One of my favorite stories of all time on Gearbox Magazine is that of Jim Graham. In 2006, he watched the epic gearhead movie Dust to Glory and said to himself, “I gotta do that.” Then he went out and did it. It’s a story so good, Jalopnik asked me if they could run it too. Their syndicated story got more comments that week than the original got pageviews in a month. It was a lesson in things you don’t do again. Some things you should do again, though; Like keep in touch with inspiring gearheads like Jim Graham and the Desert Dingo team.
Jim was onboard for the follow up and told me a little bit about what they’re looking at in 2013. “I’ve just floated this idea to a couple of guys on the team,” he began, “but what we’re looking at is this full race season and hopefully a TV show. Then 2014 we’d just take the car out on ‘signature’ races – the USA 500, Vegas to Reno, Mint 400, and the NORRA 1000.” Jim’s even got his eye on possibly doing the Mongol Rally in 2014. If anybody’s going to pull off such a schedule, Desert Dingo will.
By the way, Jim also mentioned he loves our Excite Rally Raid sponsorship story. “We do a lot of that on a slightly lower level,” he said, “but the goals of increasing value to sponsors is pretty much the same.” He suggested maybe our second interview might cover things grassroots teams can do to interest sponsors. Desert Dingo has a 19 page sponsor presentation Jim usually shares after a compelling pitch email. On top of running a complete race season, he’s even actually debated doing some sort of seminar “So you want to get some sponsors.” What a guy!
2011 CLASS CHAMPIONS
Looking back, what’s the biggest accomplishment since we last spoke in May 2011? “We were Class Champions in 2011 racing the full Valley Off Road Racing Association (VORRA) series. That was cool. We won a 24 hour endurance race. We were bonkers by the end of that one.”
“Overall, we’ve done well in desert races and held our own in short course racing, which the car really isn’t designed to excel in. We took second in season points for 2012, or, as I prefer to call it, ‘First Loser.'” (Sorry Eric. – bd)
TOO MANY MISTAKES
When asked about the biggest obstacle Desert Dingo overcame in recent years, Jim reported, “We made too many mistakes. It was like the wheels came off the race program at our first short course race in 2012. We broke a spindle and a wheel went flying off the course. We shredded alternator belts every moto. The car was smoking like a hibachi because we were burning through valve cover gaskets. We lost a 10-hour desert race by 90 seconds when the top three cars crossed the finish line within a minute and a half of each other.”
He enlisted the help of a process engineer – Khaled Mabrouk with Reducor. “Khaled spent a ton of time just watching everything we did; How we worked on the car, what tools we used, how we packed for a race, how we set up our pit, what each person did during a pit stop – everything. The recommendations he came back with changed how we race. None of it would surprise a pro team, but for us it was a revelation. We are remarkably more efficient in prepping the car, packing, managing logistics for a team that’s usually about 10-12 people. We’ve shaved minutes off our pit stops. It’s made a huge difference.”
With another year of seat time under their belts, Desert Dingo is more seasoned and realistic. Jim told me, “When we first started, we figured we’d take off road racing by storm. Four years later, I know there’s a lot you learn only by getting out there and racing. Breaking the car. Fixing it. And racing more. I can look at a new Class 11 and say ‘Oh yeah, we tried that back in 2009.’ There’s always something to learn from other teams. And what I do now is think ‘Ok, if I’m so good, how would I beat myself?’ If that makes sense.”
Above is a photograph of a bunch of tools on a green plastic table. This was one of Khaled’s recommendations. He watched how Desert Dingo worked on the car at the house and in the pits and noticed one of the team’s inefficiencies was each member having his or her own toolbox. “We each knew our toolboxes inside and out, but if we went looking for a wrench or something from someone else’s toolbox, we spent a lot of time rummaging,” Jim recollected.
Khaled recommended they create a common toolbox just for their most often used tools. Then he said “Arrange the tools on a table next to where you’re working on the car so they’re within easy reach.” The rule, he said, was “If you take a tool from the table, you return it to the exact same place immediately when you’re done with it.” Jim says that took some “reinforcement,” but after a short while, everyone got the hang of it and the team wasted far less time looking for wrenches and such. Then Khaled told them to take a picture of the tools on the table, laminate the photo, and stick it in the common toolbox.
“The significance of that,” Jim told me, “is we could enlist someone who is hanging out with us and wanting to help. I could say ‘Here’s the tool box and table. Here’s the photo. Make the tools in this tool box look like that photo.’ They didn’t need any mechanical experience, but it was a tremendous help to us because it allowed us to focus on other things.” Not a bad idea, is it?
“Same goes for driver/codriver swaps. Each team member has a role and we have roles for folks who are hanging out with us. The driver and co-driver who’ve been in the car help the new driver and co-driver get buckled in. While they’re doing that, they’re briefing the new driver and co-driver on what to expect on the course. We have two experienced people doing fueling. We have an experienced person holding a fire extinguisher. We have someone (no experience required) moving from wheel to wheel checking and tightening lug nuts. They are also inspecting the wheels for major dents. If they find one, they alert an experienced person and that person takes it from there. Another person opens the engine compartment looking for leaks or funny sounds. If they find something, they report it to an experienced person.”
PROCESS & LOGISTIC DOCUMENTATION
Jim shared a recent Desert Dingo logistics plan with me. They do one for each race so everyone knows what’s going on at any given time during race weekend. I’m fairly used to such things after several years working as rally service crew, but I suspect it’s a lot more comprehensive for the Baja 1000. Out of respect for the team, I’m not sharing it here, suffice to say, if you’ve got people coming together to support your race team, think about getting them an easy-to-understand document in advance with contact details, maps and directions, a basic schedule of what to expect when/where, and the like. If you have a competitive strategy for the event in mind, that might come in handy too.
Desert Dingo also has a detailed, 15-page process document. At a top level, Jim tells me it’s broken down like this:
- BETWEEN RACES/PRE-DEPARTURE RACE PREP
- IMMEDIATE PRE-DEPARTURE
- ON-SITE / PRE-RACE
- PIT STOP
- POST RACE
Each level has the same sub-sections:
- front end
- fuel system
- tools/parts/in-car equipment
On top of that, they have packing lists, which are equally thorough. Jim keeps all this stuff in an indestructible 3-inch thick aluminum binder that he keeps on him at all times during the event. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.
“Next milestones are March 16-17, when we do our first short course race of the season. We’re going to be working on getting the hole shot (we’re not very good at that) and while the car isn’t set up to really be competitive at short course racing, we hope to hold our own on season points until we hit our first desert race of the season – the Yerington 300 – May 25-27. It’s snowed at Yerington during the race the last two years. I can’t wait.”
You can connect with Jim and the entire team at DesertDingo.com. Don’t let them be too modest. They make Class 11 look awesome even without radio controlled, flying DSLR rigs.