Life On the Racing SERKET
Hurry up and wait. If you’ve spent any amount of time in uniform or are married to a spouse in uniform, you can relate to the concept. Now that you’re transitioning out of the camouflaged world and into a civilian one, why not forget about all that waiting and just hurry up?
A cool career in the fast lane of the motorsports industry will do that for you.
We recently checked in with SERKET Racing driver Mark Llano who races a Porsche GT3 Cup 911 in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, the largest single-make racing series in North America.
In the process, we learned some important things from this former U.S. Marine about working and winning in the career field, both on and off the track.
It’s Not Your Average Day Job
Your desk has four wheels. The elevator music consists of the thundering roar of finely tuned engines racing by at death-defying speeds. Your spacious and circular cubicle is crowded with wildly cheering fans. You care deeply about the quality of work performed by your co-workers because it’s a matter of your life and death, literally.
Everyone in this office watches the clock. It’s not ”9-to-5” and that could work for you. After all, you’re familiar with the concept of a dangerous job, right?
“The work in the motorsport industry is done in a fast-paced environment. It’s a different [kind of] adrenaline where you’re not pulling the trigger,” says Llano, who not only drives SERKET’s car, but is also the co-founder, along with business partner Randy Webb, of SERKET Racing.
Llano says there’s a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie in auto racing. “Veterans look for that. Here, you’ve got a great group of guys working together and you’re meeting some amazing people in the process,” he says.
Teamwork and camaraderie aside, Llano sees veterans as being a good fit for jobs in motorsports for other key reasons, too.
“Veterans can multitask without panicking, and they are used to operating at high stress levels,” he says. That’s good advice, but how did Llano get here?
From Then to Now
In 2012, as a guest at the 24 Hours of Daytona, an annual endurance race held at Daytona International Speedway, Llano observed his surroundings closely and realized something was missing. “I’m standing up against the fence, and as I’m looking around, I saw all the fans rooting for the cars,” he says. “I’m looking around at the cars and I don’t see an American flag on the cars. I don’t see anyone doing anything for veterans.”
Llano decided to walk into the Porsche hospitality suite and talk to someone about it. “I said, ‘What is it going to take to buy one of these cars and learn how to race it?’ And the guy I asked looked at me like that guy in the movie Taken, and he just said, ‘Good luck.’”
Llano was not discouraged, however. “One of the worst things you can do is tell a Marine ‘No,’” he says.
Within two weeks, he made his way up the chain of command at Porsche and finally had the right person on the telephone. He explained how he wanted to create a genuine awareness for military veterans and their families, and he convinced the person to part with one of only 40 cars Porsche sell annually for racing.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Llano says. Llano, grateful for the car, now needed to learn how to drive it and to drive it well enough to compete professionally. The instructors from NGT Motorsports helped. “It was like drinking from a fire hose,” Llano says. “We practiced and practiced and practiced.”
All that practice paid off on the track. Llano and the car raced for the first time in 2013. In 2014, they experienced four podium finishes and multiple top five and top 10 finishes.
It’s Not Just About the Car
While racing and placing is thrilling, Llano is quick to point out that it isn’t the main thrust behind SERKET Racing. “SERKET is a platform,” he says. “It’s about creating awareness and support for military veterans and their families. The motto for the car is ‘Warriors Live By A Code.’”
Llano and his team work closely with a number of organizations to develop and implement innovative programs. To say they have been successful is an understatement. “Last year, working with Operation Homefront, we gave away three $300,000 mortgage-free homes,” Llano says. “You talk about changing lives. It is such an incredible emotional feeling when you give someone their first home.
“This year has been really amazing,” he continues. “We had a big event with the Boot Campaign where we brought five service-disabled veterans to the track. We raised money for them, and we were able to write them a five-figure check. We also gave them a two-day track experience.”
SERKET also hosted a tribute race in support of veteran-owned business. The organization partnered with the Navy Seal Museum and had nine logos of companies owned by Seals placed on the hood. That hood was later given to the museum to auction off. All proceeds from that auction went back to the Navy Seal Museum itself.
And that’s not all. SERKET recently joined forces to promote higher education, as well. “In 2014, we teamed up with the American Freedom Foundation and with Kaplan University to give away college scholarships to military and veteran family members,” Llano says.
“Education changes lives and creates opportunity,” says Patrick Milligan, Assistant Vice President of Military Affairs for Kaplan University “Mark Llano and SERKET Racing believe in education and are great partners in the mission to support military family members who are currently serving and have served our great nation.”
As a result of this partnership, more than 250 academic scholarships were awarded between July to October 2014. The partnership is expected to continue in 2015 as well.
“It’s amazing to be able to carry that flag in a different way,” Llano says. “The motorsports world is huge, but nobody in motorsports is doing what we’re doing. We’re looking at this as the American car. It’s the people’s car. We are not personally selling a product from our racecar. This is really the platform to work with corporations and our multiple car sponsors [in support of military service members veterans and their families].”
The team focuses on “giving back”, literally, including donating 25% of every dollar that comes in to one of the six military organizations they work with and contributing 100% of in-kind gifts.
“Every time I get in the race car, I’m thinking about the veterans,” Llano says. “I think about what I’m doing. At the end of the day, whether we take first, second or third, we really are getting a podium every time because we are changing lives.”
Tips for Transitioners
The military-to-civilian career transition can be challenging, and Llano understands that well, having gone through one himself. “Everybody deals with things differently, but you’ve got to believe in yourself,” he says.
Llano is certain that veterans have what it takes to succeed post-uniform, and he has a few tips for both would-be entrepreneurs and future potential headliners in the world of motorsports. “In this economy, it’s all about the gut check. You have to be willing to take a risk and you have to believe in yourself,” he says. “Take the risk. Set up a business you can believe in, and look to fellow veterans for support. Many of them run Fortune 500 companies. Veterans support veterans. That’s a fact.”
Having the right kind of people around you is also critical. “Be around people who are positive. Get rid of the negative energy and the negative friends that bring you down,” he says.
In addition, Llano is a strong advocate of following your passion. “Find something you’re truly passionate about and go 100 percent at it,” he says. “Don’t look back. You’ve got to go forward.”
If you want to investigate the possibility of working on a racing team, Llano has some advice for you, too. “Reach out to the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and ask them for a list of the teams,” he suggests. “If you contact a lot of these different teams and tell them who you are and what you’ve done, they’re going to love it because they know that veterans work their butt off. That’s just the way it is.”
Types of Jobs in the Motorsports Industry
While drivers often get the headlines, they wouldn’t shine without a solid team behind them or without the business activities that promote the races. Types of jobs you will find on the track and in the workshop include:
- Crew chief
- Pit coach
- Gas person
- Jack operator
- Tire changer
- Windshield cleaner
- Scorer and spotter
- Track service coordinator
- Shop foreperson
- Mechanical engineers
- Body hangers
You don’t have to have the need for speed or be technically inclined to work in the motorsports industry, either. There are other jobs within this industry that you could do and still be close to the smell of burning rubber:
- Sales executive
- Social media manager
- Financial analyst
- Ticket seller
- Administrative support
- Transport driver
The Military Family Scholarship Program
Kaplan University, one of the nation’s top-ranked online bachelor’s degree programs, offers more than 180 programs in the following areas:
- Criminal justice
- Fire science
- Health sciences
- Information technology
- Legal studies
To find out more about the Military Family Scholarship Program, visit http://www.serketracing.kaplan.edu or call (855) 727-2604 for more information.
Janet Farley is a workplace and careers strategist and the author of several job search books, including Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist/EMC, 2013). Follow her on Twitter @mil2civguide for news you can use in your own transition.
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