Disclaimer: I’m not claiming I have all the answers, nor am I saying I’m an expert race promoter. I’ve just been around, know a little bit, and would like to pass that info along to anyone and everyone.
First off, thanks to Tiffany Vardell for helping inspire the idea of this article…
I go to a lot of races. A lot. Like, a really really ridiculous amount of races. I’ve been to every National series that races on the east coast, nearly every local series in the southeast, and several local series up north as well. I’ve seen GNCCs that draw nearly 2000 riders, and I’ve seen local races that could fit in my backyard. I’ve heard just about every complaint in the book. Too tight, too fast, too rocky, too rooty, too wet, too dusty, too long, too short, too many people, not enough people, too slick, too many faceslappers, too hot, too cold, too many zebras, got mauled by a cougar. Waa, waa, waaa…. I’ve been helping put on races since 2008, and have even done a few myself. It seems like year after year I learn more and more.
I’ll gladly admit, I don’t have all the answers and there’s people who have been doing this a lot longer than me but I’ve come into it at the right time to see the change. There’s been a lot of change just in the past few years. I’ve watched one local series dwindle from almost 300 riders per race, to 150 or less. At the same time, I’ve watched another grow. Why is that? Well, we’ll delve into that a little later. Back to the change though. Years ago, you would pretty much just walk out into the woods, slap some arrows on some trees, tape off a few corners and call it good enough. You could make it as hard as you wanted. That steep hill, those rocks, that nasty creek crossing? Run it. Deal with it. And you know what? People liked it.
There’s still people today who like that nasty, technical, hard stuff. I do. However, the majority of people, don’t. I understand that. It’s not for everyone. It’s tough on man and machine both. As that’s changed over time, it’s opened the sport up to many more people. While I like that tough stuff, I like seeing more people come to love and enjoy the sport more. So, taming everything down is kind of a necessary evil. You also have to keep in mind that you can see first time, or beginner racers at any time, so you have to be ready for them as well. That’s fine. Everyone has to start somewhere.
With the sport growing like that, so does the behind the scenes stuff away from the track. It used to be that you could make a flyer of a race, get a few companies to back it by putting their logo on the flier, post the flyer around and call it good enough. Well, remember what Bob Dylan said. The times are a-changin. The internet is now more powerful than it has ever been and with the invention of social media, it is the race promoter’s best friend. However, there’s still SO many who don’t take advantage of what the internet and social media have to offer.
Here’s a few tips on how to maximize your race exposure online:
Helmet cam preview: If you’re able to get a course together a couple of days in advance, GoPro is the way to go. Uploading a short teaser video to YouTube and posting it for the world to see can work wonders. When we used to do the NCHSA event at Camp Walter Johnson, I did helmet cam videos every year to give everyone a teaser of what to expect. It works.
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: This is where it’s at. Posting some photos of a cool section of trail, cool obstacle, or whatever will get people excited about the race and will help draw those who might be on the fence about coming to race. With the addition of Instagram video now you can even showcase some video of it as well.
Online forums: Now this is the easiest way to reach as many of your potential racers as possible. Thousands upon thousands of people read KTMTalk, ThumperTalk, Vital MX, etc every day. If you’re in the southeast, GeorgiaOffroad.com is a huge help there and there’s plenty more like it for all corners of the country.
This is all also a way to gain extra exposure for those who are sponsoring your event. Remember how I said putting a logo on a flier used to be good? Well, not anymore. You need to give your event sponsors the most exposure possible for their money. Most companies will supply you with banners, which its a great idea to actually use them, and while putting them up at the front gate or sign up are both high traffic areas, how many people are truly paying attention at either of those places? Unless you’re able to line your entrance with lots and lots of banners and signage like we do with the GNCC’s, chances are people aren’t going to pay much attention to 1-2 banners. They’re too busy trying to get their money together to pay the gate fee, and sign the release form.
Your absolute best places for exposure are your start and finish lines. I’ve been to local races where the start looks like it was pieced together in about 5 minutes the morning of the race. I understand that sometimes, you’re constrained by land on what you can layout but starting and going straight into the woods isn’t a fun start, and it’s not spectator or sponsor friendly. Not to mention it can be dangerous as well.
If space allows, having a good flowing start with 3-6 turns before heading into the woods allows for racers to enjoy a fun start, spread out slightly and it allows valuable space for sponsors of your event. Make it presentable too. Sponsors supply you with those banners for a reason. Make use of them. Even when you don’t have usable space to do something like that, you can still get creative and maximize the exposure for those supporting your event.
Another excellent idea is, if you have special sections of your course such as an Endurocross section, large hillclimb, etc, to give a certain event sponsor the title sponsorship of that obstacle. Not only is it good exposure for them, it’s also good for your spectators and racers to know that’s the spot everyone is talking about. And they’re the ones that the signage is advertising to anyway.
Now, let’s talk about your actual course. It seems like it’s far too often that people will go out, piece together a few trails, make a loop and call it good enough. They’ll do that year after year after year. Sometimes, space is limited and that’s all you can do. Other times, it’s just the easiest thing to do. Well, the “easiest thing to do” doesn’t make it fun for your racers, and that’s who these events are all about.
The course needs to be laid out to cater to the fun of the rider, not to just have a course to race on. If you’ve got places where you could go over another 20 feet and make an all new trail, by all means, do it. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work but riding the same beat up trails over and over again for a race just makes it less fun, and your racers will not want to come back. I know there’s places I have no desire to go race because I’ve ridden the same thing over and over again to the point that it’s just not worth spending the money.
That’s how series and races suffer. People get stuck in a rut and piece together the same tracks time and time again, maybe run it in reverse. Like I said, sometimes, you’re limited on space and that’s all you can do but if you take the time to look around, there’s always little places you can change and any sort of change can make a huge difference.
Cut trails, don’t trim them. One of the biggest complaints I hear is face slappers. Sometimes it’s impossible to trim all of them. You could spend weeks trying to do so and no matter what, there’s some that will still be there and there’s some that will form in the middle of the race thanks to new lines and racers running over smaller trees. However, cutting a limb off at the actual tree makes a huge difference.
Flow, it’s all about the flow. Now. This is something I’ve struggled with in races I’ve put on. Sometimes it’s hard to give a true “flow” to the track. Sometimes the lay of the land doesn’t allow for that. However, putting forth the effort the make the course have an actual flow to it instead of just turning onto various trails makes a huge difference and adds to the fun factor.
Mix it up. It is absolutely impossible to please everyone. Some will think it’s too fast, some will think it’s too tight, too rough, too dusty, you get the idea. However, the best thing you can do is try to offer something for everyone. Overall, it’s perfect to have a medium speed course. That’s something that you never hear much of a complaint about. But, if you can mix in a few high speed sections, along with a tight single track section or two, you’ve done it right.
Mark it well. This is a pet peeve of mine. Your racers need to know where to go and you can’t leave them wondering if they missed a turn. When I arrow a course, I try to do it so you constantly see at least 1 arrow at all times. Yes, that uses up a lot but that’s part of this. Salvage arrows from race to race. Save as many as you can and eventually it won’t be an issue for you. Make sure you staple the arrow along with the layout of the trail. If it’s straight, well, put it straight up and down. If it curves to the left, put it at a slight left angle. If its a nearly 90 degree turn, put the arrow at a 90, and put multiples.
If you’re coming to a trail intersection or the race trail turns off onto another trail, multiple arrows and double lines of tape will be the best way to get the racers attention and make sure nobody goes the wrong way. Sometimes its hard but try to avoid a hard turn that you can’t see a ways in advance. What I believe to be the most efficient stapling method is to put a slight bend in the arrow and staple once and the top and once at the bottom. This conserves staples (which saves money) and fold in them keeps them from falling off if they get wet.
Another trick I picked up a while back comes from track tape. When you’re putting track tape on stakes, bunch up tape where you wrap it around the stake. The sharp wooden edges on the stakes can rip track tape but bunching/balling/whatever you want to call it, up when you wrap it around the stake makes the tape thicker and harder to rip.
So, to recap, it’s become all about making the most fun course possible, making sure it’s clear on where the course goes, maximizing the exposure for the event and event sponsors, and much, much more. There’s so much more that goes into one little race than anybody other than those involved could imagine.
There’s a million more things I could talk about. Really, I only gave a very basic explanation and really only scratched the surface. But, chances are, nobody reads all of this. For those who do, I hope you agreed, or found something useful to help in your next event. And as always, if you’re looking for extra help with an event, or have any questions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great article Jared! Loved the idea about a helmet cam preview… only thing I could see is people complaining that someone had an advantage over someone else who didn’t watch the preview. But hey, there’s always going to be at least one person who complains.
Thanks for sharing!
Very good article, anyone doing race promotion or course setups should read it.
Fantastic read, Jared! Being a race promoter (TORO down here in Texas) for 10 years now has definitely opened my eyes to change, and hitting nationals and various styles of events has helped our club bridge the gap. A side note about the social media- it can be your greatest asset or a bitter hassle. One wrong word on the wrong page, and it spreads like wildfire. A double-edged sword, for sure.
Evolution is key! Follow his advice, people!