I love to drive.
Occasionally, I have the chance to travel from Los Angeles to Phoenix or San Francisco. I look forward to those trips, because it’s a chance to be negotiating the open road with just my thoughts and a few good tunes.
The beginning of the trip is exciting and fresh. By the end, the excitement has worn thin. The road is long, the scenery doesn’t change often, and my rear end hurts.
I’m guessing that doesn’t happen on a NASCAR track.
People usually are divided into two camps about NASCAR racing:
1. “It’s the most exciting sport in the world.”
2. “I don’t get it – how can you get excited about cars driving in circles for hours?”
My old high school friend Lonnie, a pastor in Michigan, is in the first group. As long as I’ve known him, he’s passionate about anything with wheels that goes fast – as long as he’s steering. I keep expecting to see him driving in Daytona, but I’m guessing his church won’t sponsor his car.
I’ve been in the second group for a long time. I’ve never disliked auto racing, but I just didn’t get it.
So I did some research, talking to some people in group #1. I mentioned to one friend how I felt at the end of a drive to Phoenix. Here’s his response:
“OK, picture yourself driving to Phoenix. But instead of going 65 MPH on straight roads by yourself, you’re going 200 MPH on winding roads, surrounded by 43 other cars doing the same thing – and they’re about three inches away from you all the time.”
I learned that NASCAR isn’t about driving in circles. It’s more like playing chess at warp speed where attention to detail is critical. Split-second decisions determine success:
- Whether to make a pit stop or keep going to maintain position
- Responding instantly to what other drivers do
- How much to push the car to its limit
- Maintenance decisions (refueling and changing tires in seconds)
- Trusting the expertise of the crew
- Handling the changing temperature of the track
(OK, now that sounds exciting . . . ! )
In other words, it’s all about strategy and detail. When those are violated, the chances of either crashing or not finishing are pretty high.
When I learned about NASCAR, I couldn’t help thinking how critical those same concepts are in our marriages.
If we don’t have an intentional strategy and an eye for detail in our relationships, there’s a much greater chance that we won’t finish well.
So here’s what I’ve learned about marriage from NASCAR:
- It’s all about strategy. When it comes to marriage, we’re not in the stands; we’re in the race. We can’t coast; peak performance requires vigilant attention and intentional, precise fine-tuning.
- Pit stops aren’t optional. Life gets busy, and the speed of everyday living makes it seem impossible to take a break. But we have to design maintenance into our relationships. Without regular refueling and attention to detail, our relationships will stall at the most inconvenient times.
- We need a crew. No matter how good our relationship is, we need other people to come alongside – people who believe in us when we have trouble believing in ourselves. We’re too close to the action to be objective about areas that need attention.
- If we’re selfish, people get hurt. Driving is an interdependent sport, because no one is on the track alone. In a race, selfish decisions can be deadly for other people. In a marriage, selfishness can destroy the other person – and devastate us in the process.
- There is value in routine. Going around a track repeatedly might seem as exciting as watching paint dry. But that routine provides a foundation that we don’t have to think about, so we can focus on the movement around us. Routines in marriage need to be chosen and cultivated – which builds a base of security for handling life as a team.
I think anyone can learn to like NASCAR. I know anyone can learn to love their marriage.
If you find your marriage going in circles, don’t look for a different race.
Look for a different strategy.