Friday, October 2, 2015

Back To The Basics - Building a Savage Race - Atlanta 2015

I suppose I should have been expecting the unexpected.  But having worked on a half dozen race builds already, it seemed that a Savage Race build would be just another variation on the theme.  Obviously, that was not the case!  Savage Race has been recognized by Inc Magazine as one of the top 500 fastest growing private companies in the U.S.  Savage Race also has a more modest expansion plan than many other race promoters and that is an indication of how they do run this company as a business...with a different focus than you may see elsewhere.

Several things jumped out at me during the build days.  One of the first and most surprising differences from any other race is that Savage builds certain of their largest obstacles to remain on the venue's site permanently!!  Other than fixed venue courses like Shale Hill in VT, Savage is the only major race promoter that does this as far as I'm aware.  Most of these obstacle are wooden too, where the other big promoters have been going to lighter weight metal structures where possible.  As with anything, there are great benefits and great disadvantages of this methodology.

The pros:  Decreased time in building or setting up the obstacles.  Reduced transportation costs...Savage only has one storage trailer to ship to each race venue as of now.  Reduced building and manpower costs as the obstacles do not have to be designed for dis-assembly. 

The cons:  Obstacles must be protected and possibly repaired or restored due to weather.  For new venues, they must completely rebuild each of those permanent a significant cost in time and material.  New venues may not allow these to remain permanently as more races vie for use of a limited resource...meaning practical race course sites.  Limited ability to create truly new/unknown courses since they have to incorporate the fixed obstacle placements.

They also run the risk of 'playing out' a of the issues that I feel is going to be more prevalent in the future.  Obstacle course racing (OCR) is only 5 years young.  With so many race options, particularly in the Atlanta area, races may suffer from stagnation or racer boredom with the 'same old venue' each matter how nice it is.  Particularly in the case of the Atlanta venue, where they run both a Spring and Fall race.

Savage Race was also notable in the fact that they have a much smaller build crew.  Partially, I'm sure, from the fact that they have permanent obstacles.  They also have all the tents and barricades setup through the rental companies.  Again, saving on both the build crew size and shipping costs between venues.  And from what I gathered, this is a family and friends crew that works all the events.*  However, it's efficient and extremely cost conscious...'glitz' is certainly not on the menu.  It has the feel of what it must be like on many of the smaller OCR promoter builds.  But make no mistake...Savage intends to put on a big-time performance and crew members like Gary, Bo and Sean are intent on that happening!  And should I mention their unique ATV trail marking technique?!  No...probably not...but it was different!!

One similarity, Savage does rely on volunteers to come in during the build week too.  Although, as you might expect, the number needed appears to be much smaller than the larger competitors.  They were however, very appreciative of the volunteers and went out of their way to make sure we knew that.

What was also a bit different was the apparent familiarity of the volunteers when it came to other races.  On my previous builds, most of them seemed to be the hard-core Mudder, Spartan or BattleFrog athlete, with little experience outside those races.  Here at the Savage build it seemed to be just the opposite.  The volunteers I met...Chanel and Mike...were very well versed on the other races.  

That may be another challenge for Savage in the future as well.  I didn't see the racer fanaticism/loyalty here as with the other builds.  And they don't have a Savage Pro team.  Whatever the reason, it is doubtless an intentional part of their business plan.  In the end, the race will be the test.  I was looking forward to that with great anticipation as this first Savage race.

* An interesting side fate would have it, I got to meet and work with Garfield Griffiths on the Savage kid's course.  Ok, actually I was told I could go home a little early Thursday afternoon but convinced them to let me "see if those guys over there needed any help".  I'd heard that he was working on the kid's course and I wanted to meet him.  Garfield is the course designer for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship {OCRWC} and happened to see him that morning on Matt B. Davis' Obstacle Racing Media {ORM} podcast...file this under 'small world'.

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