Keeping Your Event on Track

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge and Pitt Thompson

For forty-five years, drag racing aficionados have gathered at the Indianapolis Raceway Park during the week culminating in Labor Day to watch their favorite racers vie for the title of U.S. Drag Racing Champion. Approximately 10,000 competitors from all around the nation are winnowed down to two finalists per category who race on Labor Day Monday. As the number of competitors shrinks, the excitement--and the crowd size--grows, with daily attendance running to 50,000 by the event's final championship races.

To keep security on track for such a large public event, planning has to speed ahead well before the first hot dog reaches the first fan's hand. Planning for the U.S. National Drag Race Championships begins at least six months in advance, headed by the raceway's management team. To understand the scope of security needs, both in-house and contract security should be present from the beginning at planning meetings with representatives of each participating group. Among the issues to be addressed are crowd profiling, contingency plans, and access control.

An important aspect of planning concerns the crowd that is expected to attend the event. A profile of attendees is developed so that security personnel can understand and anticipate the kinds of behaviors they may encounter. Crowds at large events may differ in personality depending on which aspect of the event they have come to view or participate in. For week-long events like the drag race championship, there may be a different crowd profile for particular days.

Championship races attendees have traditionally been heavy consumers of beer, which is both sold on site and brought into the fairground. These patrons have come to see their favorite drivers win, and disappointment about defeat may be exacerbated by alcohol. Security, therefore, expects to encounter intoxicated and sometimes unruly patrons. The possibility of arrests is high, necessitating thorough coordination between the in-house and contract security officers and the local police.

A large number of die-hard fans of race drivers attend the championships. In the drag racing world, drivers are as popular as movie stars or top-ranked athletes, and drivers can be swarmed by autograph seekers. Security and the racers' staffs or personal protection agents must coordinate the security needs of each driver and their crew.

Other VIPs, such as the state governor, often attend the championship as well. Security must work with their protection staffs to coordinate entrance and egress routes for these VIPs. Vehicle routes and their times of use must be designated so that security officers can clear the way. When a VIP is walking through the site, security will, upon request, provide an escort.

The championship also hosts motorcycle races. This aspect of the event attracts a crowd with a different profile: bikers and younger, rougher fans. In the past, security has recommended seating for the motorcycle race fans close to the main entrance so that officers can more easily eject troublemakers and facilitate the crowd's entrance and egress.

Planning should also include discussions of likely mishaps that might require an alternative procedure. With regard to an outdoor event such as the national championship races, developing an inclement weather plan is important. August is prone to sudden thunderstorms, and if one occurs, security must be ready to help direct patrons to designated shelters. These include several large hangars and the lowest level of the judges' tower.

An extended rain may cancel the day's races. If so, it is the raceway's policy to give out rain checks for another day of competition. Security must help clear the grounds and deal with any irate individuals. Such a closing may also cause a surge of vehicles and individuals at exits, potentially overtaxing security. The contingency plan should ensure that adequate staff can be on hand quickly to deal with the sudden demand.

Extreme heat is another problem endemic to the annual event. It is common for patrons to suffer heat-related illnesses and dehydration or to be overwhelmed by the exhaust from the nitro-fueled race cars or fumes from burnt rubber. The latter problem can also affect security officers who are stationed around the perimeter of the track. To keep officers from being overcome, the plan must provide enough contract officers to allow proper shift rotations so that none of them must stand too long in the heat and fumes without relief.

As a part of the contingency planning, security personnel meet with those coordinating first aid and emergency medical services. At the championship races, security's duty is to look for heat- or fume-sick patrons and to notify first aid of any patrons in need of assistance.

In the past, race cars have crashed with each other and into the barriers around the track, resulting in car fires and injured drivers, crew, and patrons. If an accident occurs, security is responsible for clearing the two entrances to allow fire department and EMS vehicles and crews to enter, keeping patrons well away from the danger zone, as well as evacuating the bleachers, if necessary.

Access control.
The races take place on a quarter-mile parallel track, surrounded by bleachers. Also on the ten-acre site are the racing pits (where the crews of the competitors prepare the drag racers for competition), an antique car exhibition, myriad food and souvenir vendors, and tents promoting the companies that sponsor the racers. The racing cars are parked on the site overnight, and pit crews are allowed 24-hour access before their car's scheduled run.

The raceway, located in the rural outskirts of Indianapolis, is encircled by perimeter fencing and has eight access points, including ticket-taking chokepoints and the VIP and staff entrances. During planning meetings, security personnel discuss how they will coordinate access control objectives with the raceway's ticket-taking staff.

It is security's job to inspect the bags and coolers of attendees as they pass through the ticket-taking choke- points. Signs at entrances state that no weapons are allowed on the site, but security occasionally sees weapons such as hunting knives. The ticket holders are asked to return the knives to their cars. Sometimes, security encounters patrons with guns. Because Indiana law permits the concealed carrying of legally purchased weapons, if security spots a gun, officers deny that person access and notify police, but they do not detain the person.

Patrons are allowed to bring food, drink, and beer onto the raceway property, but not in glass containers. Security asks patrons to return such items to their vehicles or to throw them away. The no-glass rule sometimes meets with resistance, especially from already intoxicated ticket holders. In any potentially violent situation, officers are instructed to contact a security supervisor, who will make an assessment. If deemed necessary, the supervisor will summon law enforcement.

Another problem at the main entrances is ticket scalping. Scalpers are told to leave the entrance areas or face arrest for trespassing. Security also has to deal with upset patrons who have purchased counterfeit tickets from scalpers and been denied entry. The problem of scalpers and fake tickets typically increases as the championship nears its conclusion.

Security must also deal with individuals who claim they possessed a ticket stub, left the site, and then lost the stub, prohibiting their return. More often than not, these patrons are argumentative and require diplomacy from the security staff, who must explain that no one is allowed readmission without a valid stub.

Special access. At the VIP and staff entrance points, it is critical that an accurate up-to-date list of who is permitted special access be provided to security. In reality, the list is never all-inclusive. The VIP and staff entrance points see a steady flow of individuals claiming to have been granted special access, delivering unexpected equipment or fuel, or claiming to be members of pit crews and vendor teams. To handle this situation, security requires efficient radio communications, a multilevel badging system, and a reliable hierarchy for decision making.

  • Radios. The radio communication equipment chosen for use by security and staff must be adequate for the type of event. This lesson was learned the hard way one year when officers found that crowd and engine noise from the track was so loud they could not hear radio broadcasts. To correct the situation, radios with headsets were obtained.
  • Badging. Over the years, event organizers have instituted a multilevel badging system. Each year security works with other decision-makers during the planning phase to select the colors, design, and size of badges for various participating groups--vendors, site staff, crew, track officials, security and safety personnel, emergency services, and VIPs.
    One problem recently corrected concerned badging for the track officials. From their positions, security officers struggled to see the badges of those officials as they walked on and off or around the track. The badges were enlarged to make identification easier.
    Because the winner of the championships is determined by elimination, crews have access to their racing staging areas only until their vehicle loses. Each day, crews are issued different colored badges--for example, green on Wednesday, red for Thursday. After the race car and its equipment are removed from the staging area, the crews are no longer permitted access. The badges they have already received cannot be used to gain entry, as they are the wrong color for the following days.
  • Hierarchy. The command center should possess a roster of the telephone, cell phone, and pager numbers of all designated final decision-makers and others who might need to be contacted. Security's ability to handle incidents smoothly depends on the command center's rapid communication capabilities. For instance, when individuals show up at the VIP entrance claiming that the owner of a racing vehicle has invited them into the pit area, a security officer radios the command center, which contacts the appropriate decision-maker for a quick and authoritative yes or no.

Safety issues also call for a decision from a designated authority. The championships have experienced bomb threats and threats of harm to drivers or attending celebrities. All turned out to be hoaxes, but the situation did require rapid communication between site management, law enforcement, and security. Decisions regarding whether to evacuate were based on the judgments of the designated on-site experts and managers.

For annual events, such as the championship drag races, a postmortem discussion of problems geared toward finding solutions for the following year has proven beneficial. These discussions give the various participants a chance to share experiences and to make security aware of any need for changes.

For example, despite the perimeter fencing at the racing event, thieves were, in previous years, slipping over the fence or through unlighted access points under the cover of darkness and making off with small auto parts and other items from vendors. In addition, competitors were finding that race cars were sometimes damaged or disfigured during the night.

When informed of the problem, security personnel recommended several changes. First, souvenir vendors, which had been spread around the grounds, were grouped together in one area to facilitate more frequent security patrols. Second, nighttime lighting was enhanced around the vendor and catering stands, the pits, the main entry points, and the perimeter parking lots. While these changes have not ended all thefts and vandalism, they have significantly reduced the number of incidents.

The national championship organizers encourage the world to race to their site each year, and they cannot afford to have disruptions or distractions put fans off the track. They, therefore, include security as one of the driving forces during planning. That strategy can help any event run its course more smoothly.

Ann Longmore-Etheridge is assistant editor of Security Management and editor of ASIS Dynamics. Pitt Thompson is general manager of Smith Security Corporation of Indianapolis. He is a member of ASIS.

We welcome your comments on this article. Please e-mail the editor at




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