Exclusive interview with Santa Pod Raceway's timing crew

A track's timing crew are amongst the unseen and mainly unsung heroes at any drag race: if everything goes smoothly then you don't know that they are there. This unobtrusiveness belies a lot of work in the run-up to, during and after a race event. On the eve of the 2002 FIA Main Event we spoke to Steve Horn, who heads up SPR's timing crew as well as performing the duties of Chief Marshal, and Andy Marrs both of TSI Timers Europe. We started out by asking about Roger Moore's demolition of the Christmas Tree at the 2002 Easter Thunderball.

Eurodragster: When was the last time someone took the Tree out? Do you recall who it was?

Steve Horn: Every tree we have has now been hit at least once. One I recall was hit by a bike at a RWYB, another was I believe hit by Al Cook in the Pro Mod, and Roger Moore hit the new one as you well know!

Eurodragster: How long have you had a spare Tree?

Steve Horn: We have always had a least one spare tree since the TSI system was installed in 1991.

Eurodragster: Give us a run-down on the members of the timing crew.

Andy Marrs: Steve Horn (Boss), Lisa Smart, Martin Wallis, John Hackney, Sharon Norris, and of course me. Steve and Lisa are the official timekeepers, Sharon is in training to be a Lisa, and Martin, John and I are in training to be official timekeepers - at present we're MSA trainees. Steve is also the Chief Marshal and a judge of fact. We also have Andy Tobin who helps with mid-week bookings at Santa Pod.

Eurodragster: What do the timing crew do in the days before a race?

Steve Horn: There is always something to be done, but in general before an event (particularly FIA) everything is checked and checked again, spares are checked and updated, and everything is put in place well before the event.

Andy Marrs: Invariably Steve and Martin are there a couple of days before hand-checking wiring, installing new kit, making repairs etc. Steve and Lisa also have to make sure that everyone who is entered for the event is in the computer.

Eurodragster: How long does it usually take to set up and then take down the timing system at the start and end of each race day?

Andy Marrs: There are a lot of variables. At a RWYB someone on their own can set up the system in about forty five minutes, as we don't setup to full specification. At an official race meeting there are a lot of extras and it can take up to ninety minutes depending on the amount of crew. A brief run down of everything that needs laying out/checking/connecting/bolting down/etc:
  • RWYB: The four PCBs which run the score boards, fourteen track sensors, twelve startline sensors, the Tree, start button, race computer, monitor, running log printer, ET printer, basic PA system (amp, mixer, mp3 player and a headset).

  • Race meeting: All of the above plus panic lights, calibrate the rollout in both lanes, ladder printer, commentators' monitor and control button, Race Director's monitor, Press monitor, full PA system (two amps, mixer, mp3 player, multi-CD player, four headsets, radio microphone kit), PC and laptop for running log and Junior Dragster qualifying.
We're normally on site at least an hour and a half before racing is due to start, although this is reduced for subsequent days as we don't pack all the kit away every night. At the end of a race meeting it takes about the same time to strip down as it does to set up.

Eurodragster: What are your duties during qualifying and racing?

Andy Marrs: Lisa runs the timing computer with Sharon as relief. They type in race numbers, set dial-ins, and so on. Martin, John and I look after the track and PA system.

Steve Horn: As a judge of fact I try to watch each and every race in case of a technical problem, safety problem, fair play, blue line, etc. I work closely with Race Director Darren Prentice in Race Control to ensure that we try to run to the event running order, scheduling of downtime, incident control, and any marshal problems. I work closely with the meeting secretary and signing-on team to check race numbers, signing on information and so on). Also checking and printing of results during and after the event.

Eurodragster: We understand you're building an NHRA-style Tree with lights on the sides?

Steve Horn: Thanks to Bob Day, who is Santa Pod's Chief Safety Officer, we are building another tree. It's in the style of those in use at NHRA meetings and is being built with the view that it should give the spectators down the track more of a view of what's going on.

Eurodragster: I hope we see that at the Main Event! Thanks for your time.

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Interview ©Eurodragster.com

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