Mike's "Raceplace Saga"

For unimportant reasons (Mike's tennis game was suffering), in 1978 he decided to take up jogging/running to improve his fitness.   He took a Phoenix Parks & Rec. class in "running", to learn some basics that he probably didn't know (he didn't).   After that, and buying some Adidas running shoes (he did learn that tennis shoes weren't good for running), he set about running on local canal banks most mornings.   This led to his running his first 10k.

Although there were some surprises in this race (i.e. this (6.214 mile) course was mismarked and poorly monitored, so he actually ran about 8 miles!), he complete his first formal running race...and he was "hooked".   This became the start of a 10 year journey into "running": organized races and age-group competition.   He was never competitive in his age-group divisions, but he enjoyed the environment and people, and he met many of the "movers and shakers" in the sport.   This is how Mike became acquainted with Rob Wallack.   Mike forey into the business of timing and scoring endurance races started here.

From 1978 to 1987, Mike ran in more than 100 races, from 1 mile to marathons.   Lots of 10Ks, but trending toward longer distances.   In this pursuit, Mike saw a lot of different processes for timing and scoring, as a number of organizations and individuals sought to enter and exploit this burgeoning new business.   Some, such as Valley Events mostly "mass market" organizers, interested in exploiting a growing sports interest without investing much in technology...or quality.   (Mike's first race, with weak course management and measuring, was done by this firm.)

Rob Wallack wasn't yet much of a player in this business - he put on one key race event, the Runner's Den 10K Classic.   Intended primarily as a "promotion vehicle" for his athletic wear and shoe business, Rob promoted this race by bringing in some marquee runners (e.g. Bill Rodgers, Tom Fleming, Bruce Bickford, and others).   In the early years, this attracted a lot of attention, as expected.   Mike ran this race several times and got to know Rob by purchasing running shoes at his store.   This race soon became the biggest race event in Phoenix, and other race organizers started asking Rob to manage their events, as well.   Rob wasn't really seeking this business, but he started doing more and more of it - runners were in fact seeking out his store and buying running gear.  

Mike and some of his fellow Honeywell employee became involved with the Fiesta Bowl Marathon, assisting the Boston division's people who came to Phoenix to time snad score that event.   Rob saw that this was a first class event, and came out to see how the timing and scoring was done.   Rob and Mike discussed some of the technical aspects of the Honeywell process (which was also used to time and score the Boston Marathon). During that conversation, Mike learned that Rob had a fledgling computer program a friend had written, and Mike asked to see it in action.   Rob invited Mike to see it a few weeks later at a race he was managing.

At this event, Rob invited Mike into the truck he had at the finish line, where Mike saw a crude and cumbersome computer system that didn't work well.   Mike had recently taken a computer programming course (Pascal), and he offered to develop a better system for Rob's use...as a practice exercise for his newly learned language.   Little did anyone know how this casual offer would evolve...

About this time, Rob was considering going "big time" in the race management business, and he knew he needed something better than his little race scoring system.   During the summer (non-racing) season Mike set about writing a few programs in this Pascal language, based on his own experiences and what he had learned about the Honeywell system.   It was clear that Rob couldn't invest in the level of computer equipment Honeywell had been brining out to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl Marathon (it came in a full-size trailer truck), so Mike's system was much smaller in scope...at first. By the Fall of 1986, Mike had a good working prototype, Rob had some portable computers, and they were ready to try it out at a local 10K race.   For the most part, it worked well enough to show that the concept was feasible.   Mike continued to develop and enhance his programs, and Rob formally jumped into the race production business with Raceplace Events, which he ran out of his Runner's Den store.

In 1988, Rob Wallack secured the first national contract to handle the timing and scoring of a series of major duathlons, the Coors Light 1Duathlon Series.   This was the first forey in "multisport" processing for Rob's new business, and the processing of more than one finish per athjlete had to be tested on Mike's computer software.   Unfortunately, this coincided with Mike's terrible bike accident and serious head injury, and this significant national work contract was placed in serious jeopardy. Rob frequently showed up at Mike's hospital room, showing obvious concern for Mike's recovery...

When Mike left the hospital and entered neuological rehab at Barrow Neurological Institute, he had no real idea of what was going on around him.   Rob was understandably anxious to see if Mike could continue to support and enhance his software system, and Mike was not aware of the implications of his work.   Potentially getting involved with a mentally and physically challenging new activity (such as travelling and working long, stressful hours in remote environments) was a concern for Libby and the medical staffs Mike was working with in his recovery.   The whole idea of participantion was frought with many problems...

Rob obtained a nearby multisport event's business (the Prescott Biathlon), which he felt would be a good "dry run" for the Coors series.   It was a solo race, close to home, and would be working with known organizers and volunteers.   He convinced Libby to let Mike go and work the race, as it would be "minumally disruptive" to what Mike's therapy and schedule.   For the most part, it was harmless (and sucessful), and the only issue was when Mike had to climb a scaffold at the Finish Line: he was weak and still healing from his physical injuries.   (Actually, climbing off the apparatus was more difficult...)

Bolstered by this modest level of success (for Rob's new entry into multisport production, Rob introduced Mike to the hiring manager for the Coors Light series, Anna Noel.   She represented the magazine publisher (Rodale Press) that had hired Rob to do the data processing for the Coors Light series.   Anna would travel to each race site with us and deal with the local race directors and elite athletes.   Mike would travel as well, but his role was just to do the data collection and reporting for each race.   Rob would bring a small crew to do data entry (using Mike's software) and record backup information as needed.

As this operation was quite new to Rob's crew, he selected a team of people he trusted - having worked for years with most for his "Runner's Den" race.   Mike knew these people (men and women) pretty well, and it was important that this team get a,ong well: travelling all across the country; sleeping togetrher; working under different and sometimes harsh conditions.   Because Rob has an inate ability to find and hire really good people, everything worked remarkably well over the several years of this and other major event series.

That's not to say this wasn't difficult for Mike, as the physical stress of having to produce "end results" took its toll.   Mike really wanted to make the software he was developing successful.

The first Coors Light race was in Orange County, California, on August 14, 1988, just a month after the "dry run" race in Prerscott.   Mike's doctors and therapists at the Adult Day Hospital were concerned about Mike travelling and working in the stressful situations, but he travelled with the crew, and the event was successful.   Rob learned some important things about working with local organizers and volunteers, but Mike was spared those concerns.   The team - mostly Mike - had 4 weeks until the next event, which was in Seattle.   That trip was also while Mike was in therapy, and the weather conditions there were bad: tornado warnings early in the mornings, high winds and humidity...and swarms of mosquitos.   Very difficult working conditions for the crew and equipment, but the team got through the race and flew home safely.   It was also a taste of what was to come in further events - 7 more that year.

1. The race type "Duathlon" replaced the original "Biathlon" the series had, when a "copyright infringement" had to be avoided with the Winter Olympic (skiing & shooting) sport.

Rob's new business continued and grew.   The Coors Light series continued for 5 years, and was joined with the Bud Light Triathlon Series in 1991.   This was an even bigger contract (even for only 3 years), as there were 5 phases to time and score (the Coors Light races had 3 phases): it meant larger travelling crews and meant that Mike could be at the Coors Light events when they were on the Bud Light race dates.   Rob had to take over the computer work for Coors Light, while Mike handled the Bud Light races,   By that time, Mike's software was quite stable, although he was making some enhancements in support of the more complex races.   There were some long distance phone calls from Rob, but by 1991 Mike was in fairly good shape for the added challenges.   Still, the physical effort associated with travel, long hours, and occasional extreme weather were taxing on all.

By this time Rob had formalized his new venture - called Raceplace Event Systems, Inc. - as a separate business from his store, although there was a clear linkage of both companies.   He expanded his store to accompdate the Raceplace activities and materials, and Mike started spending a lot of time there.   Often, he'd be running over there during his lunch hour; there was a lot of event followup and (new) race planning, because Raceplace was growing locally and nationally.   There vare some events, such as the Whiskey Row Marathon, Pat's Run, the Lost Dutchman Marathon that have persisted (and grown) years after year.   Raceplace Events is recognized across the USA and one of the leading, if not the best, race management companies anywhere.   (This is not to say that Mike has any significant part in Raceplace's success: it's due to Rob Wallack and his leadership that Raceplace hold eminent status in this business.)

In 2007, Rob sold the Raceplace Events business to a protege of his, Ghris Giles.   Mike found himself working for a different "boss" in this enterprise.   At the same time, Chris was expanded the scope of the timing part of the business, buying new computers and timing equipment.   The new technology Chris was investing in didn't fit well with Mike's software systems, and Mike had decreasing part in the whole business.   The new systems relied heavily on Internet processing and "real time" reporting, so Mike wasn't needed at races or even in the data preparation.   This was okay with Mike, as his advancing age and reduced energy level were making it more and more difficult to travel and/or get up very early to be at events.   His current role is only collecting and managing race "historical" data that's posted on an Internet site (that's not yet a part of the Raceplace Events Web site...it may never be so).   Mike is many races and several years behind in this work, as processing the Coors Light and Bud Light (and other multi-sport) races has been very difficult.

So Mike has almost concluded a 30 year "second career" in the computerization of large scale endurance sports.   He has many good memories of working with quality people, none of whom had any of the normal "corporate adgendas" that often made working in large companies unpleasant: politics, personality conflicts, gossiping, etc.   Mike regards the many "crew people" fondly, because together they all created success, often under really difficult conditions.   Most of them are also, like Mike, not involved, and some have passed away.   He'd like this part of any personal legacy to reflect not on the occasional money he made with these people, but on their accomplishments and the relationships they all had with each other.   It was "the best of times".


Last Updated: August 2, 2019