Race Control

On March 2-4, 2018 the three PCA Regions of Hill Country, Maverick, and Lone Star will collaborate once again on the annual event, Carrera of the Americas held at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). The PCA Club Racing event is a highlight activity on the annual calendar.

There are many people who volunteer for background responsibilities. Over the next couple of months before the event, we will interview some of those who work hard so racers can play for the weekend.

Our previous interview with Chris Alverado of ClubRegistration.net told how the registration is performed for an event. This interview will focus on Race Control and Race Communications. We asked Jo Jacobsen, the Race Control and Race Communications lead for the March event some questions about her involvement.

The 2016 race at COTA

LSR: Thanks Jo for doing the interview with us.

Jo: You are very welcome. I am excited to present the world of Race Control.

LSR: How long have you been doing Race Control and Race Communications?

Jo: Since 2006. I started working with longtime Race Control and Race Communications pro Connie VanSchuyver in doing the Logging and EV net. With experience and Connie’s guidance, I grew into the radio communications responsibility with the various track worker teams.

LSR: “Logging” and “EV net?” Please explain.

Jo: Sure. At all track events, all the radio communications are logged on a specific sheet so incidents can be reviewed by stewards. Specific areas of communication are given the “net” suffix for “network”. The EV net is the same as the Safety net. At the smaller tracks control handles all the communications on this net whether it’s a flat tow or a major incident. At COTA they have people in the control room who handle all communications to their people.

Park Place

LSR: Please give us an outline how Race Control and Race Communications manages an event.

Jo: Our primary responsibility is to be in contact with the corner teams. The workers keep us apprised of any situation on the track that is either dangerous or a breach of the PCA Club Racing guidelines such as a spin or off-track incident. Race Control then notifies the safety people – if it is warranted – and keeps the workers in the loop about what is happening.

In the case of an off or spin, we get updates on the car via the corners to make sure they visit the black flag steward. If they don’t, control has the car black flagged to make sure the car comes in. Of course, all communications are recorded in the race event log, which includes all calls when race cars are on the track. (practice, qualifying, and races).

Heading for Turn 1 at COTA

LSR: The co-hosted Hill Country Region, Maverick Region, and Lone Star Region PCA Club Race arrives in early March. How were you notified, and after notification what are the first steps you go through?

Jo: Since I also do the wrangling of the corner workers, I am usually given dates as soon as they are confirmed.

LSR: Please give us an idea about coordinating your role between the various volunteer worker groups, event Chairpersons, ClubReg, Safety, etc.. Lots of players but what is the order of events to make it happen successfully?

Jo: Approximately a month before the event, I send out my first “worker call” – which is the first message to volunteer workers requesting their participation. That goes to the SCCA, PCA, and CVAR workers. Some of the HPDE drivers are also included in this because when not driving their event, they volunteer their time as workers.

This is the time I start planning on the number of workers needed for the grid, starter stand, control and the corners.

From then on, I confirm worker registrations, redo the worker call if needed, and work with Flag One on worker assignments.

LSR: “Flag One?” I can guess what that is, but please explain.

Jo: While I do the worker recruiting, Flag One is in charge of the corner workers. That person makes the final assignments, handles the worker meetings and takes care of any needs they may have during the event. Bryan Gregory is our Flag One for the March 2-4 event.

LSR: Okay, thanks for defining that. Please continue with the first steps you go through for an event.

Jo: A few days before the event I send out an email to all registered workers reminding them of meeting times and where they should be located. We also give a reminder to them to make sure they bring whatever they need to keep themselves comfortable regardless of the weather.

Prepared for all kinds of weather

LSR: So as the lead in Race Control Communications, you’re responsible for making sure all track workers, timing and Race Communications goes smoothly. What are the tasks just before the event?

Jo: I make sure the Corner Books are updated, produce an Ice Report for Flag One, and create the Payroll Reports.

LSR: Jo, some more “inside” jargon we may not be familiar with hearing. “Corner Books?”, “Ice Report?”. Please explain those terms.

Jo: Sure. Corner Books are delivered to each corner. The Books have a place for the workers to sign-in, the event’s schedule, and other miscellaneous info for the workers to reference. An example of reference would be standard hand signals for corner workers to use.

Ice Report is the In Case of Emergency Report. I pull all the workers emergency contacts together for Flag One. He would be the one most likely to respond to any worker that has an issue.

Payroll Report. I create a spreadsheet with all the worker’s names that we use to confirm who showed up each day and make notes for any extra work a person may do. It just makes it easier, faster, and more accurate when writing the checks. Plus it gives the region’s treasurer a written log of how the region’s money gets spent.

LSR: Thanks for the explanation! Take us through a race day in Race Control and Race Communications.

Race day

Jo: The day begins at the worker meeting. From there we get on the radio network dedicated to the event to “check in” all the corners, the starter stand, the grid, and Flag One to make sure we have good radio communications.

This is the time the safety people let us know their workers are on station and in radio communication. Once we have everyone on the dedicated race network, the stewards tell us “go 5 minutes on the grid”.

A further explanation of the “5 minutes on the grid”. We give grid the “5 minutes of the grid” call and start the clock. For a race, this is done with the steward’s permission. Next call is “3 minutes on the grid” and finally, we do the “grid one and go” meaning the grid has permission to release cars as soon as they are ready.

This also allows the drivers to do their own personal routine to mentally and physically prepare to take to the track.

For the rest of the race groups, we work with the stewards to keep everything on time. Other than lunch, race control spends the day communicating with the stewards, corner worker stations, the grid, the starter stand, and the safety network.

This is standard procedure for all track race events.

For an HPDE, the 5 minutes might be shortened depending on time, but during a race, we do the real 5 minutes.

2013 HDPE event

LSR: Are you also involved in the other activities on the March 2-4 weekend?

Jo: Race Control may stay on the radio during the various HPDE group runs or switch to logging while someone else does the radio.

LSR: Who else would that be and how is the responsibility handed-off?

Jo: That is called “Cohort in Control”. We always try to have 2 people in control. The second person does the logging and at COTA, also handles the grid. COTA does not have the ability to have the grid on the main net so we use the PCA radios for them. We make sure the safety people are aware of anything critical happening on the track. This person is someone who has some control experience so we keep things moving smoothly and it allows each of us a break when needed. The 2 of us sit next to each other so handing responsibilities back and forth is easy. For example, if my backup gets caught up with the safety people, I can take the log sheets and log while I take calls from the corners.The same works when I need a break from talking, I grab the log sheets and they take over the communication.

LSR: Thanks again for giving us a better understanding of how a race weekend works, and how Race Communications bring it together.

Jo: I thank you so much for the opportunity to enlighten everyone about what really happens in race control during an event.

Thanks to Chris Alvarado and Reynaldo Pagan for the photo contributions in this article.

Front straight