Nobody ever said, “Racing is easy!” And after all of the hard work of racing is completed, racers want to enjoy the fruits of their labor. For racecar drivers, that fruit is glory. Racing glory takes on many shapes. Sometimes it can be in the form of a trophy, a sprayed bottle of champagne, or a Rolex watch at Daytona. And sometimes in racing, glory looks like absolutely nothing. A race win may be represented by nothing more than a smartphone screen image with some hard to read digital results. That isn’t exactly the same as a Rolex watch.
At the NASA Championships, the logistics team has things figured out and the podium celebration is second to none. I’ve been lucky enough to be on a number of those podiums over the years and I remember every wonderful champagne-drenched second of the feeling while standing on the top step. It is epic. It would take two novels to describe the feeling appropriately. I also have been to races where I won and was awarded a high-five. Not exactly the same thing. That podium moment is important in racing. It is part of the tradition of motorsports.
Whether a regional race has a podium celebration or not, it doesn’t take away from the amount of work it takes to win a race. The cost is the same for the racing driver — tires, brakes, fuel, entry fees, a new rear bumper. As a sanctioning body, it is our job to celebrate the hard work of the competitors, the paying customers. And for that reason, I decided to build our own portable podium, and have it at the ready for events where somebody forgot how hard we all work to go racing. It’s 2022 everybody, you’ve got to do it for The Gram — that’s Instagram for your older folks. People want to see photos or it didn’t happen, we need to give them something to take a photo of and that thing is that special moment on the podium.
I decided to take this project on to ensure my friends in the racing world get the moment they deserve. I came up with some rudimentary building plans to create three boxes that would become a make-shift portable podium. I designed the boxes to fit inside each other like Russian nesting dolls to make storing the podium easy in a trailer. After a few minutes of dialing in the measurements for what I thought would work, I headed to the hardware store go grab some lumber and so I could get to work.
The thing to know about woodworking is that you need to always measure twice and then cut once. The other thing to know about woodworking is that a table saw blade is a mindless killing machine that has no conscience. It will cut your fingers off, spray blood all over your shop and never stop spinning. It simply doesn’t care about you. For years I have worried more about building something with wood than I have pulling engines out of cars or welding metal. If the whole point of building a podium is to stand on it one day and spray champagne, remember you need your fingers to pop the cork on the champagne bottle. That means be careful with the table saw!
Once I had the pieces of wood all cut — and I still had all my fingers — it was time to start to assemble the three different-size boxes. I purchased deck screws to attach the boxes because screws are much sturdier than nails, and using a nail and a hammer to pound on the boxes leads to less precise fitment. I pre-drilled each hole prior to running the deck screws into the wood with a power driver to ensure I didn’t split any of the wood pieces. I was working to avoid going back to the hardware store. It is a personal goal of mine to go to the hardware store only once per project. Full disclosure, I don’t think I have ever been successful at this venture. I always forget at least one thing and I’m back in my truck on the way to the store.
Once the three separate boxes were carefully cut, pre-drilled and assembled, I got to work with a belt sander to clean things up. It is the little details that make things tidy — and nobody needs a splinter in their hands. The good news was my measurements were on point and the boxes fit inside one another perfectly. This would make the podium portable and easy to travel to events or store after races.
I chose a gray primer and paint to keep the color neutral. White would always look dirty. Knowing the boxes would be traveling, stored and abused, I wanted a color that could survive that kind of abuse. For longevity, I purchased a set of corner protectors that simply screwed into corners of the boxes to protect them, similar to something you would see a touring rock band use on their amplifiers for lots of loading and unloading.
I cut handle holes in the sides off all three boxes at the same location so when the boxes were stacked together you could grab all three simultaneously. I added skateboard grip tape to the top of the boxes so nobody would slip on the slick paint surface when the champagne began to fly. I added basic household address numbers to the boxes (1, 2, 3) to designate where the competitors should stand.
A group of psychologists conducted a study of people standing on podiums. They looked at photographs of Olympic podiums, Formula 1 racing podiums, Tour de France podiums etc., and through facial posture they tried to determine, who were the happiest people on what step of the podium? The results were interesting. First place looked happy, but not always ecstatic. That is because first place expected to be there, they worked hard and they succeeded in their goal, just like they envisioned they would. Second place looked like they just came in last place, because in their mind, they just lost first place, which was the ultimate goal they narrowly missed. The big winner on the podium was actually third place. Third place was just happy to be on the podium.
In most cases they weren’t expecting it and are happy just to be there. I can say in my three decades of motorsports I can identify with the results of this study. One of my happiest moments on a podium wasn’t standing on the first-place step at the National Championships. It was the third place at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill — where I wasn’t sure I would even finish the race let alone be on the podium.
In keeping with the study from the psychologists — and to just have a little fun — I added the stickers “Winner,” “First Loser” and “Just Happy To Be Here” on my portable podium. Those stickers were added to pieces of white board I attached to the bottom of each box. I added the pieces of white board so I could place a different sticker for a specific event to highlight the name of that event for photos. Each race we can change it if we choose to and not harm the paint.
As a background for the podium we just used a wall that attaches to an E-Z Up canopy. We placed the canopy behind the podium, faced the wall outward from the interior of the canopy, threw a few potted plants in front of the podium and then started handing out trophies to winners at a regional race. The entire setup looked great in photographs — and, of course, on Instagram — and the racers loved it. They raced hard and we ensured they got the glory they deserved. Portable podium for the win!
Rob Krider is a four-time NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”