Anders shares his ideas on organizing rallies in the United States. What issues need to be addressed? Is your favorite rally car a motorcycle? Is the going hourly rate for organizing a rally really less than $1/hr? All this and more in our first rally organizer interview. After this, can you still blame Anders… or applaud him?
What’s your name?Anders Green. Sounds like “Ahnders” or “Onders”. I usually wear a big white cowboy hat when I’m at the rally, so people can find me.
What do you do for a job?
J and W Tools sells nails by the ton to guys that build houses. I work on decisions, direction, technologies, and accounting.
Where are you located?
I’m about 20 minutes outside of Raleigh, NC. I’ve got a garage that does have the luxury of being an extra 6 feet deep, but I’m cursed with a steep driveway. The kind of angle that would be criminal in a place that gets snow.
How many events do you put on each year and what are they?
Working with Amy Feistel, my wife, we put on:
– Sandblast Rally, which had more entries than any other rally in the country for both 2008 and 2009, and so far for 2010 too. We’ve got Jonah Street coming this year, he placed seventh in the Dakar a couple weeks ago.
– Black River Stages, 2009’s second biggest rally, with loads of jumps and night stages
– Rally Tennessee, the biggest, coolest, most rollercoasterery tarmac rally in the country.
Why do you organize rally events?
Mostly I’m an egoist who can’t live outside the spotlight. But even putting that aside, I love the buckets of cash, hanging out with umbrella girls, and all the free time I get.
Ok, really? The rally itself is really fun. That weekend, seeing all your friends, and being part of that adventure, is great. Being a part of something that big, and knowing you had a hand in it coming together is awesome and humbling.
But that’s only “why I do it now”. A different question is “Why did you start organizing rallies?” Well, it’s amazing what you can volunteer for if you wait around long enough. The organizations running rallies in this country exist on a continuum. From smaller groups, where new ideas can get tried out quickly, to larger groups where the sheer mass of opinions and history makes things generally continue in the same direction. Well, quick change in a small group can also mean that a key figure bows out unilaterally. Someone needs to step up or the rally won’t happen. That’s exactly what happened to me. Charles Sherrill, who used to organize Sandblast Rally, got promoted at work, had to focus on his new duties, and couldn’t run the rally anymore. He called me up and said, “Hey, can you take over Sandblast?”
Another event that is kind of in that boat right now is Rally Colorado. Jim Gill and company, who did an amazing job, are moving on. Someone needs to step in and say “Yep! I’ll do it!” and make that rally happen, without waiting for a committee to be formed, a vote to be taken, a poll of the surrounding competitors, and garnering the buy-in of the local rally-cross event co-chairmen. Now, jeez, I’m not saying that there should be a hostile takeover, that’s missing the point completely. I’m saying someone needs to put their cowboy hat on and say “Damn straight we’re gonna have a rally next year, and I’m gonna make it happen. What do **I** have to do?” And the answer isn’t going to be making a facebook page or worrying about getting a twitter account put together. It’s ordering shirts, finding a trophy supplier, finding a place to store the checkpoint signs, and inventorying them before you put them away, etc.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of organizing an event?
Ahh, I like this question. “Some” of the most challenging. Let’s take a few things off the pile and and put them on the not-challenging list. All of the technical rally stuff, that’s in that pile. Route books, schedules, all that. The difficult part is people and perseverance. Fully half of the work that goes into a rally has nothing to do with racing at all. It’s the same stuff that you would do if you were putting together a big “let’s build a playground for the kids” volunteer day. It’s talking to the mayor, scheduling a time to go see a possible service area, following up with a t-shirt vendor, or making lists of the trophies needed and then approving the proofs.
The perseverance part, for me, comes in after a couple years go by, because all that stuff is interesting once, becomes easier the second time, and then I get bored with it some time after that. Like, say, picking the t-shirt color. I’ve organized about a dozen rallies now… there aren’t any colors left! Although I do have a closet full of rally shirts in a rainbow of flavors, which is handy. So how do I keep things interesting? By examining the very core of what we’re doing out there in the woods, the how and they why. I gave someone this example the other day: What if baseball had five bases? Would that be more fun to play? What are the basic assumptions of our sport? Why do we run on 60 seconds? Why do we run street cars? That’s how I ended up being such a proponent of motorcycles. I know some people don’t “count” the bikes as equal to the cars, which is total bullshit. Ask the control worker who’s doing the time cards what the difference is. Ask the spectators who come to see the bikes what the difference is. Ask the clerks who sell them gas. Ask the local hotel that rents them rooms. Last year I saw a guy pull in to the final control after riding thirteen miles on just a steel rim in the back, because he wanted to finish the rally. Does it get any more rally than that??!!??
One part that always is difficult is finding enough volunteers. I don’t call them “workers”, that sounds, well, like a lot of work. There are so many distractions now that getting someone’s attention is hard, and getting them to commit to spending a whole day doing your event is even tougher. So that shifts part of the focus of the event to the volunteers. What can you do to make it more fun for them? The racers will already be having what would literally be illegal amounts of fun. So let’s remember that, by numbers, the volunteers are the largest group of people that we need to please.
How long have you been organizing events?
It’s such a continuum. I started rallying in 1999 at Ski Sawmill, which was a “national licensing school”. I can remember helping with some of the lectures when I went back next year. I also started assisting with the Novice Competitor Orientation back in 2000 too. Then did the points for the SE region, then did the route book for a bunch of events, and so on. Sandblast Rally 2006 was the first rally that had my name on the bill. I’ve been the chairman of nine rallies since 2006, so that’s been a very accelerated and constant learning curve. The ideas we come up with or lessons we learn can be put to use in a matter of months, we don’t have to wait till next year.
What is the greatest reward for what you do?
It’s a feeling of accomplishment that this huge circus, hundreds of people, millions of dollars of equipment, over hundreds of square miles, is actually happening. And seeing people’s faces when they come off stage and knowing you had a part in making that happen. That’s what this sport is really about, fun and excitement. Without a regular dose of that I’d be sunk.
How did you first get started in rally?
Ok, fluff question. I bought a fast car, third generation twin turbo RX7 R2. This was after putting 200,000 miles on my trusty Geo Prizm. After a couple months I could actually relax while driving it, and I went looking for something to do with it. A little internet research and I found out about autocross. But, that was over for the season. But, there was a TSD road rally, so I went off to that. My friend and coworker Jeff Denton built a rally computer and went off to it. That was the beginning, and if I had gone looking a couple earlier, I would have turned into an autocross weenie.
After a year or so, while reading the beloved and now defunct rally-l mailing list, I came across a deal to get a rally truck for $3500, spares and all. Bought it and was in brisk TSD the next day and at a rally within a month or so. We drove the race truck to the rally with all the spares and tools in the back. It was awesome. I didn’t even know how to change a thermostat back then.
Tell us about the rally car/truck that you look for in events.
You forgot to add “bike” to your list. *grin* The last time I can remember looking for a particular person or car was Stig Blomqvist back at Maine 2000. Since I’ve started organizing, it’s more “taking care of the whole family”. That’s why I’m at the out control at the start of the rally to say hello and give a thumbs up to every team, from the fastest open car to the lowliest stock class car. Every one of them is in for 100 miles of adventure at the limit of their equipment and budget and every one of them deserves that I am checking in on them.
What is a “New” idea you are trying this year if any?
Ha! I see you appreciate that there are few truly new ideas. Most of this has been tried before. And most of it has failed, which is why its not around any more. I love new ideas, and I love new thoughts on why something didn’t work before but might now or might here. Oh, that reminds me of this: One of the most misunderstood aspects of this sport by the country-wide community is that of standardization. Each rally has situations that are unique to that area. Each has different history, a different volunteer base, and a different political structure. You can’t make them all the same, it just won’t work, any more than you could successfully bring those ridiculous New Jersey left hand turns (where you turn right then cross) into Denver and expect it to work.
Anyway, of my recycled “new” ideas that have been reevaluated for now, text messaging on a mass basis is the latest. NASA Rally Sport has a volunteer database that we’ve been developing. The testing has all been done over here at the east coast events. Now I can send text messages out to just one stage team, or the whole volunteer group, with “Stage 1 started” or “15 minute delay” or “first-car 5, second car 9 by 11 seconds, third car25 by 18 seconds”. It’s going to be awesome for a marshal that’s standing out at an intersection with no scanner. They need to opt-in, of course. But that same system lets anyone create an account at NASARallySport.com and subscribe to text message updates. So spectators, crew, racers, your mom, they can all sign up for it. I can choose between volunteers and subscribers to send different messages to whoever needs to get them, even breaking it down to “Just send this to the course cars” or “just send this to the control volunteers of stage three”. Why not use Twitter? It can’t close the loop and get me demographics, and I also can’t control who gets which messages securely.
Another new part of the volunteer database is the “kiosk check in” we have. When a volunteer shows up at registration, they click on their name. It then prints out a list of everyone else on their team, with all their cell phone numbers and ham call signs, and directions to the time and place where they need to meet up. So every volunteer gets a customized-for-them itinerary of where to be and what to do. It should really go a long way to making them more confident that they know what to do, and increase their enjoyment of the event, and keep them more connected if there are any problems.
We’ve also the Spec WRX idea in progress, and another entry-level class idea brewing. There are two kinds of “class making” rules: pie slicers and “pie-sizers”. A pie slicers just takes your existing pie (competitive field of cars) and cuts up who’s racing against who in a different way. Those have very little potential for impact compared to the other kind, which actually change the size of the pie. Both of these projects are pie-sizers, making the pie bigger, looking at cars that wouldn’t be legal to compete right now and figuring out a way to get them in.
What are the good and bad sides to this decision?
The bad side is I could decide I’m going to give a ten pound gold bar to every competitor at the start line, and some of them would complain about the weight!
Where would people go to get more information about your events?
But for the most instant info, I also take **drum roll** PHONE CALLS! 919.697.5282 during reasonable east coast hours. It’s pretty amazing what can get straightened out in about three minutes on the phone.
Who is the average person you see at your events?
Normal people running on their own dime.
Who would you like to see more of?
People that want to have fun more than they think rallying is going to be a career for them.
In your opinion has rally gotten better or worse is recent years? Why?
There are so many aspects you could look at and each one could be yes or no. Like, documentation. Sandblast puts out Supp Regs that are FIA style, so about 25 pages, and posts them about 100 days in advance of the rally. That’s a huge improvement. Other series average about 34 days in advance, and that hasn’t changed much in the four years I’ve been tracking it, so, no improvement. Media coverage at events, that’s definitely worse. Go back fifteen years and look at the old media sheets and check the quantity of updates there were for the national series. Of course, we get pictures now, so that’s an improvement. Overall information available is better than it was, the sport is slightly less secret than it was.
Participation-wise it hasn’t really changed recently. Lay a graph of rally participation on top of a graph for the DOW and you’ll get a pretty good match. People race when they have money. The addition of stage notes some years back forever changed the expectations of the customer base, and that remains an issue. Just like when people started expecting more than a wooden bench seat in their car and niceties like a roof. You can’t go backward from that.
What do you think of recce?
Recce is like a margarita. Do I love margaritas? Yes. Is it a good idea to have one with every meal? Nooooo. Just like drinking, too much recce has the potential to push rally over the cliff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against recce. I organize Rally Tennessee, and it has full two-pass open recce, has for years. That’s more recce than most people who are very pro-recce. But recce usually adds a day to the rally. Say a person does four-five rallies a year (which is more than most). How many rally people do you know who have an extra week of vacation? How many rally people do you know who are saying “Oh, yes, I’m already going to all the rallies I can afford, and I STILL have a week of vacation that I don’t know what to do with?” Recce is an important skill to learn, it can be fun, it’s good to have it at some events, but making it a standard feature of rallies (like notes have become) might be the nail in rally’s coffin. While there are some ways to reduce the cost of notes, there’s no way to remove time from recce.
On a world scale, WRC with a rotating schedule, worse. Nearly impossible to build the infrastructure for that level of event and then mothball it for a year. Glad they’re changing it. The arrival of IRC, improvement. It made everyone realize that FIA dictates wouldn’t work anymore, they had to work like partners with the various teams and other stakeholders.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations?
A couple different answers to this.
Answer One: it doesn’t matter, because they are all losing money. “All of them, Anders? Really?” If you include this one important fact, yes, I think so. And that is, if you wanted to find a person to organize an event, that needed to liaison with several different governmental bodies, negotiate contracts for land use, develop graphics and logos and posters, find a volunteer army and develop a training program for them, organize a couple parties, deal with complaints from local townsfolk, and manage the risks involved with motorsports while signing their name up to a $10,000,000 insurance policy, and on top of all that, front $10,000 or so of their own money… if you put that job description out for bid, what do you think it would cost you? That kind of person, in a normal employment scenario, will be making $70,000 to $100,000 annually depending on the market. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but not if you re-read what I just wrote. The average salary for people that “just” plan meetings is $51,262, and they’re doing about one of the eight things I mentioned above. And there’s very little chance someone is going to get crushed by two tons of high speed steel at a convention. Well, except maybe the Steel Workers Convention. Anyway, every rally needs to do these things, and that’s the “worth” of the effort. So in a pretty real sense, unless the rally can pay out the value of that effort, they’re really in the hole for that 70-100k. Fortunately, we have people willing to donate amazingly large amounts of time to make these things happen. Does that mean that I think everyone all the way down the chain, should be “getting paid”? No, the actual weekend of the rally is pretty fun, which is a reward in itself, and if you attempted to pay marshals a wage it would turn the whole thing into a job, which would suck. I just try to give volunteers lots of food, beer if I can, and all the admiration and respect I can find.
Answer Two: In a different sense, I think that a reasonable “reward” for organizing a rally would be clearing enough money that the organizer could go run, say, two rallies. So one person puts in a bunch of effort so that fifty other racers can come and have fun. His reward is to go run a couple rallies. Jeez, it’s hard to say **that** wouldn’t be fair.
Answer Three: Yes, run it as a for-profit entity. I think running a rally with the mindset that you have “customers” (and in a very real sense you do, and not just the racers) and that you have to be conscious of what product you’re delivering, what is an appropriate price point, what is the level of satisfaction delivered, and the realization that you have to **sell** that product to the various parties, I think it makes for the best event possible. Add that you know that you’re selling to friends and, I feel at least, that the ethical compass of our community is strong enough to keep things right.
One part of this discussion that often comes up is “But if we’re non-profit then “sponsorships” can be donations that are tax free!” Meh. A corporation doesn’t make money by “buying” a tax break that’s way smaller than the money spent buying it. What’s better is if the event actually can provide the full value of that sponsorship. If it can’t, then you won’t be moving a lot of those sponsorships anyway.
Answer Four: I feel the topic is a little silly in that it’s pretty lopsided. For instance, the first time I organized the Sandblast Rally, it “made” about $170. That first year I kept track of how many hours were involved. I haven’t done this since then; I learned my lesson quickly enough, it was about 420 hours to do everything. Break that number down: 420 hours is 10.5 weeks of 8 hour days. So that’s like going to work every day for 2.5 months. That included driving, meetings, web stuff, documents, technology, training, measuring, everything. So that works out to about 40 cents an hour. Let’s say the rally “made” $3000. I just can’t imagine someone coming up to me and saying “Hey, thanks for the great weekend, I had an awesome time, but jeez, you’re almost making minimum wage. You could have lowered the entry fees by $60!” Really? Really??? Then let’s not even talk about the surprise $5,000 bill for the chicanes that got busted. So this answer is two part: the rally needs to do the best job it can of “making money” because the issues that come up can be very large, and that all the organizers are already volunteering their butts off anyway.
Answer Five: Final answer: If rally organizers could put on a well-priced rally (and anyone can check my supps to see where I think that is… it’s lower than just about everywhere) and clear $10,000… how many more rallies do you think there would be in this country?
Post Script Answer: Everything I’ve said does not address that competitors SHOULD still “shop around”. Organizers should be responsible “businesses” with their pricing, and competitors should be savvy “customers” with their purchasing. If you buy an entry, and notes, and recce, and you spend $1600 doing that, well, I’d like to invite you to you come to one of my rallies for a fraction of that.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing to be addressed by the rally community today?
Retention. Over 40% of “rally drivers” do one event and then are never seen again. Co-drivers are even worse. Every other problem we have in rally is practically meaningless next to this. Some displacement limit being 2.2 or 2.4 liters, a minimum weight being 100 pounds more or less, B pillar trim being required or not, does your event web site have a built in twitter feed… compare all that to people trying the sport and never coming back. Think back to all the rally discussions of the last, oh, six months and you’ll see how trivial most of them are compared to this. This is a tiny sport, there have been, on average, just under 30 rallies in the whole COUNTRY per year for the last five years. Nothing is more important that getting new people involved and keeping the people we have. Any group not looking at that is missing the boat.
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
Well, if I were really in charge I’d just tell people they had to rally more. First is to recognize that rally is a very complicated and difficult sport. This is of course part of the appeal to those of us in the sport, but it is also a huge entry barrier. The second it to realize that most of the conventional wisdom about building a rally car is completely wrong for a majority of the participants. If more than half of people who ever rally run only two rallies or less, why does the community tell them they need do the kind of prep needed to make a car last twenty rallies? The third thing is I don’t know what all the other reasons are behind this, so I need to collect data. Why do people leave? No one in this country has anything but anecdotal stories. So, data first. Analysis second. Action third, if the data reveals anything.
What is your favorite WRC event? Why?
Norway. Awesome design work, great docs.
What’s your favorite regional rally event? Why?
I’ll admit it’s Sandblast. Why? The pine forests down there are so peaceful and beautiful, and the swoosh of the pine needles as you drive on them. I just feel happy any time I’m down there.
What’s your favorite Group B car? Why?
Used to be the Lancia Stratos. Now I’m feeling the Ford RS200.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Without question, Ben $locum. Ok, that’s just a suck up answer because my life won’t be complete till he codrives for me. Real answer: Andrew Havas.
Tell us about a time when a volunteer went above and beyond the call of duty and saved the day.
JD Ackley and his friends lifted the entire back end of my truck out of a huge hole one time. They came out of nowhere after a four way intersection I botched… when I lifted.
Where do you go for your rally tech online?
For building and fabrication, only rally-anarchy.com has a sizable amount of activity.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
I don’t have a rally dream, I have a rally scheme, and slowly I pull the pieces together… **evil grin**
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
Don’t try to please everyone, and don’t pretend you can to others. You can’t do it and you’ll only make yourself tired. So stick to some simple principles and base your decisions on those. Expect criticism and complaints, they are on their way. Don’t let them stop you from doing what you know is good idea.