Communication is a key element...
Communication is a key element at the racetrack. Track officials communicate with drivers by means of a drivers' meeting to give everyone the same message.
It's evident in the winner's circle. One of the key elements for a successful team is the ability to communicate effectively.
A team that communicates well can be more organized, better prepared, and more efficient (thus spend less money) than its competitors. There are various areas in the whole racing operation where improved communication can benefit the team and enhance the chances for success.
Those who benefit from a high level of communication are the team/car owners, crews, drivers, sponsors, track owners and officials, sanctioning bodies, press, family and friends, and suppliers. It's safe to say everyone benefits.
The person who owns the car and/or equipment must communicate his or her expectations of the team, the goals (both long and short term), and who will participate and how. There is often a strong desire to work with a team and have the opportunity to go to the races, but there may be a limited number of positions available for crewmembers. The team owner must decide who is to be on the team, just like any other sport, and must leave no doubt in the minds of the team members as to what is expected of them and what they can expect in return for their services.
The team leader is responsible...
The team leader is responsible for all team functions, including note keeping. He or she directs all of the activities of the crew at the shop and at the racetrack. A good set of radios will greatly increase the level of communication you have with your team. All crewmembers can have a chance to be in on decisions and the relaying of information.
Included in the decisions that must be made are which class to run, number of races, where to race, whether or not to compensate crew or provide food and lodging, and what, if any, incentives will be offered if the team is successful. Team members are usually much more dedicated and motivated if there is a possible reward for winning races and championships.
The owner spends the money, whether it is personal money or provided by the sponsors, and the golden rule applies-the one with the gold rules.
A crewmember usually has his or her entry fee, special clothing, and food bills paid by the owner. Some lucky ones may get $50 or $100 for each race they work. The owner can offer more money based on results such as race wins or championships.
Depending upon the level of the sport, the crew can consist of the chief mechanic or crew chief, several mechanics and helpers, a tire specialist, a lap timer, a truck driver (usually a dual-duty position), and maybe a cook who is also a working team member.
The owner must designate a leader of the team. This person can be the chief mechanic, a stand-alone crew chief, or sometimes the owner (in a few cases, even the driver). The team leader schedules all work and tells everyone what needs to be done, helps perform the work, and makes sure it is done correctly. The leader is in constant communication with all crewmembers, the owner, and others.
The team leader is responsible for the car construction, legality, scheduling, shop and truck preparation, testing, and all other functions of the crew. The person must be able to communicate effectively so that all of these tasks run smoothly.
The team leader must be allowed to have a choice in the selection of his crew and to assign duties to those on the crew. Since he or she is ultimately responsible for preparation and maintenance of the car, the team leader is best suited to make choices about crewmembers and their responsibilities. Again, communication is of great importance. If the team leader chooses talented crewmembers who know what is expected of them and are self motivated, everything runs smoothly.
One crewmember must record...
One crewmember must record lap times in order for the crew to know how its performance stands up against the other competitors. Your car's total lap times, segment times, and other competitors' lap and segment times are all important facts that help determine how fast we really are and when to make changes to our race cars.
The mechanics usually work together on the part or parts of the car that need attention. Many times it takes more than one person to change the rearend lube, change a gear, clean the car, change an engine or tranny, fix a bent body, align the suspension, or any number of other tasks required of a mechanic. These guys must get along, communicate well, and respect one another. Like any type of relationship, working together in close quarters is more effective if respect is bestowed.
If each mechanic is responsible for a certain maintenance function, the crew chief can be sure that there is no confusion as to what has and has not been done.
The team leader designates and communicates with the tire crew, usually one or two people experienced with the selection and maintenance of the race tires. Tire issues are highly important to the success of a stock car team. Things that can go wrong with tire management include tire mismatching, inaccurate estimation of tire pressure increase, incorrect stagger, poor record keeping, and safety issues that may be associated with inflation, mounting the tires, and general tire maintenance. Those on the tire crew need to be aware of these pitfalls and communicate them to the crew chief.
A tire specialist must communicate stagger changes, insufficient stagger, unusual air pressure growth, irregular tire wear patterns, tire age, and the number of laps that have been run on a set of tires. Having a person or two who can properly manage the tire program for a team can really enhance the car's performance.
Some teams are fortunate enough to have engine specialists, who may adjust valve lash, check carburetor float levels, change jets to suit the current atmospheric conditions, or check the spark plugs for proper ignition and fuel mixture. The crew chief communicates with the engine tuner about all power-related issues so that decisions can be made to help ensure the highest output and longevity of the race engine.
The driver must communicate...
The driver must communicate how the car feels, suggestions for improvement, and other critical information such as engine temperatures, track conditions, and mechanical problems he or she might be able to feel.
An important crew position incorporated into weekend racing programs is a designated timer to record all lap times. This includes individual lap times, segment lap times, the total number of laps run, as well as the competitors' lap times. This information is vital to the analysis of the performance level of the car and driver. It's helpful to the crew to know the result of any changes made to the car. It's also important to know how the lap times stack up against those of the competitors. If this information is communicated to the team leader and driver, decisions can be made regarding any necessary changes.
If the car is the fastest of all cars in the class, major changes won't be necessary. If the lap times are substantially off from competitors, it is justified to make significant changes or try to find out why we are so far off.
Lap times can be broken down into segment times, meaning times are taken in certain predetermined sections of the racetrack. The car could be timed on the straightaways or only the turns to determine handling problems or whether an engine has gone sour.
Other duties that may be shared by the aforementioned crewmembers or designated to family or friends are those involving spotting, driving the truck, cooking, providing refreshments, planning trips, or entertaining the fans, sponsors, and friends of the team. All of the crew positions involve a network of communication among the individuals involved, and the whole racing experience is much more fun and rewarding if those persons get along and communicate well.
A well-positioned spotter can relay information about other cars and track conditions to the driver while practicing or during the race. This crewmember will often be away from the working area of car adjustment, so don't use a mechanic for this task.
The driver and crew should...
The driver and crew should have a good relationship with the officials. By communicating and understanding their goals, the whole racing program, including the jobs of the track officials and the crews, will run more smoothly.
The driver has a responsibility to communicate effectively with the crew as well. It all starts with how the car is constructed in terms of driver preference on issues such as brakes, clutch and gas pedal placement, steering wheel position, seat angle and position, seatbelt adjustment, gauge placement, the type and extent of safety equipment used, and any other matters that relate to the driver's comfort.
Before the car ever turns a lap, the driver must be sure the car is safe and that all belts are tight. Any issues that the driver feels are not right once the car is driven at speed should be communicated back to the team leader, by whom decisions can be made to correct the situation.
Brake bias, steering ratios, and basic handling problems can all be addressed when the driver knows how to communicate accurately and honestly the concerns he or she is having. The driver/spotter communication is critical during practice sessions and the actual race. A team needs to find a spotter who is acceptable to the driver. Usually this is a close friend or someone trusted by the driver to help provide quick and accurate information about the racing environment that the driver might not be aware of. There are blind spots where the driver cannot see, and there might be trouble ahead.
Sponsors can provide the means to help make a team successful and to have the equipment that is necessary to be competitive. Because sponsors give much needed support, it's necessary to communicate with them often. Racers acknowledge their support by putting their company names on their cars, listing them as supporters in Victory Lane, sending them pictures of the car, and allowing them to visit in the pits. Many times, a sponsor will be happy just to be known as a supporter of a successful team and will gloat over its involvement, swapping hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of money and/or parts in exchange for the simple and inexpensive acknowledgment that comes from placing a sticker on the car and trailer. A mention of the sponsor in pre-race introductions, interviews, and after wins helps keep them happy. Added appreciation can be shown by inviting sponsors to race team get-togethers and post-race (win) celebrations.
Always keep in touch with those who support the team by phone, e-mail, or regular mail, and let them know how the team is doing. Tell them what progress has been made, future expectations, team plans, and, of course, how much their involvement is appreciated. Make them feel needed, because they truly are, and the support will most likely continue through the years.
An important and sometimes misunderstood area of communication is with your track management and their officials and also any sanctioning groups who may control your form of racing. Many teams mistakenly view them as the enemy. Most of the time, however, if you get to know the various officials better and communicate with them respectfully, you will soon realize that all have points of view and are trying to achieve specific goals. Understanding the goals of one another helps us to get along and makes the chances of achieving our goals more likely.
Teams that do not communicate well with track officials and resist the rules are often disliked and could be more closely scrutinized during inspections by officials who might suspect that they are trying to get away with something. Not knowing each other breeds distrust. Being open and friendly, on the other hand, is often construed as being honest and in tune with the goals and rules of the racetrack management.
Competitors can become friends...
Competitors can become friends and show respect for one another both on and off the racetrack. If problems arise out of racing incidents, the chance of ironing out the differences is much greater if there is mutual respect.
A multitude of good comes from associating with members of the press, who are always looking for meaningful stories and features.You can help them by communicating information about the team. Report any new developments such as new sponsors, a step up in class, recent wins, championship wins, and the like to the appropriate press. These may include the local newspapers, racing magazines, trade papers, local radio, television stations, national news services, and Internet racing news Web sites.
The members of the press welcome new information and sometimes publish news about your team. This kind of publicity, when positive, always enhances the opportunity to land a new sponsor or bring deserved credit to the team members for their efforts.
The happiest and most cohesive teams usually have family members and friends involved. It is just plain fun to work side by side with people you love. The disappointing times are made easier and the rewarding times can be shared.
I often notice a much stronger bond between families and friends who share the racing experience. In today's world, families often spend little time together. Racing is a wonderful example to others in the community of how to include all family members in an activity.
Our suppliers are also vital to our operation. Even though we have to buy parts as opposed to getting them free from sponsor connections, we can benefit from discounts and quick turn-around on repairs and service. If our suppliers feel like a part of the team, they will better service our needs.
To instill this sense of connection to our team, we should communicate our successes, problems, goals, and other information about the team that would interest the suppliers. The more they know about your team's needs, the better they can serve the team. If, for instance, you're having a brake problem, your supplier might know about a new product that will address that particular problem. If you communicate your needs, your supplier has a chance to help out. If you don't communicate, no one will know.
Communication with your fellow competitors is most important in any sport. In racing, our competition can become a part of the crew's extended family. All of the crews share the same goals, needs, problems, and frustrations. The more we know about and respect our fellow racers, the more fun we have and the better the overall competitive environment.
Of course, that does not mean we can't be highly competitive, only that we care for and respect the other teams. When you try to get along with other team members, the rewards are clean racing, help and parts when you really need them, and cooperation with problems associated with track rules and procedures that may need review. When you can go up to your competition and shake his or her hand after you've been defeated, the goodwill from that unselfish act will come back to you many times over. It means, "Hey, I know how hard you've worked for that win, and I'm happy for you."
Evaluate your team's communication skills and meet often to discuss communication issues. Develop a policy of being open and talking about all issues that will affect the team. Involve sponsors, suppliers, friends, and family in the racing experience. Stock car racing isn't just about the race, but mostly about all of the other activities that make up the before-and-after. The closeness we enjoy and the communication skills we develop are what make our sport a valuable part of our lives.