When I am racing, there comes a time during the race where it almost feels as if I just stop thinking about what I’m doing and it just comes completely natural. I feel that this is typically when I perform at my best. I believe that if you enjoy what you are doing in life and practice, you can achieve this sense of Flow
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Bilicki.
Josh Bilicki is a 24 year old NASCAR driver from Wisconsin. Josh began racing go-karts at age four and after nearly ten years of success in many different karting series, Josh made the transition to sportscar racing at the age 15. He made his professional racing debut in IMSA in 2015 and one year later, Josh made the transition to NASCAR, where he currently competes in the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and NASCAR Truck Series.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Absolutely! Thank you for having me. I grew up in Richfield, Wisconsin. My dad races as a hobby so ever since I was young, I have loved going to the race track. I think he saw that I loved this sport early in my life, so he bought me a race ready go kart for Christmas in 1999 when I was just 4 ½. My parents also had me try a few ball sports when I was young, but they just weren’t for me. So I continued to do the one thing I really loved — race! My entire amateur career, from age 4 ½ all the way to when I was 19, we traveled almost every weekend together and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything else. I often miss those days.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
My mom and dad definitely have the biggest impact on why I am where I am today. They both saw something inside of me that not many other people saw and supported me every step of the way. At the same time, I was an avid race fan and always wanted to be like the guys I watched on TV. My idols growing up were Michael Schumacher (retired Formula 1 driver) and Jeff Gordon. I remember playing as Jeff on NASCAR video games growing up and never in a million years would I have thought I’d be in the new games!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
For sure my dad. He’s sacrificed a lot of his time to get me to where I am today. Even at amateur levels. racing can basically be a full-time job, and he put a lot of time and effort in to making sure I was always prepared. I’ve also had a long list of great partners and sponsors who have helped me to get to where I am today, and I’m very thankful for every one of them!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Yes! I specifically remember the first time I ever drove my first go-kart at a real race track. I was almost 5 years old. I saw my dad off to the side of the track waving me to come in to the pits, and instead of finishing the lap and driving in to the pits, I turned around on the race track and drove backwards in to the pits because it was closer. Luckily, there was no one else on track that day.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
Racing is a sport that requires not only talent, but typically some sort of funding to make it to the top. It can be incredibly frustrating at times, but my advice would be to work hard, make as many connections as you can, and never give up! If there’s a will, there’s a way!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Aside from racing, I try to do all I can to give back. I work closely with a non-profit group called Lemons of Love, which was created to deliver chemo care packages, provide programs and make moments for anyone impacted by cancer. We have several events each year that I try to help promote!
I also recently started working with Make a Wish. With the world sort of on hold for a few months, I have not been able to do much with them, but my goal is to grant a child’s wish of driving in a racecar this year.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
A lot of the split second, high pressure decisions that we make just come naturally for us because we have been doing this for our entire lives. Because things happen so fast in our sport while we’re racing at 180+ mph, we don’t really have time to think, we just react. We all make the wrong decisions at some point in the racecar, and we use those to learn what not to do going forward.
One specific tool that helps me is using my racing simulator at home. It’s incredibly accurate and I use it to practice for upcoming races. I can compete online against other real world NASCAR drivers, and although my racing simulator doesn’t have motion, it really helps me train my mind.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
Certain tracks that we visit are much more physically draining than others. For example, Bristol Motor Speedway, which is a ½ mile track with an average speed of nearly 125mph. You are going so fast there that you typically can’t inhale or exhale through the corners, so you need to train yourself to breathe while on the straightaways. However, with the track being so short, you’re usually only on the straightaways for just a few seconds before you’re back in the corners.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
I train by riding my bike and doing a lot of cardio. Most people assume that race car drivers just sit in a car and turn a steering wheel, but that’s not the case at all. When you add the heat (135+ degrees in the car), the G-forces, and mental strain that we endure for nearly three to four hours per race, it’s physically and mentally draining!
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
When I am racing, there comes a time during the race where it almost feels as if I just stop thinking about what I’m doing and it just comes completely natural. I feel that this is typically when I perform at my best. I believe that if you enjoy what you are doing in life and practice, you can achieve this sense of Flow.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really try to use my platform to raise awareness for non-profits such as Lemons of Love and Make a Wish.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
A quote I’ve always loved is “Dream Big, Work Hard”. I do believe that anything is possible if you put enough time and effort in to it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
One of the first people that comes to mind is Roger Penske. His love for auto racing is hard to top and his story of how he became successful (in auto racing and also as a business owner) is amazing.