What good is a checklist?

What good is a checklist?

Posted by Bob Bartley on Aug 8th 2015

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That quote has been attributed to multiple sources and no matter who first uttered it, it’s true. It’s just as true as “what goes up, must come down” as it relates to our gravity-bound sport of choice. Sometimes it can be fun to ‘wing-it’, fly by the seat of your pants, or be spontaneous. Racecar prep, tech inspection and competition don’t really fall into that category for me, for a multitude of reasons. This article aims at reinforcing and helping improve the process for those of you that are planners, and to encourage those of you that are not, to give it a try. Save the spontaneity for date night.

Let’s think about race prep. Do you know anyone that built a race car or bought safety equipment only to find out that it didn’t meet rules requirements? Had they put themselves in front of the rule book for their chosen event before making their purchases, they may have saved a lot of time, money and frustration by using the rules as a checklist. It's a simple concept.

Identify the requirements, fulfill the requirements and then put the end result to use. Here’s a real –life example. After successfully completing our last race, we decided to move up to the next speed class. Was it as simple as pushing the gas pedal down a little harder next time? Nope. While that can be the case in some speed divisions that contain multiple speed classes, in our case we were moving into a new division. After cracking open the rule book, I quickly found that there was substantial work to do in the realm of safety. The faster classes have higher standards for fire suppression, rollover protection, fuel system design, and more. Rules = racecar prep.

What comes next? Tech inspection. You’ve prepared your car and personal safety equipment according to the rule book so you should be fine, right? Maybe. Many race governing bodies have tech sheets available for the participants to use as…you guessed it…a checklist. If they don’t , ask them to start providing one. A typical tech sheet has crucial elements from the rule book and includes visual confirmation that standards are met and that the condition of the items being inspected are good. If you use a tech sheet properly before you enter tech inspection, you should breeze right through. Don’t kid yourself or cut corners. Tech inspectors play an important role in your safety and protecting the event overall. Ultimately your safety is your responsibility. You don’t want to tear up your racecar, hurt yourself or worse yet, hurt someone else. Tech sheet = tech inspection prep.

Finally, it’s time to compete. Just as none of us know anyone, let alone ourselves, that ever bought or built something only to find it wasn’t going to meet requirements, none of us have EVER forgotten anything or been unnecessarily distracted during competition. OK, that’s not totally true. I’ll use myself as a real-life example to give you a really compelling reason to create a competition-day checklist. While in the staging lanes I have a bad habit of getting distracted with “did I remember to do everything” before launching the car into competition. After screwing up a couple of starts and failing to concentrate while driving, I had to do something. As soon as I returned to the pits, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down what had just gone through my mind on the start line. I put them in the proper order and taped it to my dashboard. It was literally that simple.

  1. Cameras on
  2. Belts tight
  3. Windows up
  4. For the Texas Mile, that was it; I kid you not. Just simply knowing those things were done gave me the peace of mind to think about two things and only two things, my launch and my shift points. It immediately yielded results because my mind was clear. Launches were improved and we picked up over 5 mph in top speed. We consistently ran these improved speeds for the rest of the event.

Our checklist for open road racing is a bit more involved but equally as effective. The wait line for open road racing is long and there’s a lot to remember. Most of the wait time is spent walking around, chatting with the other competitors and trying to remember what you need to do once you climb into the car. The list can be completed as we enter the car and begin to creep toward the start line.

  1. Helmet strapped/Hans on
  2. Belts on, tight
  3. Radio check
  4. Timers setup
  5. Course notes/pen (if there’s a navigator) – Navigation device on, synced to satellites
  6. Gloves on (by now, we are about 5-6 cars from our start)
  7. Activate cameras
  8. (Tech provides verbal status of road condition/cars off) then, windows up
  9. Reset GPS

Now we are sitting on the line, watching the timing/start lights. Mind is clear and focused on four things in the order they occur.

  1. Activate the timers at the moment the timing light goes green
  2. Get a clean launch off the starting line
  3. Shift points
  4. The first turn

You might ask, did this help? Yes. I can’t overstate how important it is to have your mind clear when you are about to drive, and while driving at speed. Thinking only about your driving line, maintaining speed and the occasional check of instruments is how we want it. When I ran the Silver State Classic Challenge in 2012, I ran solo. I had spent countless hours reviewing the course, memorizing “the Narrows”, and it paid huge dividends. I planned and was prepared. When I reached the Narrows, a winding cut through steep rock walls, I literally was able to tell myself “120mph entry to a long off-camber right hand entry, left, right, left, right, right, left , left blind exit picking up throttle early, to full throttle as you reach the crest”. It was a magical feeling. So the takeaway of that little story is, Pre-race checklist = higher probability of a safe and enjoyable race.

If you aren’t convinced yet, think about it from a financial perspective. I have friends that race in Mexico occasionally and what if they forget something? How cheap, easy and fast do you think it would be to get something sent internationally, or find what you need in another country, out in the desert? Not cheap and not easy. Fast would be based on how much money you can throw at the shipping company and even then you may not have any guarantees. We ship a lot of items internationally and I can tell you that if you need a pair of SFI gloves, a helmet visor, speed rated tire or countless other items, you’re probably out of luck trying to find them anywhere near where the race is being held. Comprender amigo? Make a list, double-check it and it will help.
I promise.