We all leave a legacy of some sort. Ryan Newman’s survival of NASCAR’s worst wreck ever highlights the contrasts of passive and active legacies.
Do you know the legacy you are leaving with your business, team, or organization?
It’s surprising how little this topic actually gets highlighted when managers and executive teams focus on their strategic aims. Sure there are legacies that are left via who you are–for example the ethical legacies like that of Marvin Bower at McKinsey or innovation legacies like that of Gordon Moore of Intel and Moore’s Law fame. Those were probably not forged in a boardroom strategy session but rather through strength of personality.
But, there are also legacies left in a couple of other ways. There are passive legacies that result accidentally, and there are active legacies that result from thoughtful focus and intervention. This weekend offered a stark contrast of the two.
Monday’s Daytona 500 ended with a vicious wreck where driver Ryan Newman–leading the race at the time–was bumped from behind and spun violently into the wall of the final turn in the race. His car, pictured above, went airborne, was struck broadside by another car at 190 miles per hour, landed on its roof, and then slid for a quarter mile or more in a conflagration of sparks and flames. Here’s a post with that wreck:
— Stadium (@Stadium) February 18, 2020
Most are saying the wreck is the worst in NASCAR history. Rescue crews took a long time to extract Newman from the car, shielded by black screens that usually signify tragic carnage on race scenes. Speculation was rife that Newman was killed in the wreck, and prayers and concerns swept social media.
But, Tuesday morning brought news that Newman had survived. As of this writing, details remain sketchy, but reports are that Newman is not only alive, but also is awake and conversing with doctors and family. Doctors have said his injuries are “non-life threatening.” And, while such announcements can no doubt hide life-changing and awful injuries, they offer hope. Furthermore, Newman’s survival illustrates an amazing pair of legacies.
The first, is the unfortunate legacy of the last race driver fatality in NASCAR’s elite division. That would be the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Earnhardt Sr.’s death–on the same track at almost the same spot as the Newman wreck–happened one day shy of 19 years before Newman’s wreck. For those who are not NASCAR-literate, that wreck killed the biggest legend in a sport that is rife with legends. It was, put simply, the equivalent of Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tom Brady, or Lionel Messi dying on the court or field.
And, it changed the sport. NASCAR changed mandates for safety equipment and changed car and track characteristics significantly. Many fans are acknowledging this:
Add Ryan Newman to the endless names of drivers who Dale Earnhardt saved. The Intimidator kicked ass on the track but one could argue his greatest legacy is the safety enhancements that came around because of his tragic death. (Photo by USA Today Sports) pic.twitter.com/eUuT9c0UQJ
— Chris Williams (@ChrisMWilliams) February 18, 2020
At the same time, Ryan Newman is being acknowledged as having a safety legacy of his own. Newman has been an outspoken safety advocate who is responsible for the addition of the “Newman Bar” to the roll cage of the current NASCAR car design. That addition may have saved his own life on Monday.
In 2009, Ryan Newman lobbied NASCAR to add a bar to the cage to increase the strength of the top Halo. NASCAR agreed, and the ‘Newman Bar’ was added to the Gen6 COT. Now in 2020 it might have just saved his life. pic.twitter.com/8EFzBq3kg3
— Bob Ellis (@4ever3) February 19, 2020
Which brings me to the punchline of this post.
The sad reality is that a lot of passive legacies are written in blood. The Earnhardt legacy can certainly be characterized as such. Without going too far in trouncing a legend, I’ll put it this way: Earnhardt came from a tradition of selective usage and even modification of readily available safety equipment that was allowed within NASCAR at the time. But, that selective usage arguably cost him his life in a wreck that “looked” far less violent than the Newman wreck. I quote “looked” because I know firsthand that television cannot convey the real physics of collision like this.
Active legacies, like Newman’s with the “Newman Bar,” are quite different. They are active modifications in hopes of protecting the future. They are also often implemented without fanfare or–thankfully–tragedy.
Not seeing the connection to your legacy yet? Consider such passive legacies as innovation funding or safety investment cuts to meet current quarter profit targets. What do they leave for the future? Consider such active legacies as protection of training and development programs for your team. What do they leave?
The list could be long on both sides of the ledger. I only pose the question: What kind of legacy are you leaving, and are you trying to leave it?
What do you think?