in my experience both working a corner and driving my first road racing car, I learned a little more about consideration, communication, and collaboration by working both sides of the coin.”
Even more on point, Cobb admits, he didn’t come up with these comments for the Convention alone. “Those comments actually came from a Regional executive who said to me, ‘Michael, if you want to make an impact, and the SCCA wants to do a better job, I would ask you to do these three things. I would ask you to consider us, I would ask you to communicate more effectively with us, and I would ask you to do those things more consistently.’ I said, ‘That’s great, Mr. Region Leader, but I would like to add one thing: Can we collaborate doing those things?’”
Collaboration, Cobb explains, is a one-plus-one-equals-three proposition – the sum is greater than its parts. “That’s how we can harness the power of the knowledge and experience,” he says. “And this is where the Region Development team and Chris Robbins came about.”
Robbins was hired January of this year as the Club’s Region Development Director. Constantly sporting a big grin and a can-do attitude, Robbins is a familiar face to SCCA Convention attendees as he has presented many times over the years; and now, Robbins, along with his newly created department and team at the SCCA National Office, has an interesting charge – one I didn’t completely understand, so I asked Cobb to elaborate.
“Let’s be very clear: Chris Robbins is not a Region cop sent from the National Office to police Regional activities,” Cobb says. “Chris is a very collaborative and effective team and relationship builder, and an outstanding trainer. His primary mission is to represent the portfolio of the Club and to better present those to the Regions so that the Regions are aware of them. He’s not there to mandate performance or adoption of the programs.”
Part of Robbins’ job will be to act as a conduit of success stories. “Through this journey, he will find best practices, and his job will be to share those best practices, not only across the Regions, but also back to the National Office so that we can build those best practices in Nationally, because they’re already proven and in market. I’m pretty excited about that.”
Robbins and his Region Development team will then work with Jeff Luckritz and SCCA’s Leadership Academy to take that knowledge back to the Regions. What is the ultimate goal? To Cobb, it’s not so much a goal as it is forwarding SCCA’s mission. “At the Convention, I didn’t present a theme, I presented a mission: We exist to fuel a safe, fun, and exciting motorsports experience for auto enthusiasts,” he says.
A mission, Cobb explains to me, is what an organization shows up to do every day. “The mission I presented is a declaration of SCCA’s core focus. It’s inexplicably woven in to improve and deliver our core purpose. That’s what we’re focused on.”