Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself With Handy Checklists

At the race track there are hundreds of things that always need to be done while at the same time there are hundreds of distractions everywhere around you. You need to remember to put gas in your car after a session. You have to go to the driver’s meeting. You want to torque your lug nuts. You get distracted by your friend you haven’t seen in three months who wants to talk trash and bench race. You are distracted by new, loud, shiny, fast racecars cruising by in the paddock. Inevitably, something you wanted to get completed on the car will get missed. If you miss putting gas in the car, you’ll have a short session. If you miss tightening your lug nuts, you may not even make it out of pit lane. If you forget to correctly strap your helmet under your chin, well, that could be fatal. To ensure you avoid missing things that need to be done at the track, I suggest using checklists.

A clipboard, a pen to make notes, a rubber band to keep papers from flapping in the wind, and a preprinted detailed checklist can make the difference between victory or a trip to the hospital. On our team we use a pad as a roof protector and slap the checklist on the top of the car between each session for easy access for everyone on the crew.

Race weekends are crazy, fast paced and dynamic by nature. Throw in a broken axle or another mechanical problem, and you are quickly in full blown panic mode trying to get things done before your next session on track. When this happens — and it will — things get missed. To ensure things don’t get missed, whether you a have all the time in the world between sessions and you are casually using your California duster to make sure your car is shiny, or if you are screaming, “Where is my 10-millimeter socket?” while frantically trying to fix a car, a checklist will slow you down for a moment and help you know, without a doubt, everything that needs to be done gets done.

Instead of a check mark on our checklists, we use initials. This way there is ownership by the person who handled the task. This is important, so if something is missed we can see who on the team signed off on the task and correct this issue for the future.

The checklists we use on Double Nickel Nine Motorsports/Krider Racing are a culmination of decades of experience racing cars. Our checklist has never been the same twice and is updated constantly from previous events. Currently, our checklist for a single session on track is up to two pages. You can say that seems excessive, but I will argue this excessive attention to detail has paid huge dividends for our team at the races. On these pages is everything we need to know about a single session, not just for getting the car safely on track, but post-session as well, and it also includes track and schedule information, which ultimately provides historical data that can be used later when we come back to a certain track that likes a specific setup. Knowledge is power, and power is speed.

This is the checklist we used for a recent NASA Honda Challenge race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, March 2021. It has specific information for pre-grid, on-grid, post-session and setup data. There were similar pages used for warmup that day and qualifying. We complete these checklists for every session on track.

Prior to a race weekend, when things are calm and I have time to spend behind a laptop, I use the upcoming weekend’s schedule and create checklists for each and every track session. I do this for every car on our team and each car has its own clipboard. These checklists detail how long a session will be, track information, and have specific blank marks that need to be filled in to remind the team we need to glean information at the track, like our grid space and how much fuel we burned. The lists are stapled together and placed on the clipboard prior to us towing out of town. As soon as the car comes out of the trailer, we start working off the list to ensure everything is done.

Every checklist we use is three-hole punched and archived in chronological order in a three-ring binder. This allows us to quickly reference a previous event and remember critical car data. We include details that are hard to remember, like tire pressure, shock settings, and alignment specs for different tracks.

We keep every checklist we have ever used in a three-ring binder. This has proven immensely crucial in helping us recall details about race setup. There are a ton of settings to remember on a car, especially for different tracks. Personally, I don’t have the brain capacity to remember it all. With our checklist archive, we don’t need to remember anything. Instead, we just look it up in the binder and proceed. This saves time and frustration. Instead of reinventing the setup every time we arrive at a track, we go back to a previous successful baseline and then improve from there. This helps us to be quick right off the trailer and the checklists, and our archive binder make that possible. This could be all be digitized and saved on a tablet, but I am an analog guy and I like flipping pages and seeing what we did previously. The only drawback to the binder is I have to remember to bring it to the track for it to be helpful, which is why I now store it in the race trailer.

Fill the Cool Suit, pull the fire pin, fill the driver’s water. These are simple prerace details that can easily be missed. A checklist will help ensure no detail is missed.

A lot of the details on our checklist are small simple things that are often overlooked. When you are busy trying to ensure your right rear wheel doesn’t fall off, you forget small simple things that need to be done, like pulling the safety pin on the fire system before you go out on track. As someone who has had a car fire, I can tell you this is something you do not want to miss. Our “Grid” portion of the checklist makes it easy for a crew member to look at and ensure the car is ready to go and to remember to turn on the GoPro cameras — a NASA requirement — before the car rolls out.

Where the car goes, the checklist goes. You can see inside the bicycle basket our checklist is sitting next to the car while the car is on grid. This allows a crew member to update last-minute things right before the car goes on track.

Our checklists also include narrative sections for the driver post-session and the crew post-session. On our team, when a driver comes in from the track, the first thing we do is hand them the checklist and leave them alone. We want the driver to make immediate notes about what worked on the car, what didn’t work, track notes, gear decisions on track, etc. We have learned that if we immediately start discussing the last, “Oh, man that was crazy!” moment on track, we will all start talking trash and then the important things about the session we need to know from the driver will be missed. Instead, we leave the driver alone so the driver can write down every detail from, “I want a zip tie on the roll bar padding near my knee,” to “The car is oversteering so badly it’s trying to kill me in Turn 9!” Then the appropriate changes can be made before the next session.

The moment a driver comes off track, we immediately shove the clipboard in his face so he can make notes on the session. This is when he or she has the freshest recall about what happened on track.

The checklist also provides illustrations of the car — a simple box with an arrow at the top — so we can quickly and easily note alignment specifications. This really comes in handy when realigning the car between sessions to make changes or when checking the alignment to ensure bumping over the apex curbing hasn’t changed the static setup. From experience, I would say writing down these alignment specs on a dirty receipt from Autozone because you don’t have any paper in the pits is not the secret to success. Having a clipboard, a pen that works, and an organized place to put down this information will make things work smoother and easier. And a smooth and easy weekend in the paddock is what we are all looking for. Checklists make this happen.

Using our Smart Strings tools after an on-track session, we will use the checklist to verify alignment settings and note any changes.

Creating these checklists does not take any special skills. Our checklist is merely a simple Microsoft Word document with some text and some underscores to add people’s initials. The car illustrations are nothing more than rectangle and triangle shapes available to drop in from the Word program. The cost of some paper, printer ink and a three-ring binder is certainly less than any component you can buy for your car to improve performance, however, I can assure you a simple checklist will win you more races than any single expensive part you can buy for a racecar.

Checklists equal victory! Ensuring all details are handled before a car hits the track can ensure success on the track. In this photo, I worked the clipboard while Keith Kramer worked the steering wheel and the checklist brought us home a first place trophy at Auto Club Speedway.

I have my checklist on my clipboard at every driver’s meeting, taking furious notes about flags at the start, pit speeds, and specific impound instructions. My peers in Honda Challenge love to make fun of me for my “nerdy” checklist. “Does your checklist tell you to turn left in Turn 1?” or “Does your checklist tell you when to go to the bathroom?” I happily accept the ribbing and criticism because I know my “nerdy” checklists have helped me “check the box” on winning a lot of races — against the same dudes busting my chops. What gets verified gets done. See you in the winner’s circle!

Image courtesy of Rob Krider and Isabella DeKerpel

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