In part two of “how do you prepare for a race” lets go over a long course chase plan, and how we go about making it happen.
We are a fairly new and reasonably inexperienced team, so when we started working toward our first Baja 1000 we knew only one thing. Get experience and get it from everyone we can. We started off, during our build, crewing for the Desert Dingo team. The experience was eye opening, we learned a lot about the organization that goes on behind the scenes. Jim Graham was very open and honest about what they do in order to prepare for their events and even shared “the football” with us, so we could glimpse into their world of organisation. In addition to the dingos, we spent a lot of time looking at shared race and chase plans online, some teams are very open with what they share and it has been incredibly helpful for us to dig up a ton of information so we know what to include.
So what did we include in our chase plan? in short, Everything. We decided the best plan was to give everyone as much information at their finger tips as possible. We imagined that our connection to the outside world was cut off and everything that we could possibly want to google would need to be accessible. We researched support options like Baja pits and BFG pits and decided to go with BFG pits for our Baja 1000 plan. Why? Well, we are running BFG All terrains, so it made sense, but also, we had an incredible experience with them at the USA 500 and we wanted them to be on our side.
So lets run through a quick collection of information that we included in our initial plan.
The Football (as Jim Graham calls it)
This is our chase book, it is our personal chase book put together by Gina on our team and formatted by Evan. The point of this book is for each chase vehicle to have all information at their fingertips. We are assuming that they are completely cut off and need to figure their way out of a situation so we want them to have everything. Here is an overview of what we include in our chase book.
1. Overview and general information
This section includes a few things that we require our complete team to read “what about you?” and a note from Josh McGuckin that gives everyone a good overview of what to expect. We also list our team goals and safety expectations, Mexico “Rules” and contact information for absolute emergencies including consulates, SCORE contacts and even conversion tables for currency exchange and more. Again, expect the unexpected and prepare for everything.
2. Schedule and racer brief
This section contains SCORE’s official schedule, Our schedule, SCORE’s racer brief and any meetings we need to attend.
3. Food, Travel and Lodging information
This section includes an inventory of meals that we brought, it includes all hotel reservations and all travel information for every crew member. If you can’t remember when one member of your crew is arriving or leaving, well, no problem, it is all here and organized.
4. Vehicle information
This seems silly, but what happens if? We have every vehicle listed, we have its license plate number, the contact phone number for that vehicle and more. Insurance card copies, Inventory of what is on board, a list of occupants of each vehicle and how to contact them. Our race car is listed as well and we have all the specs of the vehicle with parts lists and more for common issues. This section really is intended to make sure that we are able to get every vehicle in and get every vehicle out of mexico both from a legal standpoint and a repair standpoint.
5. Personnel Information
Just like the vehicles we need to make sure that every member of the team can get in and get out. So we have Team member pages. Each page shows each member of the team, emergency contacts, all important information like SCORE member number, dietary needs, medical issues and blood type. If any member of our team lost everything, this page would get them home. In addition to that, this section includes our stateside members contact information. From our up all night, ready to consult GPS members to our Medical consultants, this gives you all the information to contact whomever you need to when you are out of local options.
This includes a master phone list, radio instructions, frequency lists, radio owners manual, sat phone instructions and baja emergency numbers. In addition to that, it gives us another piece of useful information. Our Radio etiquette guide. The last part is something we adopted from the Fire Guys racing team. When you are in the midst of Mexico, adrenaline is pumping and you are tired you need to be able to fall back on a basic set of communication rules in order to keep the team together. Tensions can become a problem and wordy stories can become a thing… so answer two questions on the radio, short and sweet. “Where are you” and “What do you need?” With those two questions answered clearly, you can expect a resolution. No attitudes on the radio please.
This section gives all instructions for all the GPS units we have. If anything goes wrong, you can solve it right here.
8. Race and chase plan
We’ll get into this, but this give all cutoff times, every pit location for every support group and an overview of our plan for driving changes, fuel stops and more.
Yup, just blank paper, if you need to scribble, here is a spot. Make sure to give yourself a place to write down what you are hearing on the radio!
This football is no joke, it took months for Gina to collect this information and we probably used about 20% of it max… however, 100% of it is useful, trust me, if you need it, you aren’t going to find it if it isn’t in the book.
For long races we look at every checkpoint that is on the course, we look for every pit along the course and we figure out where we can do driver changes. For our first big race in Mexico we took some liberties, first, we wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to drive, so we did driver changes early. However, we know better now. If we are going to finish that plan isn’t going to work. So lets look at some thoughts that we have now. First, part to making a plan is to figure out who you have to work with. How many Chase crew do you have? How many chase vehicles do you have? Now take that number and look at it. Do you have enough people to work in zones? If so, then divide the course up into 15 hour zones and assign chase to each zone. If not then divide your chase in half and prepare them for 1/4 race shifts! You need to have chase crew fresh enough to be able to make good decisions.
Driving is another story, we found that it is best to have drivers in the car for about 10 hours, any more and they start turning into zombies and any less and they don’t have enough time to rest up for their next shift. So 10 hour shift, rest for 20 hours, 10 hours back on again. Keep everyone fresh as they can be and you will make fewer dumb mistakes… trust me, dumb mistakes are easy to make.
We create a plan around these ideals, but we also know… throw it all out the window, the first time something happens most of your plan goes to crap and you just need to improvise…. which leads us to…
A good chase team has flexibility built in. Just because our plan has it written on paper that we are supposed to do this next, doesn’t mean that reality has actually allowed that plan to happen. So the team needs to be dynamic with a broad and general understanding of the original plan and the flexibility and creativeness needed to adjust the plan to the situation we currently find ourselves in. It is very VERY easy to see the next stop on your plan written in black and white and follow that because it is next on the list… but in order to be successful you need someone sitting back and looking at everything and saying, “Obviously this isn’t going to work” so you can adopt adaptations to the plan in order to move the race forward.
Leadership & Teamwork
Some of the best teams are military based, why? Cause there is a hierarchy. Our team is not like that, we have a group of friends who all rank the same, however when Big races happen we need to have someone to lean on. Your team needs the same thing. You need someone who is the decider and that person must be able to listen to all the problems and distill it all down to a solution. The team needs to trust that person too. If you don’t have this person then you will have a bunch of people talking over one another, each with individual plans or ideas with no way to choose a proper direction. This is a good way to create frustration!
By no means is this complete. Planning for a race is a huge commitment. Winging it results in silly mistakes and when you are traveling thousands of miles and awake for dozens of hours winging it leads you in a bad direction very quickly. You never want to get home, only to find that one part you desperately needed but couldn’t find. You don’t want to get stranded to find out the charger for your sat phone is in another car. Be organized, create a race communication standard and stay on task, tired grumpy people need to keep reminding themselves… I signed up for this, and it is awesome!