As we’re rolling up on Father’s Day, a tribute to my Dad. I’m grateful to have and relive these memories, and grateful that you got us into sports.
Sports have always been a part of our family life. And for my dad, for over 10 years sports were a part of his professional life. While I was growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, my dad worked in race timing and results, ultimately owning his own timing company. An entrepreneur, with a background in business and IT, my dad spent over 10 years doing event timing and results for triathlons, marathons, duathlons, and rollerblade racing, and his final events were the ’92 and ’95 Americas Cup sailing races.
This occurred during my junior high, high school and college years and I have fond memories of joining him at events, helping out with the timing. I remember being inspired by the athletes, and in awe of my dad and his crew playing such an important role in the events. With running and racing being so big in my life now, I wanted to sit down with my dad and ask him to tell me all about his timing business. So, recently we caught up and boy did he share some great stories! Here I’ll share how my dad got started in event timing, the technology they used, and some of the most memorable events he did. Though we weren’t a family of runners or triathletes when I was growing up, being around Dad’s business and so many events definitely planted seeds for my brother and I, who are both avid runners now.
Meet my dad, Bob Westmoreland!
The Beginning – AT&T
Following a series of entrepreneurial ventures, Dad landed a job with AT&T just after the break up of the Bells in 1982. He worked for American Bell as a Technical Support Rep (TSR) in the division that was working to bring phones and Unix-based hardware products to market. (think large, expensive, DOS-based PC’s with floppy disks & 10 MB hard drives). Through his work there, Dad managed to get linked up with a guy in New York who convinced AT&T to start a program called AT&T Computers in Sports, with the idea to showcase AT&T products in high visibility sports events.
The first event they did was in 1985 – the Jimmie Heuga Express, in Alyeska, Alaska, an event to raise funds for Jimmie’s Center for MS. In this event, 1964 skiing Olympian Jimmie Heuga and some of his friends (including Olympian Phil Mahre) set out for a world record, skiing one million vertical feet in 24 hours. AT&T sponsored the event, and Dad came along to count laps as the skiers came down all day and night, with a simple program. AT&T sponsored the event again the following year in Vail, CO, and that time Dad headed out to ski a few runs at 2 AM just to stay awake!
From there, AT&T sponsored more sporting events including World Cup skiing, with Dad traveling to cool places in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Vermont to help out with timing. Dad was still working for American Bell, so his work at the events was a side-gig that he hoped would turn into something bigger. In 1985, they went to the Ironman in Hawaii to observe the timing being done, and did a test run of their own timing software at the event.
US Triathlon Series & Leaving AT&T
In 1985 AT&T committed to sponsor the US Triathlon Series and to provide computerized timing. Though AT&T had plenty of budget, they were not able to hire more staff. So, Dad struck a deal to leave AT&T, start his own timing company and in turn AT&T agreed to hire him to do computer timing & results at all of their sponsored events. From there, Dad’s company, Computer Race Management (CRM), was born! He hired a programmer and a team, acquired AT&T’s timing equipment (think large clocks), and Dad proceeded to be fully dedicated to timing USTS events, at a time when triathlon as a sport was beginning to rise in popularity. In 1985 they did 12 USTS events with over 15,000 triathletes participating.
What I remember about this time is Dad traveling a lot, and sometimes we went along. He travelled with his team and 13 or so pieces of equipment. There was always the counting of the equipment before and after the flight, hoping and praying that everything arrived. Dad hired members of the team through running clubs, and meeting people at the events who wanted to get involved, and together they always seemed to have a good old time. The events relied heavily on volunteers, so I would help out at the start/finish or transitions with the timing crew. There always seemed to be some stressful moments with the equipment and as a runner now I can only imagine how that felt!
Jim Curl and Carl Thomas formed CAT Sports, and were the guys who formed USTS which began in 1982. Jim recounts the history of USTS here.
As athletes today, we enjoy race bibs that have a small RFID chip attached that clocks your time as you cross the mat at the start, finish and interim check points during a race. Results populate instantly and you’re able to check your results, splits, place, etc. instantly online. Back in the 80’s this was a different story! Timing then was done through 2 redundant points of data entry, using a PDE (Portable Data Entry) hand-held device, at the start/finish, and each transition point (swim finish, bike start, bike finish, run start). When an athlete would cross each point, the PDE operator would type in their race number and hit enter. This got very hectic when there were multiple athletes crossing at a time which is why we had two PDE’s plus 2 individuals calling out numbers so we could log them. I personally recall making several errors doing this when I volunteered! To back up the PDE data, you had 2 people handwriting down numbers and times at each point. Lastly, at the finish line tags were torn off from the bibs and kept in order, as a 3rd check against the data. Because of all of this plus computing power being what it was at the time, the post-race data processing and edit took some time. On race day they could produce finish times for every athlete, but the complete results with splits took several days to produce. Once everything was finalized, they sent out results postcards in the mail to every participant.
America’s Paradise Triathlon – St. Croix
The most memorable event I attended with dad was in 1988 for the first ever America’s Paradise Triathlon in St. Croix. I had never been to a Caribbean island before and this location was spectacular. Dionne Warwick sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and NBC news covered the event for a 90 minute special. This distances were – 3K swim, 95K bike and 20K run and the race brought out top pros including Mike Pigg, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Kirsten Hanssen and Paula Newby Fraser, and the Puntous twins. Triathlete recently did a great article on the race here, and it remains one of the longest-running races in the sport. The event was cool, but moreso I thought the island and clear water was amazing. We hopped over to Antigua on this same trip, where Dad was scoping out another location for a race. That’s me below, holding the tape for the women’s winner!
Marathons, Mountain-bike Races, Duathlons, and Rollerblade Races!
In 1987 & 1988, AT&T sponsored the Boston and LA Marathons, and CRM rose to the task to provide timing. At the LA marathon, their finish line computers had a snafu, and for the first 45 minutes they took finisher times and tags manually. Dad was like, wtf?! Turns out the system timed out and once they rebooted it, they were back in business. Boston was similarly chaotic with finish line volunteers and some issues with the technology and data that day. Here’s a picture of Dad’s Boston jacket!
As the AT&T sponsorship of USTS concluded, CRM branched out into other types of events including mountain bike racing and duathlons.
Remember the rise of rollerblading in the 90’s? Well, this gave rise to rollerblade distance racing (which became part of the X Games in the 90’s), and CRM did the timing. I attended a few of these events with dad, and they were c-r-a-z-y. Firstly, we were using the same technology with the PDE’s which was hard enough when multiple runners were crossing the line together but the speed that these skaters had going? Forget it! So difficult to see their numbers and clock their times. And secondly, these high-speed crashes were spectacular. At this time, they began experimenting with chip technology, placing a chip on the skates. At that time, the technology was just too slow to capture the skates crossing the mat.
America’s Cup – 1992 & 1995
In the early 90’s, Dad was approached by Citizen Watch, who was sponsoring the 1993 America’s Cup, in San Diego. They were the timing sponsor and wanted CRM to provide timing for the race. Dad’s response? No. Hell no. “I had never even been on a freaking sailboat at that time, and didn’t know anything about sailboat racing”, he told me. And such a high profile event made him very nervous. But, Citizen didn’t relent. The VP of Citizen called him back and said there was nobody else they could find with any kind of timing background, and they needed CRM to take the job. They not only wanted him to take the job, but they wanted “technological innovation”. In sailboat racing, you are timing the boats going around the marks, and you’re timing the intervals between boats. So, they used early cell phone technology to call the time back to the timing trailer onshore which then got flashed up on international TV. Dad and the team found a way, and made it all look good. CRM did the timing of the Americas Cup in both 1992 and 1995, including the Louis Vuitton Cup and all of the challenger races leading up to it. Dad ended up spending a LOT of time on sailboats and had the time of his life doing it.
Following the America’s Cup, Dad closed down CRM, as the technology was advancing and other larger companies were getting into the business.
A few final thoughts, as I reflect on all of this:
- Life is about experiences. My dad’s life and career have been full of experiences, and memories he will never forget, all of which carried over to our family experience.
- I admire my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit, and the tenacity he showed through so many challenges thrown his way during events, and as the business and technology evolved.
- Endurance events are about testing physical and mental limits, and they are often life-changing experiences for those who participate. Being a spectator at these types of events will also change you. What a gift that my family was able to participate with my dad in so many of these events.
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”Katherine Switzer
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2 thoughts on “Race Timing & Results – An Interview with my Dad”
All I have to say is WOW!!! There is so much here that I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing it. *Margie *
What a wonderful tribute to you dad Nikki. Congratulations to both of you.