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Crewing for a Death Racer

So, you’ve seen the Death Race, and you want to experience it in some way. Maybe you watched, as Spahtens won the 2013 winter Death Race, or you saw the skulls from the finishers of the summer Death Race, or got to run alongside them on Killington during the team Death Race – and you were inspired.

But, running the Death Race itself is far out of the reach of many of our physical or mental endurance limits (or perceived limits), and fortunately, many of us know this and don’t intend to actually sign up and run the damn thing.

Countless miles of walking ...
Countless miles of walking …

We’re still inspired though – and want to participate, or be around those people – maybe by watching normal humans go through this experience, we’ll come out better ourselves.

That leaves crewing for a racer, or volunteering. Both are essential roles in VT during Death Race weekend – and wether you are parking cars in a field, or helping a hypothermic racer warm up enough to go back out and continue – the event couldn’t happen without your participation too.

Crewing seems to be the most involved way to be at a Death Race without actually racing. You are assigned to an athlete, and your job seems simple – help the athlete finish the Death Race.

Easy, right?

Patrick helps Keith carry his axe
Patrick helps Keith carry his axe

Not even slightly. As crew, you signing up for one of the most grueling, taxing and frustrating weekends this side of actually racing. You are frequently the last to know anything, and you need to be able to respond to your athlete at a moments notice. When they come in at 3am, sleep deprived, beyond hungry and ready to quit – it’s your job to give them the sandwich you were saving for later, hand them a thermos – and give them that pep talk you know will motivate them to go back out and endure whatever else the Peak Races crew have in store for them.

Still interested? I reached out to two experienced Death Race crew – Sandy and Patrick, and a Death Race finisher, who has frequently attributed his skull to the support and care he received from his crew.

Patricks advice is right down to basics.

  • Keep them feed and hydrated. They will be tired and stressed so they forget to do these things.
  • Keep their gear organized clean and dry as you can.
  • Keep there head in the game. When they get tired they will make bad decisions.

These might sound really simple, but without the reminders to eat and drink, the racers will simply forget …

Sandy (as always!) is very practical and detail orientated – which make her a fantastic crew member.

  • First, dress warmly. You’ll have the barn at Amee Farm so you can be inside as much as you’d like, but it isn’t really heated very well and you’ll need warmth for yourself. Then, if you plan to be outside to watch some of the action, bring extra warm gear.
  • Second, be sure to bring some of your own nutrition. I ate like crap for the time I was there and paid for it for the week after. And by crap, I mean not much at all. There aren’t a whole lot of resources near the farm, so I would plan to bring some of your own stuff. There is a gas station with a small store and the general store that serves sandwiches and soups and such, but you have to get there.
  • Plan to try to get some sleep. I stayed awake the entire weekend and had a rough drive home. Over the summer, I took some time for myself and got some sleep each night. That was much better.
  • I brought a little portable heater and found a place to plug it in. That turned out to have been a good idea. I used it some and also used it to try to dry out shoes and socks and such for some of the racers.
  • Bring a chair with you – don’t count on being able to find one if you don’t have one.
  • If you are crewing and getting there after the racers start, have them take pictures of their stuff and where they have it in the barn so you can find it when you get there. It is insane in that limited amount of space when everyone is there. It gets better once people start dropping out and leave.
  • There are coin operated driers available at a hotel about 4-6 miles away from the farm (2640 VT 100, Pittsfield, VT). We used it quite a bit to try to provide dry clothes for the racers. Bring quarters and DO NOT dry shoes in the drier!

And then I asked James, who finished with a skull at this summers Death Race for his perspective.

James and Sandy celebrate his Death Race finish
James and Sandy celebrate his Death Race finish
  • Have a plan. Don’t go up there thinking you’re just going to help someone. Don, Joe and Andy don’t like crews…actually they detest them. So your good intended charity may become additional misery for a racer. That being said go! Go and spectate, it is a spectacle after all. Be there when racer get some sort of reprieve. Offer them encouragement, a sandwich, a soda, band-aid or shoulder. For me some of the best “crewed help” I got was from “mystery” people. Spahtens who just happened to be at the right place for me at the right time. I called them Death Race Angels and that’s exactly what they were. So go to Pittsfield, get with the Volunteer Coordinator, give some of your time. FInd out where and when racers will be at “rally points” and cheer on your teammates and friends. That is all it takes for some to get off their ass and back in the race, because racers are quitting in their head most of the time, but they won’t quit in front of you.
  • Know your racer. You better know your racer better then they know themselves. After 24 hours those remaining will be tapped into primordial parts of the brain. They will have forgone most higher social brain functions. Their mind is in survival mode. They are in fight or flight. So it’s safe to say that if they are still going they are in fight mode. You have to be able to think for them. Identify what they need. Food, water, clothing off, clothing on, foot care, dry socks. If you haven’t established a high level bond with your racer, you are just as likely to get yelled at or even hit by the frantic chaotic trapped animal they have become.

So, when you decide you want to head up to Vermont to crew for the Death Race – be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. In many ways, it can be one of the toughest roles of the event – and if you decide crewing isn’t for you, choose to volunteer instead. You’ll have an essential role, meet amazing people and get a lot more flexibility in your weekend.