It happens to us all at some point in our racing career.
You’ve arrived at the venue early.
I mean E-A-R-L-Y!
Maybe it’s oh-six-hundred-hours early.
What’s the “oh” stand for?
Oh, My God, it’s early!
The race director is about to arrive with all the gear that he’s been squirreling away in his garage all season.
Only when oh-seven-hundred-hours comes around — no race director!
People start slowly rolling into the parking lot to unload bikes and gear.
They quietly loiter around looking for all the pomp-and-circumstance that comes with a race registration area.
But there is no activity.
No music, no lights, not even a welcome sign.
Confused, they start to ask questions like, “Am I in the right place?”
You reassure them that they are, but even you are starting to doubt that yourself.
Could it be that YOU are the one that is in the wrong place and the race director is currently setting up someplace else?
Worried about what’s going on, you make a phone call to the race director.
That’s when you learn the bad news.
The race director is not coming.
It doesn’t matter why.
From broken down vehicle or car accident to a bad snooze alarm that never went off, no gear means no race.
Mr. Murphy strikes again.
Has this ever happened to you?
Have you been on the dark side of a vacant venue with no registration gear in sight?
Meanwhile, racers are starting to stack up and ask tough questions.
Some might even start to get angry at the lack of professionalism starting to show in your race day preparations.
The worst part is that you could have avoided it all by having a better race day plan.
When someone has all the gear — all the tents, tables, and computers — then you have a single point of failure.
In systems architecture, a single point of failure (SPOF) is when a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working.
You never want a SPOFs in your race plan.
Unfortunately, many times (more than we would like to admit) the race director is the only one with all the gear.
It is difficult to provide any reliability in your racing business if you control all the keys to the kingdom.
Similar to how your business management is hindered when you are both the race director and the racing business owner, gear can quickly become a new SPOF for your race.
It may not seem it at first, but as you build your race venue infrastructure plans, each additional item becomes important to your final vision.
If those items do not make it to the venue because only one person has it all, then your race will never make it off the ground.
This is why your goal needs to be focused on having a way to get everything up-and-running at the venue for when (not if) you can’t make it there.
But it takes more than just telling yourself you will do it next year.
Next year might be the year something really bad happens.
However, if you build in a gear redundancy strategies now, you can help yourself avoid total disaster later.
Here are a few ideas on how to do that:
Distribute your Gear
The goal of any race director is to have two of everything that is critical to directing the race.
This is a combination of gear used to perform the functions of:
- Registration (start lists, bib numbers, waivers)
- Timing (computers, stopwatches, timing sheets)
- Structure (tents, tables, tape, chairs)
- Safety (medical kits, radios, traffic cones)
- Entertainment (sound system, microphone, blowhorn, music)
What is critical to one race director, may not be critical to another.
But the goal is to have two of anything that would stop your race cold.
Because two is one, and one is none.
If you do not have a backup radio, then one radio is just as good as no radio when it fails.
Same with computers.
One computer can quickly become a doorstop without a backup.
Of course, you could go to paper and pen registration.
However, once you start putting everything into a computer, it’s failure (and your lack of both data and hardware backups) would require you to redo everything by hand.
Granted, in the beginning, you’re going to only have one of everything.
You’re not made of money, after all!
But once you have a few pieces of gear, and some folks to help you build your races, you should start to consider distributing it.
Even one or two people that you can trust could help you spread out the pain of any SPOF.
Often, the way you want to break it up is over functions.
One person has the registration gear and backup timing, another the timing gear and backup registration, and maybe the third person has only the sound system, etc.
This way, at least SOME of the gear will make it to the venue if any of the parts fail to arrive.
With some gear, you can start your race day activities while you send someone to retrieve the gear from the person that broke down or overslept.
Mobile Storage On-Site
Another strategy is to consider storing your gear on-site.
Trailers are the best for this.
They can be towed to the venue close to race day and stored in a quiet place until needed.
Once the gear trail is at the venue, you only need to distribute keys to the locks to get race day setup rolling with or without you there.
This can allow you to bring storage into locations that normal solutions cannot get to, or are not allowed to go.
Some race directors opt to use rental trails from companies like U-HAUL.
These are good for getting gear to and from a location without worrying about taking up all the space in your SUV or Truck (because all race directors have either an SUV or Truck, right?).
Unfortunately, it is very risky to leave a U-HAUL in a remote location overnight, and expensive to have the trailer for too long.
After you work through the hassle of rentals, you may want to invest in something more permanent.
Starter trailers run between $1,500 to $2,500 for various single-axle models that are 6′ x 10′ or 6′ x 12′ in size.
If you have some extra to spend, these smaller trailers can be easily modified to become mobile command centers.
Instead of having your registration setup with tents and tables, you can convert a trailer into a “food truck” style structure that has side windows, TV mounts, and even a built-in sound system.
That way your original gear you purchased before that tricked-out trailer becomes your backup equipment if the trailer breaks or fails to arrive.
The downside to owning your own trailer is centered around towing and security.
When it comes to towing, not all vehicles are created equal.
More gear requires more trailer.
More trailer requires a bigger engine.
As you go up in size, you also go up in price.
If your racing gear trailer needs a fifth-wheel to be moved, then you may or may not have created a new SPOF.
There is also the issue of where to store the trailer when you’re not racing, the legal State and County inspections needed each year, and annual mechanical maintenance.
Rentals don’t have this problem where an owned trailer requires just as much paperwork as a car does.
These requirements only serve to add additional costs to your race business overhead that may or may not have been planned.
But having a trailer on-site before the race is an ideal way to mitigate your gear SPOF; so long as everyone has a key.
Security can become a concern as well.
Keeping all your gear in a trailer is great for race day, but bad if thieves come looking for an easy score.
Parks are notorious for bad security and often tell you that your gear can be parked on-site at your own risk.
This could include someone driving off with your trail — gear and all.
If you do decide to buy a trailer, put some thought into good locks, alarm systems, and maybe even game cameras that watch your trailer when you are away.
Same goes for checking in on your trailer daily to make sure nothing has changed.
Portable Storage Containers
A more recent solution to on-site gear storage is portable storage containers.
These can be commercialized storage boxes that companies like PODS can deliver for temporary storage.
PODS come in various sizes that are built out of industrial grade steel that can be dropped at any location you choose and picked up when you’re done.
This is a good solution for race weekends that span a Saturday to Sunday, or for overnight events where gear needs to be secured when it gets dark.
Additionally, small storage containers like the ones provided by PODS can become an excellent place to keep your gear as well.
For a fee, PODS can deliver and recover your container in most locations, and keep it for you during the off-season.
Think of all the room you will have in your garage!
Again, you don’t want to create a new SPOF by having to heavily rely on getting your container to your location.
You also need to make sure that your venue will even allow a container on-site.
Some parks will not allow you to disrupt that area with a big, branded box like a PODS container and you need to check with your park manager before you park a container on their land.
If they do allow containers, then your next option might be something a bit bigger like a Conex Containers that size of railroad cars.
These come off of tractor-trailers and can store a massive amount of equipment up to and including vehicles.
Instead of renting these containers, you can outright purchase 20′ to 40′ containers between $1,500 to $5,000 each.
Although this would require a moving or trucking company to pick up, deliver, and recover, you have more options when you own the box instead of rent it.
Just like with the trailer, security is still an issue.
However, when you own the container, you can install lock boxes, heavy duty padlocks, inner bolts, alarm systems, and even secondary compartments or safes.
There is a lot of land in a lot of parks in the United States.
If you build a good relationship with your park manager you may even be permitted long-term storage of your container on park property for minimal cost.
It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Look for SPOFs Everywhere
The single point of failure challenge with your gear’s arrival is only one of several SPOF problems you will discover.
Gear is first, then comes having enough volunteers to do certain tasks, then course setting, and then it’s removing you from the race directors role.
Each SPOF problem has a different solution, but they all can benefit from a simple principle:
Two is one, and one is none.
So long as you approach each problem with the belief that it WILL fail, then you can see where you need to build in your redundancy.
Don’t leave yourself open to the horror of single points of failure.
If you do, Mr. Murphy will certainly make you pay.
And now you know.