Michael Taylor has been involved with his local event, the Prescott Rally, for eighteen years. This year, Prescott is the final round of the United States Rally Championship (USRC), so there’s a lot to do in the few short weeks remaining before competitors start arriving in town. Fortunately, Michael had a couple minutes to spare for an interview.
Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
I live in Prescott, Arizona and am an architect.
What got you interested in organizing rally events?
When I started having kids I couldn’t afford to race so helping out and then organizing kept me involved.
What event(s) do you organize? How long have you been running it/them?
I only organize the Prescott Rally but also have been involved in events such as Gorman Ridge, Rim of the World and Rally New York as steward or worker. I have been involved with Prescott since 1992 and was on the organizing team by 1993.
Share a bit of trivia about your event? Something interesting not everyone would know?
Prescott was a National event during the SCCA days and had TV coverage on ESPN 2 during that time. Regulars here included Paul Choiniere, Henry Joy, Carl Merrill with guest appearances by Mark Lovell and Jason Priestly. Mark Lovell commented to me at the Crown King service (around 2000) that he loved the texture of the roads in Prescott (we used to run some much rougher roads) because a championship with only smooth gravel roads was not a meaningful championship.
Why do people go rally? Why do they stop?
Rally is an addictive form of motorsports that, once people get in to, is hard to get out of their system. Just look at all the long time rallyists that still come to events to help or compete. Rally is also made up of great people who will compete fiercely on stage but will lend any assistance off stage. With this type of motorsport we rely heavily on each other as things happen out on stage and our fellow competitors may be our only assistance. It bonds us all together. As for why people stop rallying, I think the reasons are pretty typical; money, kids, jobs. Rally is not an easy sport for a family to support and can be tough for competitors to continue without that support.
What’s the most challenging part of being a rally organizer? The most rewarding?
The absolute hardest part of organizing a rally is feeling personally responsible for each competitor, volunteer and spectator’s safety. Sometimes organizers are misunderstood, but when you put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel when someone is hurt at their event you begin to understand. The most rewarding part is having my organizing team work so well together and to let them hear the kudos at the end of a great event.
Tell us about a time something went wrong during the rally and how you resolved the issue.
Organizing a rally is all about flexibility. When you are closing miles of public roads and trying to control the public something always goes wrong. I use the duck analogy a lot, the one where the duck looks calm and happy on the surface of the water but when you look below the surface it is paddling for all it’s worth. That is the life of an organizer.
Problems that we typically encounter are workers that don’t show up, members of the public that don’t want to be inconvenienced, inclement weather and such. One problem we had at Prescott one year was when we decided to run the 22 mile Perkinsview stage. We realized that if I led up the stage in the ‘0’ car I couldn’t lead back out on the Firstview stage quick enough to not hold up the event. The solution was to sweep Perkinsview in reverse while the ‘00’ car came the opposite direction. We were in constant radio communication and pulled it off. The event went off smoothly and the competitors never knew we had a problem. A successful resolution of a problem is one where the competitors never know about it.
How many entries did your event have last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
We had 22 entries last year. ’08 was 29, ’07 was 22, ’06 was 26 and ’05 was 32 so I’m not really sure what the trend might be. We are hoping for 30 this year.
How might a change of +/-5 entries affect your event? What about +/-10 entries?
Most organizers have a break even point. A minimum number of cars that then need to cover the basic expenses. A entries rise above that it allows more amenities to be added to the event. A rise of 5 entries may allow us to pay for some expenses that are out of pocket and have a nicer awards banquet. An increase of 10 or more might allow prize money or an entry rebate.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations? How much money should an organizer make?
I don’t think rally in the US is to a point where rallies can be “for profit”. I think organizers should make what the market will bear and right now that is next to nothing.
Aside from entry fees, do you have any other means of funding the event? (Merchandising, advertising, etc.)
Our only other funding sources are our great sponsors such as our event sponsor, Scott Roofing of Phoenix, Arizona. In addition, BikeBandit.com, Albins Off Road Gears, MSI and others offer help. We do sell t-shirts at the event but they aren’t really a profit center.
How important are [vehicle] classes?
Separating cars into performance potential classes is crucial to the success of any racing series. Not everyone wants to compete at the same level.
How does recce affect your event?
We have offered two-pass recce at Prescott for several years and it has been a terrific addition. Not only have the teams been safer having seen the roads ahead of time, but it is an opportunity for them to take team members onto the stages and see the roads they will race on as well as the natural beauty of this area.
You create your own pacenotes. Why?
Prescott created our own notes a couple of years ago to help reduce costs for competitors who were having to pay $150 or more for prepared notes.
What are your thoughts on spectators?
Love ‘em/hate ‘em. Spectators bring a great a great energy to an event and spread a rally awareness when they go home but having them on stage adds a significant amount of work for the organizing team.
Does your event provide for organized spectating? Why/Why not?
Prescott has organized spectating at the Super Stage at our fairgrounds. We have not been able to provide adequate access and facilities for spectators out on stage though.
How do you involve the local community with your event?
We utilize local businesses whenever we can. This includes printing, shirts, trophies, signs, EMT’s, lodging, banquet and others. We also advertise the event locally and utilize the local HAM radio club.
How do you involve the global rally community online?
Our event’s results go live on the internet within minutes of each car completing a stage. Press releases and information is sent to a global array of media outlets, many who are internet based.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
Declining entries is one of the biggest issues rally faces right now.
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
Prescott has condensed our schedule and as mentioned above created our own notes to help keep our event affordable for as many competitors as we can. I think keeping rally affordable and keeping interesting stage roads available is crucial.
What kind of help would you need?
Rally needs young, enthusiastic people who want to be involved in more than just the competition aspect of the sport.
How do you mitigate environmental concerns about land use for rallies at your events?
We involve all authorities having jurisdiction. We show year after year that our type of event has no negative impact on the roads, and in fact, have shown the roads to be in better condition following the event than before it.
How do you build/maintain a relationship with local land use authorities (city/state/national)?
It takes years. You have to be consistent and accurate in all you do. You have to treat these relationships as professionally as any relationship you may develop at work.
How do you participate in the greater rally community the rest the year?
Lately not very much. I was a competitor for years but have sidelined that for economic reasons. I do try to get to nearby events when I can to help out.
Your favorite Group B car?
S1 Evolution 2 Audi, were there others?
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
My rally hero’s include Mark Lovell and Carl Merrill, true gentlemen who are no longer with us.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
The California Rally Series is our “local” club. They support all events in the southwest and have been around forever.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
Cable Rhodes, who at 19 offered to let a 30 year old newbie navigator into his right seat. My kids, Steven and Ashley who have supported me and this sport since they were very young. Steven navigated for me for a couple of years culminating in a P-Stock championship in 2005 in the CRS, a true dream came true moment.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
The organizing team for the Prescott Rally. They are a fantastic group of individuals who have kept this event on track for years without complaint. The competitors almost never see them but this event would not happen without them. They deserve more thanks than I could ever give them.
Who are your sponsors and how have they helped rally in your region?
Scott Roofing, Albins Off Road Gears, MSI, BikeBandit.com. Their support has allowed events like Prescott to continue to offer a great event at an affordable cost. Without these sponsors competitors would have to shoulder all the costs through their entry fees only.
What’s your favorite memory, looking back at the time you’ve spent organizing this event?
Favorite moments for me are the stories that come from the competitors. It may be the winner or from a dnf, the stories are what make the event fun to organize. I love it when my rally family shows up in my town each year too, its like we’re hosting a big party!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
Too many lessons to remember them all. One caveat of the CRS is “you put on a rally for me and I’ll put one on for you”. I’ve carried that torch for 18 years and it has paid dividends back to me that I will be forever grateful for.
Special thanks to Michael Taylor for taking the time to do this interview less than a month before the Prescott Rally. This is our “home” event, here at Gearbox Magazine – we never miss it. We’ll be prowling the stages, service park, and more the weekend of October 1-2, 2010. See you there!
Also, special thanks to Lorne Trezise of FrozenMotionPhotos.com for providing the majority of the images used for this story. Take a moment to visit his site and check out his work. Excellent stuff!