After a busy week as the station manager at Indianapolis International Airport, Mark Schmidt can’t wait to get behind the wheel. Unlike your run-of-the-mill family sedan or sports utility vehicle, however, Mark’s ride produces more than 900 horsepower, hits speeds approaching 180 miles per hour, and can cover a quarter mile in less time than it takes most people to get buckled in and adjust their mirrors.
Fear not, Indiana State Police — the car in question is “Nadine,” a National Hot Rod Association “Super Comp” dragster and, outside of his affection for his wife of 25 years and his job of nearly 20, it is his true love. It is his dedication to those three passions, in fact — family, work, and auto racing — that has defined his life for more than three decades.
“The things that make you successful in racing — hard work, a sense of urgency, and commitment — make you successful at Southwest Airlines,” Mark says. “The parallels between the two are amazing. As a result, I’ve used a lot of what I’ve learned at work in my racing, and vice versa.” The two worlds are so intertwined, he says, that oftentimes he finds himself shifting between his roles as a leader of 54 Employees, as a driver of an award-winning dragster and, earlier this year, as a member of Indy car driver Buddy Lazier’s Indianapolis 500 pit crew.
Take Southwest’s famed 20-minute aircraft turns, for example. To empty an arriving plane of passengers and cargo, and then load it again with people, luggage, supplies, and fuel in less than 20 minutes takes tremendous teamwork and skill. “I tell my coworkers all the time: a 20-minute turn is just like a pit stop,” Mark says. “An Indy car can’t roll out of the pits with only three wheels, and one of our planes can’t roll away from the gate until it’s fully serviced and ready to provide a safe and comfortable environment for our Customers. Everyone has to do their jobs to make it work.”
Mark’s career at Southwest began when he was hired as a ramp agent at El Paso International Airport in 1977. After leaving to attend college and briefly considering a career in real estate, he realized the combination of family, culture, and opportunity at Southwest was too powerful to resist. “Once I left, I knew that I really wanted to come back,” he says. “I knew that I had left something special.”
Since returning, he has worked his way through the ranks as an operations agent, supervisor, and manager before getting the call in 1991 to lead the station in his hometown of Indianapolis. He hasn’t looked back since. “It has been a dream come true to come back home and contribute to the success of our awesome employees and our station here,” Mark says. “And, hopefully, to lay the groundwork for even better things to come.”
This article appeared in Spirit, the former in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines.