Ode to the Checklist

One thing has long been a constant on weekends spent at the track: I forget to bring things with me. If I’m lucky, I forget only one thing, and it’s minor. If I’m not so lucky, it’s something I really need. Let me cite a couple of examples.

When I was climbing the HPDE ladder and still leaving for the track at 5 a.m. Saturdays, I got probably 20 minutes down the road when I realized I forgot my phone. Don’t ask me how it happened. It’s usually one of those things that’s always in my back pocket, but in those early hours, somehow I left without it. Making the decision to turn back to get it took an agonizing two minutes. I argued with myself that it was a safety item. I needed the phone so I could check in with my wife throughout the weekend so she would know I was OK.

I turned around and sped home, turned around again and still made it to the track in time for the 7:45 drivers meeting.

Things got a little better when I got an enclosed trailer. Much of what I used to have to remember could stay in the trailer all the time. That way, it’s always right where I need it, and I don’t have to rely on my increasingly unreliable memory. But that didn’t stop me from forgetting things. Oh, no.

One weekend I got to the hotel Friday night and realized I hadn’t brought a belt. I had shorts on that day, which was when I packed everything up, so it didn’t register that I needed a belt for the pants I’d be wearing the next day. So, I had to buy one from a nearby truck stop. As you can imagine, it was a real beauty, with an ornate silver vaquero belt buckle and faux alligator skin embossing. I still have it, even though it’s a few sizes too small.

Then, of course, there was the time I forgot my shoes. I had racing shoes, so I didn’t have to go barefoot around the paddock, but it would have been nice to have something to change into between track sessions.

And those were just the insignificant things. I’d also forgotten important things like a brake bleeder kit, an air tank, bicycle, video cameras, pillows and glasses.

Finally, I got so tired of forgetting things, I worked up a checklist on my computer, printed it out and stuck it on my track notebook. When it came time to pack for the track, I just went down the list and checked off everything I needed. Well, almost. I forgot to include the brake bleeder kit on the list, so I had to borrow one before that weekend’s enduro.

I added it to the list, which has taken me a few weekends to develop fully, but I think it’s looking good. I always get that nagging feeling I’m forgetting something when I’m about to leave for the track, and even with every box checked, I still had that feeling.

The good news is that I just got home from a weekend of racing, and I did not forget a thing. That was a first, I think.

The most interesting aspect of the weekend was the peace of mind that the checklist fostered. I was less on edge when I left town and less on edge throughout the weekend. My preparation ritual before going out on track went perfectly every time and I was always on grid with five minutes to spare. That weekend was some of the best racing I’ve had, and I finished pretty well, too.

I can’t be sure, but that checklist might have done more than just keep me from forgetting things. I should have made one long ago.

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