My Advice to Competitors – Working With Officials and Officiating.
By Ken Brewer
Racing in its many forms – wheel to wheel, time trials, autocross, and so on – is quite an objective competition in a lot of ways. You win as measured by the clock and there’s usually little argument or debate as to the results. However, there are still subjective things we as racers deal with in our competitions in many forms one of which is sometimes officiating. Does part X meet the written rules? Did so-and-so gain a “competitive advantage” in the manner in which they went off track and rejoined the race? Things of that nature.
Ever notice how in some sports it always seems like certain stars get a lot of close calls in their favor or the opposite and do not get many of the close calls? It’s not always tied to how well that star or player performs or how often their team wins or loses but usually that player’s or team’s reputation with the officials has some bearing in how often they get the close calls in their favor.
I’ve been an official throughout most of my “racing” “career” mostly as a way to stretch my meager budget, but also because quite often the work needed done by someone and it was rewarding to fill that need. Sometimes I even filled that need fairly well and sometimes it was a learning experience, though I’d like to think it was mostly that first part. I have seen this officiating thing from both the officials’ side and from the side of a competitor as well once I had graduated from the HPDE / trackday ranks into Time Trials and WTW Racing.
Early on in my officiating “career” I ran Timing and Scoring for a regional group. While that isn’t a position that usually makes any subjective calls, there are still some common things that people would mess up. Avoiding these would help build your reputation as a good racer with the officials in general. We all eat meals together at the track, hang out before and after events together, and talk to each other so word (bad and good) does get around eventually.
1.) Register properly, ahead of time, and accurately. Part of this is knowing things like transponder number you track people. Store it in a note on your phone (or as a contact if older phone) and/or memorize it. Mistakes do happen every once in a while, but constant late registration that’s half wrong or incomplete points towards possible other sloppiness and poor attention to detail. If that’s the case what else are they messing up on?
2.) Check the practice session results, and try and get any necessary corrections in early. Most T&S software is very specialized and antiquated and can be quite a pain to deal with sometimes. The more sessions there are the more places a correction may need entered. Definitely try and get anything fixed before the computers get packed away and results get posted online at the very worst (this goes for everyone, including you autocrossers).
3.) Courtesy counts. Try and be aware of what the official is doing at that moment and be patient if they’re monitoring a session or otherwise currently actively engaged in their duties at the event. Sometimes running an event can be very stressful with a lot of moving parts some of which need constant care and feeding so try and find a less busy moment to bring things to their attention to ask for fixes, or to file that protest, or to ask about that rules clarification, or whatever else. It should also go without saying but try to be as nice as you can in your interactions in person and online with officials and series people also – this is in most cases someone working a second job (or third, or fourth) for free or for such a low level of compensation that they might as well bag groceries if money was the only thing they took from it. They are there giving their time (or taking a big discount on their time) for the love of the sport and to fill that sport’s need for people to do the work it takes to run the events and such. On that same front bonus points may not be given to the guy that brings workers and/or officials coffee and donuts in the morning sometimes but it also isn’t ever ignored either.
Later on in my officiating “career” I was in a run group director role off and on. While bound by the ruleset they do have some latitude and also some areas where subjective calls are going to need to be made.
1.) Never. NEVER. Never ever be “that guy”. Once you get reputation as that guy it takes a while to shake it. That guy doesn't usually get the close calls in their favor. That guy usually gets a bit extra scrutiny either on purpose or subconsciously. I never tried to purposefully go after anyone even if they were the poster child for being that guy, but the subconscious thing is hard to shake.
2.) The officials can't be everywhere at all times and see everything, corner workers can't see everything sometimes, so report in if something (like contact or that incorrectly charged downed cone) was missed and follow up if action may be warranted. It sucks to throw paper about stuff but sometimes that's only way to get things fixed in the cases where something happened in a blind spot or a missed area. The worst is to let something like those minor little car-to-car bumps go and then get mad after the 5th time someone has hit you for example - they might've had more serious action taken against them before it ever came to that if things were reported as they happened. Of course keep in mind that courtesy counts and you definitely don’t want to be “that guy” so use it only when the incident matters or will matter later on in aggregate of course.
3.) Don't get mad at someone post-race in impound (or similar), and if you get mad set a time of "X" min to return after you can both cool off mentally. I've had to learn that one the hard way myself as a competitor, too fiery and emotional a driver sometimes (just a weakness I have to fight). 2nd time I got mad post-race with someone I saw the same things start to happen but got smart and told the other driver "look, we're both getting mad let's regroup in 15-20min so we can cool off" and upon resumption of the conversation it was much more productive resulting in both of us understanding each other’s side of the incident and leaving with ways it could be avoided in the future. Doing things like this will help build your reputation as someone who is calm and collected in an intense sport even if you aren’t always so perfectly calm and cool. It may help on the next close call that you need to go your way to have that positive reputation factor.
4.) Try and make sure your car is compliant well ahead of time. Do things like weigh your car before the event starts (volunteer to help setup the scales if needed – bonus brownie points!), try and get your dyno done early and re-check it as the weather changes where needed and available, and so on. Avoid leaving car compliance to chance wherever you can. And try and leave a reasonable margin for measurement errors and/or things like weather or whatever else influencing the “yardstick” so to speak. Nearly all officials hate to disqualify someone but it does have to happen for the sake of the sport and the sake of fairness. It doesn’t suck nearly as bad to disqualify the guy that’s sloppy in his prep work or cuts things too close too often, and may start influencing the amount of those close subjective calls you get in your favor in other areas.
5.) When a disqualification or other call doesn’t go your way try to learn what went wrong so it can be avoided in the future. And always remember that courtesy thing. Most officials don’t enjoy having to do that DQ part of the job so please don’t make it worse by beating them up about it. And if a mistake was made try and go about going over that officials head for the correction as adult-like and as above board as you can. If you’ve got the good reputation and good attitude about the situation it isn’t unheard of for an official to help you out on forming an appeal to get the most fair call as possible done by someone higher up and at worst your reputation will proceed you to the next level if there’s any grey area to tilt things in your favor.
Hopefully these little tidbits served as a reminder of some of the things you’re already doing correctly, and maybe hopefully you picked up on some other item or nuance that will help you as well. Even in your off time enjoying other sports or enjoying other aspects of life there are things that you can apply to your racing efforts to improve your racing results and of course vice-versa it works out as well.
Be safe out there first and foremost but also remember this is supposed to be fun too!