By Connor Walters

Systems at Work

After what was, for many, a prolonged winter, spring racing season arrived. Dual meets, scrimmages and smaller-scale regattas allowed crews to get some racing experience under their belts; novices had their first taste of lining up in the blocks.

It didn’t take long, however, for the fever pitch of sprint season to arrive. As regattas rev up in scale and significance, some important systems make sure that races run smoothly and results emerge quickly.

Although there are many players in this game, RegattaCentral and HereNow serve as laudable models for the teams of people who work to run the behind-the-scenes components of racing season. The former has been at it for 20 years doing race registration, results reporting, and more.

“We interact with a wide variety of people on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis,” said Steve Lopez, president of RegattaCentral, the official registrar for USRowing. “Parents signing their kids up for camps or clinics or memberships, we get rowers… We get questions all over the map, like, ‘What lane will I be in?’ or eligibility, or compliance with USRowing membership. We also talk with coaches or club administrators, and regatta directors and regatta treasurers.”

A full-time staff works throughout the week, and indeed throughout the year, to manage user accounts, provide systems support, and do research and development. When asked if there was a slow time of year, Lopez said, “Not anymore.”

He also said that, around five years ago, RegattaCentral became the first rowing company to develop an API, or application programming interface, which is a “specific software that allows third parties to interact with your website and your data.”

“Now that API, it also interfaces with timing systems,” Lopez said. “It’s a standard for the rowing community, for the timing systems to hold down the registration, process results, and push the results back up.” In short, it means race-timing results provided by HereNow, Regatta Workbench, Regatta Data, Regatta Master, and others can link up with the entries submitted through RegattaCentral.

HereNow, which this year is providing timing for national selection regattas, the Big 10 Championship, club nationals, and others, offers a couple race timing system options.

The more accurate and sophisticated of the two involves FinishLynx cameras, which take up to 10,000 frames per second. HereNow runs them at 1,000 frames per second. As president and chief technology officer Brian Reynolds explained, at that rate, “You can take a bow ball and slice it up into 10 slices like an egg going on to a salad. Each one is a millisecond in time.”

“For any championship race or any national team selection race, we won’t do the timing without those types of cameras. It’s extremely precise timing,” he added.

That takes on an extra level of coordination when split times are taken, such as at the Head of the Charles or Olympic trials. At those events, stations are set up to mark splits.

“Each timing station is run by a timing lead and one or more people that help them out at that station, and each of the timing leads that’s at one of those stations is a person who’s capable of running a whole regatta for many of the other regattas that we work with over the course of the year,” Reynolds said.

For regattas with less need for such sophistication, the timing system can be easily run using an iPad app. It requires the same number of people as a race would have required if stopwatches were used, but results appear online much more quickly.

The internet has also made it possible for changes in regatta schedules, lane assignments, and other details to be quickly shared. No longer does anyone need to stand at a results board waiting for updates to be posted or listen to an unreliable loudspeaker for the latest race day updates.

Using individual regatta protocols, HereNow can automate progression systems so crews will immediately see where they race next.

Both Lopez and Reynolds said that their teams are busiest throughout the week as they prepare for the weekend’s races.

“Most of the work is in the preparation, and if you’ve prepared correctly then the regattas go off and oftentimes I don’t hear anything,” Reynolds said. “We prepare a lot ahead of time. We train our own people and we train the people at the regattas.”

Keeping up to date with all of the changes, security protocols, and best practices online is one of the biggest changes Lopez has seen in his company’s two decades.

“The amount of rapid change is, especially in the past 10 years, dramatic,” he said. “That, coupled with the internet, it’s just a very different place than it was in 1999 or the 2000s with respect to security.”

“We address a lot of issues that our users don’t have to think about,” he added.

Both companies stress the importance of customer service as a key element of what they offer.

Reynolds said that during the spring months, HereNow does timing for roughly six to eight races every weekend. Thanks to a strong support system, he explained, people help each other out if there is an issue.

RegattaCentral, which provides registration and other race management support for more than 400 events annually, does a daily stand-up meeting to make sure their team is, like any good crew, well-conditioned and working in time with one another.

“Training is a big part of what we do,” Lopez said.

As crews of all levels and their fans gear up for season-defining races, the systems that make those regattas happen are doing the same. Like in rowing, with thorough preparation and adaptation, everyone can be proud of the final outcome.