Lap 44

 

Along with working corners and being Chief Steward, I did many other jobs at the track as well. I worked as tech inspector, grid marshal and pit marshal. I had even filled in for short periods at Central Control a couple of times. In fact, the only jobs I never held were starter and Fire and Rescue. I did drive a flat tow vehicle several times.

One of my favorite places to work at the track was in Timing and Scoring (T & S). This had a couple of advantages in that you could sit down and have a roof over your head so you were out of the rain and sun (until late afternoon, anyway). One disadvantage was that it was hard work.

My first job in T & S was as a taper. I was given a pad of paper about four inches wide and 11 inches long. On this pad, I was to write down the numbers of the cars as they came across the start-finish line. When the leader came around, we started a new sheet of paper, so each page represented a lap. This sounds simple enough, but like most things, it was anything but simple. If the cars cooperated and came by in single file, it was fine, but when a bunch of five or more cars came across at the same time, things got very busy. It was hard to catch and write down all the numbers, and that is why we had several tapers for each race. The hope was that with many people taping, we would have a much better chance to record each car that came by. If one or more of us missed a car, it would most likely appear on someone elseís tape.

I always made sure I was up in T & S for the practice sessions to learn the cars. The more car numbers I could memorize, the better. After a bit of practice, I could write the number down as soon as I recognized the car, and did not have to wait to see the number. I was surprised to learn that it did not matter in what order you entered the cars on the tape until the very last lap. This validated the method of writing down the numbers of the cars in the pack as soon as you recognized them. It was not critical to wait to see who crossed the finish line first. By the last lap or "flag lap" as we referred to it, there were usually fewer cars and they were more spread out, so it was a bit easier to get them in the right order.

One or two people would work as auditors. An auditor would keep track of the lead car and call, "Pull" each time the leader came by, so the tapers knew when to start a new tape. Then they would collect the tapes of the just-completed lap and audit them to find at least three that matched. Two of the matched tapes would then be given to the "charters," who would compile a lap chart from the tapes. We always had at least two charters. At the end of the race, the two tape charts and the trackside chart would be compared to make sure they matched before final results would be posted.

You would think that doing a tape chart was easy enough. You just copied down the car numbers off the tape you were given by the auditors onto the lap chart. It was simple - until the cars started to lap each other. If a car was lapped, it would not appear on that lapís tape, but would be on the next tape. The charter had to find the last lap completed by that car and enter the carís number in the next lap. Again, this sounds simple - until cars are lapped several times. It was not uncommon to have cars five or more laps behind. Sometimes, it was difficult to find the last lap a car had completed.

Some race groups were harder to score than others. Formula Ford was always a hard group because the cars all looked alike, were small and, as a result, had small car numbers on them. Showroom stock was difficult because of the sheer number of cars, which meant you often had them passing you in bunches, causing tapers to miss a number or two. It was the auditorís job to fill in the missing numbers from other tapes, because rarely did all the tapers miss the same car number.

The most difficult laps to tape were the first two or three since the cars would all still be bunched together. This was not a real problem because the charters would just count the cars, and if they were all there, they would just write the numbers down in grid order. It did not matter in what order the cars appeared on the chart until the last lap. However, when all the tapers missed cars in the middle of the race, that caused havoc for the charters.

If you got bad tapes, it made charting very difficult, and often the next race would have started before you finished. I remember one race I was charting that was especially difficult, and knew I was in trouble when the two auditors just started to laugh, handed me my tape and said good luck. This meant they could not get two tapes to match, which was not good news for the charter. The charter would then have to look at the previous laps and try to figure out what car or cars were missing, and that could take some time.

I was charting a Formula Ford race at the Loooong Race and our tapes were a disaster. The next race started before I was half-way through the chart. My fellow charter was just as far behind. The races usually lasted an hour-and-a-half. The FF race finished, another race groups' started, and we worked on. We finally finished and compared charts and, of course, we did not match. The third race after the one we were working on had started before we got things reconciled.

As I was leaving for a much needed trip to the restroom, I overheard a FF driver complaining to the Chief Steward about the fact that it was now over three hours after his race had finished and we had not posted results yet. He was really in the Stewardís face and very angry. When I got close to him, I could smell beer on his breath. It was against the rules to drink alcohol until after the last race of the day. Then I heard him say we were not doing our jobs. That ticked me off and I angrily joined the discussion. I got in his face and yelled, "Who the hell are you to say we are not doing our jobs! I have been working on that damn lap chart for almost five hours just so you can see if you finished 22nd or 23rd! In the meantime youíre sitting on your ass in the paddock drinking beer!"

I think the guy was somewhat startled at my outburst, and after my accusation, he beat a hasty retreat. I turned to the Chief Steward and asked him why he had not busted him for drinking. He looked at me sheepishly and said he had not smelled any beer on his breath. I said, "Youíre kidding! The guy reeked of it!" That was one time I really wished I were still the Chief Steward!

While doing a lap chart from tapes was difficult enough, I soon learned that the toughest job in racing was doing the trackside lap chart. The trackside charter created his or her chart in real time as the cars crossed the start-finish line, not waiting for a tape. They always had a taper with them for back up, and these were usually the best tapers available. If you had to hunt for a lapped car on a tape chart, it was no big deal, but keep your head down for a second or two on the trackside and you could miss several cars, putting you in big trouble. Hopefully, you could pick them up off the tape.

The trackside chart was very important because it was the one used to determine the unofficial winner of the race. Each winner was given a small, checkered flag and sent on a victory lap. It was the responsibility of the trackside charter to tell the starters who was supposed to get a flag. This was usually not hard for the overall winner, but each class winner also was given a victory lap, and there were usually several classes in each group. Some class winners could be several laps behind the overall winner.

Only the best charters were ever assigned to do the trackside chart. Finally, after doing dozens of tape charts, I was given this important and difficult job. I both loved and feared the challenge. Only the best trackside charters were given the difficult races, like FF or Showroom Stock, or any race with 30 or more cars. I was not the best, so I usually did the trackside for easier races with 20 or fewer cars.

I recall one trackside chart I did that had only six cars in the race. This was a challenge even I could handle. Someone had a bag of peanuts in the shell, so I borrowed six of them and wrote one of the car numbers down on each. Then I placed them in grid order on the counter in front of me. As positions changed each lap, I would rearrange the order of the peanuts accordingly. When a car dropped out of the race, I would crack that peanutís shell and eat the nuts, thus removing it from the race. Of course, I wrote the numbers down on the chart as well.

The best trackside charter I ever saw was a guy named Ray. This was not Patís Ray, but another one. Ray was amazing to me. I often did the trackside tapes for him, but rarely did he have to refer to them. A cluster of cars would be coming down the front straight together and Ray would calmly light a cigarette as they screamed past at over a 100 miles an hour, take a puff and then jot down the numbers on the chart.

Blackhawk Farms Race Control and T & S

Rayís secret was that he never wasted time looking for the correct place on the chart to enter a car. If he could not quickly find the carís last lap, he just entered the car number at the bottom of the chart and would carry it there until he had time to look for its correct position on the chart. That way, he could keep track of how many laps the car had completed. He would later enter the number of laps from the bottom into the correct position when he had more time. For some reason, I could never master this technique.

At this time, the guru of timing and scoring was an SCCA member named Judy Stropus. She had literally written the book on timing and scoring, and anyone who was serious about working in T & S had read her book. I was at Road Atlanta for the Runoffs one year, and Ray was there as well. He told me another friend of ours named Jim, who was running in the DSR race, had asked him to do a trackside of the race for him. Ray asked me if I would do tapes for him. I agreed, and prior to Jimís race, we climbed into a T & S stand that some team had set up and told us we could use. Many teams would set up their own T & S stands because it got you up higher so you could see over the pits, and it was usually covered in case of rain.

As we were in the stand preparing for Jimís race, a woman walks up and said she had been told she could use the stand. We said so were we, but she was welcome as there was room for all three of us. I could tell she was not happy about sharing, but then, we were there first. She climbed in and got her lap chart out. I told her I was doing tapes for Ray and if she needed to refer to one, she was welcome to do so. She gave me a disdainful look and announced, "I do not use tapes." "Well, lah-di-da," I thought. "Arenít we good!"

When the race was over, she had, indeed, not asked to see a single one of my tapes, but then, as usual, neither had Ray. As I collected my tapes, I saw her sign the lap chart she had completed. Her signature read "Judy Stropus". Ray had already climbed down from the stand and was walking away. I ran after him and said, "Ray, do you know who that woman was with us?" He admitted he did not, so I told him. He got this look of amazement in his face, and then ran off to catch and talk to one of his heroes. Ray later told me he had read her book twice, and was a big fan of hers. He had been thrilled to actually meet her in person, but I had been less impressed.

Once, at a Blackhawk race, I was doing a tape chart when the Chief Starterís wife, coincidentally named Liz, came up and said, "Terry, I will take over and finish that chart for you." I was somewhat surprised by this and said, "Thanks, but I can finish It." Liz said, "No, you have to go to the quack shack. Eric has been hit in the face with a baseball bat." "Christ!" I exclaimed, jumped up and ran to the stairs. As I flew down the stairs, I had visions of my son with a broken nose, shattered jaw and missing teeth. Fortunately, none of those images turned out to be correct.

The Blackhawk Valley Region of the SCCA had donated a playground to the track. It was a fenced off area with swings and stuff, and kids could play there with no danger of being hit by an inattentive or speeding driver in the paddock. Eric was there, playing baseball with some other kids. He was playing catcher when the batter swung the bat back and hit Eric just above the eye.

My Liz was already there as I burst through the door into the quack shack (our name for the medical room). Eric was sitting on the table with this huge goose egg over his left eye. He had a big black eye and his glasses were in pieces. Other than that, and a headache, he was fine. I was relieved to find that my worst fears had not been justified.

This was not Ericís first trip to the quack shack. Once, when he was about three years old, he was playing in the front seat of our car. He was pretending to be driving and pushed in a knob on the dash, which happened to be the cigarette lighter. Since neither Liz nor I smoked, he had never seen it used. Surprised when it popped back out, he pulled it out and looked at it. He saw this red glow inside, and for some reason only kids know, he stuck his finger in to check it out. Alerted by his scream of pain, Liz, who was nearby, rushed to see what was wrong.

Seeing the burn on his finger, she took him to the quack shack for some medical attention. We had graduated from hiring doctors - like the gynecologist that had attended me when I rolled the 510 - to hiring paramedics. These guys were far better suited to treat the kind of trauma expected in a racing accident than some doctor who had never been inside an emergency room. They checked him out, and put some sort of burn cream on his finger.

It was quite a nice burn and had imprinted the concentric circles of the lighter on the tip of his finger. It was painful at the time, but he recovered without even a scar. Most importantly, he had learned never to touch anything that was glowing red. Actually, we were very lucky because Eric never did have any serious injuries as a child. He had the usual scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones ever. Ericís few trips to the emergency room were for more creative reasons.

His grade school called one time, and told me I had to come and take Eric to the emergency room. They had been doing some craft thing, gluing shell macaroni to some paper. Eric, for some reason only kids know, stuck a couple of them up his nose. The teacher got one out with tweezers, but the other one was in so far in that she was afraid to try to get it out, and called me instead.

I took him to the emergency room and they successfully removed it with no harm done, except to my checkbook. When Bunky heard about this, he thought it was really funny - until his son, Ethan, for some reason only kids know, stuck a couple of kidney beans up his nose and also had to go to the emergency room.

The need for lots of T & S workers has all but disappeared nowadays. Even Midwestern Council has gone high tech. First, they brought in timing lights and a computer. Now we really were "Timing" and Scoring, and the competitors no longer had to turn in their own time sheets. The computer even generated a lap chart. Someone still had to enter the car numbers into the computer as they passed the timing lights, so we still needed tapers and tape charts to make sure we got it right. Now, every car has a transponder. The computer can read the signal from the transponder, automatically record the lap time, and enter the car number into the correct position on a lap chart.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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