LEXINGTON – Long before he became an executive in an industry where time is of the essence and being fast wins, Craig Rust learned how to manage his.
More importantly, the President of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course figured out focus.
For Rust, focus and time management go hand-in-hand. And don’t feed him any lines about multitasking. He doesn’t want to hear it.
“When you’re playing a sport, you can’t play a game and run equations getting ready for your math test,” he said. “You can have a lot of projects open at the same time, but at any one given time, you have to focus on one of them. When you are working on that, focus on it.”
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Rust was a soccer standout, a wrestler and a volleyball player in high school. In short he was always busy.
Even though there were no such things as the Internet and email when he was in school in the 1980s, those lessons learned from juggling school work and athletic commitments are used in other ways today.
“I see people who will sit there and get caught up in emails,” Rust said. “They’ll be working on something and get an email and hear that bing and right away they’ll just drop what they are doing. You’ve got to manage your time and your schedule.”
The residual effect of focus and time management shows up as work ethic.
Besides being athletic, Rust was a sports fan. Coming out of Lehigh University, he knew he wanted to do something in the sports industry. His first job was working for New York City’s Madison Square Garden in marketing. He then parlayed that into a gig with one of the richest and most successful men in motorsports, Roger Penske, who was building Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, at the time.
“That’s something I learned from Roger Penske: Effort equals results. I tell my kids that,” Rust said.
His daughter Katelyn is the varsity setter on the volleyball team at Dublin Jerome, while his son Collin will be a freshman who aspires to play basketball. Youngest son Ryan is still feeling his way when it comes to sports.
“(Ryan) is a great kid and very social and good in school,” Rust said, “but he plays basketball and he plays lacrosse and he wonders when he gets into those why he’s not as good as his brother Collin. I say, ‘What does your brother do?’”
Rust painted a 3-point arc around the basketball hoop in the driveway. Before AAU practices and games, Collin shoots so he’s ready when he gets to the gym. On off-days, he’s still out there shooting.
“He’s doing it when nobody is watching,” Rust continued. “When I was a soccer player, in high school I did very well. I was a midfielder, a center halfback. I was out in the yard with a soccer ball by myself dribbling it.
“You show me a guy who’s excelling at a high school or college level and doesn’t work their butt off. I’ve never seen it. It doesn’t happen.”
The same holds true in business.
Rust is not a natural in the motorsports world. While he enjoyed open-wheel racing as a youngster, going to races at the Pennsylvania tracks, he didn’t grow up with a wrench in his pocket and a steering wheel in his hands. He’s certainly no legacy like so many in realm.
Yet, he worked his way up the ladder, first with Penske and then with Daytona-based International Speedway Corp, eventually serving as track president at Watkins Glen International and Chicagoland Speedway. He came on board with Kim Green and Kevin Savoree when the two bought Mid-Ohio in 2011.
“It becomes a different set of circumstances,” he said, “but what are you reading, what do you know about your industry?”
He reads the stories. He watches the broadcasts. He networks and build connections because that’s the way it goes in the new game he plays.
“If you want to be good at your trade, you have to work at it,” Rust said. “You don’t bounce along. It’s no different in sports. Effort equals results. The harder you work and the more dedicated you are to it and understanding it, the better you will be.”
The Lessons of Sports
I wrote this in April, and I believe it to be true. Just as important as the textbooks and classrooms in a person’s education are the lessons learned on ball fields and in gyms. The life skills gained by playing high school athletics are tops among the things those successful in adulthood lean on this most. This is the first of periodic stories on the topic of lessons learned through sports. For those who would like to be featured or for those who have another person in mind, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 419-521-7241 or on Twitter @McMotorsport.
— Rob McCurdy