May 17th 2012
One of the most popular aspects of Eurodragster.com is our live event coverage, which is sponsored by Alamo Rent-A-Car. As the forthcoming FIA Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway is one of our busiest weekends I thought that in this month’s Editor’s Diary I would give you an idea of what is involved in reporting upon a European Championship event on Eurodragster.com.
At the latest, we try to arrive at the track the day before the event starts. It's quite often two days, definitely two days if there is a Private Test going on. The reason for getting to the track early is that on day one of a race you want to be able to walk to your desk, switch on the laptop, and be ready: if you are rushing about trying to get things organised then you are all het-up when the racing starts and you can’t concentrate on what you should be doing. So we turn up beforehand to establish our desk in Race Control, ensure that we have a view of a timing console, check that we have internet access, set up the Webster Race Engineering / Nimbus Motorsport webcam, and to do all the other jobs which need doing. Luckily at every track we attend, whether in the UK or in Europe, the organisers go above and beyond to give us everything we could possibly need and we are fair set on the eve of the race.
A race day usually begins with an alarm at 06:00 or 06:30. I like to be at my desk an hour and a half before racing is due to commence. This is to allow time to get set up and on-line, to write the morning greeting on the race report, and to start the webcam. When we are staying off-site at a European event then out of respect for my colleagues, and because most hotels won’t start breakfast until what they consider a civilised time, I make this an hour but I probably become visibly twitchy as the deadline approaches since that is not actually very long to get everything done and to get settled.
How easy the race reports are to write depends upon a number of factors. At a couple of tracks we can plug in to the timing system or we have access to electronic qualifying lists and that makes things easier although we still like to provide a little commentary of each round of qualifying or eliminations even if we are copying and pasting the lists or results. At other tracks there is no link to the timing system and so qualifying for all classes has to be done off the timing system console and calculated manually in real time, since the paper sheets obviously can’t be printed until the session finishes and if you wait for those then you lose track of the next class. So the paper sheets are more for confirmation that you got your sums right and if you didn’t then you make a stealth edit and hope that no-one noticed. Sportsman classes are extremely difficult to keep up with because they run through very quickly indeed, and we sometimes have to tame timekeepers not to clear the screens too quickly but there is a fine line for the timing crew to tread between leaving the previous pair’s data on the screen for a few more seconds for our benefit and letting the track announcers know who is up next.
When reporting manually, Sportsman eliminations are a matter of typing up the round winner, dial-in if appropriate, and ET and speed. Miss those and it’s a quick sprint to the printed run log as soon as possible.
For Pro classes I type all the reports, qualifying lists and elimination rounds manually regardless of whether or not we have a timing system link. It's a point of pride for me. If time allows during Pro sessions we upload the report run-by-run although there are three classes in which this is almost impossible: Pro Stock, Pro Mod, and Pro Stock Bike. In the case of Pro Stock and especially Pro Stock Bike it is very difficult to keep up because they run through so quickly. Pro Modified is difficult not so much because they run through quickly - although Tierp in particular push PM pairs through at an incredible rate - but that there is usually a fair amount to say about each pair and so by the time you have reported on one pair, and if necessary amended the qualifying, the next pair have done their burnouts, come back, and are pulling into stage. Top Fuel and both Top Methanol classes are easier to report upon because each pair runs through less quickly. Even so, the pressure of real-time race reporting is quite something: I bumped into Carl Olson at the end of qualifying at last year’s Sweden Internationals, he looked down at me and the first words out of his mouth were “You look winded”.
We usually sit right next to the track announcers which is useful because we can pass information to them such as how a particular racer got on in pre-event testing, or someone having done the first or second half of a record, and of course the anything which Simon has discovered in the pits. This information usually manifests itself in a flurry of scribbled notes, or sign language, or just a nod to confirm something which has already been said. The track announcers pay us back more than generously with plugs for Eurodragster.com and for our Perfect Award sponsors ModUrStang and Gold RV. At Santa Pod we are quite often lucky enough to have timing guru Andy Marrs in Race Control; Andy and I have such a good understanding that when a record is set, or something else of significance happens, it usually just takes eye contact and a nod between us and no-one has to leave their seat.
Simon visiting Mats Eriksson Pro Mod team in the pits - photo: Lena Perés
Whilst all of this is going on Simon is out in the pits talking to racers. Before an event Simon usually has an initial set of targets based upon news we have received, but he also makes a point of featuring Sportsman racers on day one of a four-day event. Simon manages to keep his ear to the ground whilst in the pits; I send him a text message if there is anything I feel needs following up, but his antennae are that good that he usually already knows. Back in the office Simon somehow manages to type up his pit notes, edit the accompanying photographs, to keep an eye on qualifying standings and the other on what is going on outside the window and then before you know it he has another target list and off he goes to walk the pits again. Simon is very popular with the racers, not least because he has a good sense of when to approach someone and when to leave them alone, and he never fails to receive a warm welcome. He also seems well-set for coffee and other refreshments in pits around Europe.
Andy Rogers - Editor Eurodragster.com
Out on the track we will have at least one but sometimes as many as three photographers recording the action. Kirstie, Roger and Ed between them cover both lanes and either the shutdown area or the very end of the track. As mentioned in last month’s diary you can get some candid and emotional people shots at the far end of the track and both Kirstie and Ed like to spend time there. Remaining unobtrusive is the key: quite often racers will look at the end-track shots and tell us “I didn’t see your photographer there!”. As with Simon and his pit notes Kirstie, Roger and Ed are very much fire-and-forget – I say “Goodbye” and “Have a good day” to them before the track opens, they toddle off to do their jobs, and I don’t have to worry even if I don't see them again all day. They liaise with one another so that everything is covered and so that they all get breaks if they need them. At the end of the day they variously skip, limp or slump into the office but I know that the job's a good’un.
Kirstie - photo by Ed
A lot of people seem to think that trackside photography is the Holy Grail, the be-all and end-all, something for which you should sell your own grandmother, and in terms of privileged access maybe it is. But what no-one ever considers is just how demanding and tiring it is. You are on your feet all day for three or four days, hopefully in the sun, and you can easily go a whole day without much in the way of breaks. There is a lot of pressure not to miss anything which happens on-track and to get a picture of every racer at the event, and to make those pictures usable. If you are thinking “Hang on, I’ll get my violin” then just talk to one of the regulars at the end of day four of a race. Ask what sort of state they are in, and in how many days they think they’ll have recovered.
At the end of each raceday the pressure subsides a little but even when the track closes there are still some hours of work left. Simon is usually out in the pits getting notes at close of play but Kirstie, Roger and Ed return to the office to hand over the memory cards from their cameras. All of their pictures will be downloaded to the race laptop for selection of that day’s gallery. At the end of the day there is also the not-insignificant matter of grabbing something to eat. At Santa Pod we are lucky enough to enjoy the services of Eurodragster.com Team Nutritionist Syd McDonald who brings us delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Syd’s dinner is usually a hefty steak and salad which goes down very well both literally and figuratively. We stop briefly for dinner and then get on with the gallery and pit notes. At the European events we usually go back to the hotel to have dinner and we select the pictures either at the table or in the hotel room after dinner.
Selecting pictures for a day’s gallery is less complicated than it used to be. We used to try to ensure that every racer at an event was pictured once over a weekend but checking off three hundred or more racers on a list added so much time to the work that we were finishing ridiculously late. In addition, each photographer has usually taken several hundred pictures all of which have to be viewed; this gives us an embarrassment of riches but adds more time. What we do now is to go through each photographer’s output and just pick the best-looking pictures although we do ensure that each class is covered fairly and that no single racer is featured repeatedly. The main problem nowadays is to keep each day’s gallery to a sensible size. The rule of thumb is fifty pictures per photographer per day but if you have three photographers supplying work then that is a very large gallery. Better one hundred and fifty pictures, though, than just to post every shot from each photographer’s memory card good or bad including every frame of a motordrive sequence. Officially I don’t have an opinion on anything so I’ll say no more about that practice.
The day’s work finishes with the upload of that day’s gallery and final tranche of pit notes some time between 22:00 and 23:00, often tending towards the latter, then we are usually straight to bed as the alarm is again set for 06:00 or 06:30 next morning. If I have one regret about doing the Event Coverage it is that it allows little time for socialising but that has to be weighed up against the huge number of grateful readers out there on the World Wide Web who can’t be at the race and so rely upon us to bring them all the news. We quite often get nice E-Mails from racers’ families and friends thanking us for letting them know how they are doing and it is kindnesses such as that, and the thought of the Eurodragsterholics and everyone else frantically clicking the Refresh button, which keep us going.
After a race we are always interested to see how many people have read the race reports and looked at the pit notes and pictures, and we pass viewing stats to sponsors, Speedgroup and other interested parties: quite often racers ask us for the viewing stats for sponsorship proposals. Even people who were at the race tell us that they go back and read the reports because when you’re at the track and involved up to your elbows it is very difficult to keep track of everything which is going on. You can see this happening from the web site stats as we get more than the average number of readers on the day after a race, and then another smaller peak a couple of days later when those who have travelled from overseas get home.
photo: Carl Olson, the SFI Foundation with Tog at Santa Pod 2011
Then, of course, our thoughts turn to our next event coverage. It’s a busy life but we love it and it’s a real privilege to be invited to tracks around Europe to tell the planet what is going on in our corner of the world. And to the citizens of Finland and Germany, and to a lesser extent Sweden thanks to some enjoyable weeks spent gadding around in the company of The Naughty Swede Christer Abrahamson, I will one day come to visit your countries and do touristy stuff. Not just yet though.
Text: Andy Rogers Eurodragster.com
Photos: Courtesy of Eurodragster.com
This article is part of the Speedgroup Club Europe Newsletter #4/2012
Published by Speedgroup www.speedgroup.eu
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Used by permission
© Speedgroup 2012