Simple Steps To Managing Your Team Better
By Tom Martin
October 26, 2016
Just to be clear, every racer has a team. The "team" might be you. Period. It might be you and a friend, or you and anyone you can find to help at the track. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, it might be a full complement of mechanics and engineers on a professional arrive-and-drive team. There are many options in between those two extremes.
Regardless of the size and skill level conveyed by the word "team", we talk to a lot of racers who are, to avoid sugar-coating it, mismanaging their teams. Or, at least, they might be mismanaging their teams, but they don't know. The starting point for mismanagement is not having clear goals, or even understanding what the goals might be.
Of course, the context for your team goals are your personal goals as a racer. Where are you trying to be in 5 years? What do you want to accomplish in the upcoming year? What are you trying to do in this next race? Is there a clear path from the next race to your 5 year goal, or do you have to learn and adjust and figure it out?
Figuring this stuff out is harder than it looks, but the off season is a great time to think about it. Do you have the right team? The right size, the right talent? Are you using them for the right things?
How Your Team Can Help
If you have some personal goals, even vague goals, in mind, you can then proceed to think about what your team can do for you. Which is to say, to think about your goals for your team. The simple point we're making is that it is really hard to manage your team well if you don't know what they are supposed to do, so you have to start with team goals.
The breakdown, in our experience, is that many amateur racers aren't clear on what their team can do or should do. It isn't reasonable for you to ask your team to teleport you to Paris for lunch with Alain Prost if teleportation doesn't exist as a technology. So, with the vagueness about what teams can do and what they are good for, we present a list of the best uses of teams for amateur racers:
1. Your team gives you more track time. Let's face it, cars break. Drivers also crash cars. If you have a properly-sized team, they may fix your car quickly (sometimes in the pits during practice or qualification) and that will allow you to complete more races on a given weekend. It will also mean fewer races missed because it is taking months rather than days to repair your car.
2. Your team lets you focus on driving skill. If you are the person in charge of tire pressures, alignment, tire mounting, fuel system repair, clutch replacement, etc., then you are under the car in a puddle of oil when you could be reviewing video and data. Don't be that guy under your car.
3. Your team makes you a better driver. In addition, even if you aren't fixing the car, if you don't have driver team-mates or a coach, you may not have someone to critique you line on video or do data overlays to find your weak spots. It helps to have the right team-mates and right coaches, but we've been surprised how often something is better than nothing.
4. Your team makes it easy to do testing. Almost always, knowing a track is a big factor separating the top drivers from the next group back. A great example came in the 2016 SCCA runoffs at Mid-Ohio, where Justin Hille won pretty handily in Spec Miata, in part because Mid-Ohio is his home track. If you are running a track you've never seen, this is obvious. But even when you've run a track, there is almost always something to learn until you're at the multi-hundred lap stage (which is rare). Your team can help you split the costs of testing and limit your time away from work by handling logistics, so that you arrive a week or a month later with some idea of what you're doing.
5. Your team helps you get set-up closer to perfect. You might be a good driver and you may be able to work on car repairs. But are you also a set-up expert? Because if you aren't, there is a good chance that your car isn't set up as well as it could be and you're throwing away valuable time. Having an engineer on your team allows you to focus on providing feedback on car behavior to your engineer, who should have a solid ability to translate that feedback into the right changes on the car.
6. Your team helps you execute your basic setup. Tire pressures are a big thing on many cars. Without at least a small team, it can be difficult to adjust pressures in the middle of practice or record temps and pressures when you finish a session. In between sessions, your team can check alignment, damper adjustments, roll bar settings and other adjustments that your car may allow, but which may be knocked out during sessions on track (or need to be changed for changing conditions).
7. Your team helps with trackside communications. Realistically, having someone call the green flag on both starts and re-starts is a real help, especially for people running a few rows back from the leaders. There are other little communications items that are handy, like reporting other drivers who pass under yellow, calling a red flag and reporting the number of laps left. Some drivers also like the calming influence of a crew chief who can be encouraging.
8. Your team can help with sponsorship. This is an often overlooked goal. Some teams have the ability to raise money for you or help you with the process. Obviously, in more expensive series, this could make the difference between being able to run a season and having to mow the lawn.
9. Your team can help with career management and promotion. Again, not all teams do this, but some can create brand support platforms, provide PR services, run social media campaigns, get videos distributed, book coaching opportunities, help you build industry relationships, develop business plans and guide you on sponsorship.
10. Your team can help manage your cars. Here we're talking about asset management, not set-up, maintenance and repair. In the asset management realm, some teams are able to sell cars, procure cars, arrange financing and get your car rented so you can earn a little income on the side. Your team can also arrange insurance of various types, including crash damage insurance.
There are other things your team can do for you, but our Top 10 list above is a good place to start in thinking through your team plan for 2017.