In Preparation: Building  the Freestone National

In Preparation Building the Freestone National

June 7, 2011 4:30pm

“Between Thursday morning and Saturday night of the national, I think I got five hours of sleep,” explains Tom Shields, Director of Marketing for Freestone MX and the Rockstar Energy Drink Freestone National, which wrapped last weekend. “I had a heck of a headache for the next few days!”

Ever since Freestone opened in 2000, Shields has been known as track owner Tony Miller’s right hand man. And when you’re preparing for a round of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship—which this track has hosted since 2007—the track owner, his right hand man, and a whole bunch of people are going to put in the work.

For the national weekend, Shields says the track usually uses anywhere from 400-500 employees. About 50 of them put in the kind of crazy hours like Shields did, forgoing sleep for days to make sure the facility is ready for the big race. “We’ve got so many different staffs that are needed to make this a professional-level event,” explains Shields. “You have someone in charge of the gate and that staff, someone in charge of the flaggers and that staff, the track and that staff, and you have to trust those people because you can’t be there to decide on every decision that comes up. I know it goes with the whole Texas image that we’re egotistical and want to do it ourselves, but we all take pride in what we do, and everyone had to take charge and carry out all the plans we have made.”

When all the hard work is complete, this pristine track is produced.
Photo: Simon Cudby

The planning starts well in advance. Shields says the goal is to lock in the sponsors for the event eight to twelve months out, then work on maximizing the investment for those sponsors by tying them into the media buys (advertisements). Then it’s onto the nitty gritty—making sure the event runs the right way. The crew is already looking at notes and feedback from this year’s race to figure out how to improve things for 2012, and Shields admits you have to look at the negative stuff to improve your event. “It’s already all about next year—already—taking in feedback from the public, the fans, VIPs, riders, teams, and it’s not about what we did good, it’s about what we didn’t do good and what we can do better next year.”

Based on that information, they will then host big meetings with the larger staff four and then three months before the race takes place. As always, they learn something new each year.  “We’ve found that getting the plan together is easy,” Shields explains. “It’s communicating those plans to all of that staff, making sure everyone knows what the plan is and how to carry it out, that’s what you work so hard on.

While Rattray and the 250 podium boys were celebrating, Tom Shields (left) was looking back on a year's worth of work.
Photo: Simon Cudby

This year the team ran into a problem on Friday night. They posted revamped directions on the website, figuring some folks would come in the old way and some would come in the new way. But the website directions were actually too effective, because just about everyone used the new entrance. On Friday night, riders were coming in for the Amateur night race, and fans were coming in for the Saturday National, all using the same gate. Traffic piled up quickly, so the crew made a quick decision to open another gate, separate the crowds, and alleviate the problem. Next year, they’ll be ready from the start. It’s just all part of the learning process (and by the way, on Sunday after the pro national, the track hosted four different races on three tracks—an off-road race in the woods, a vintage race on the vet track, and a women’s cup and an amateur race on the national track.) As Shields explains, “We have to do a lot of planning with parking and access and things like that to avoid a logistical nightmare.”

Altogether, it’s a lot of hours and a lot of work to get ready for a National, and instead of celebrating when it’s over, the crew usually just moves right back onto planning the next race. So what, then, drives them to work this hard?

Deep in the heart of Texas.
Photo: Simon Cudby

“That’s a good question,” says Shields. “And I think it all boils down to the one thing that’s true—it’s the love of the sport. If you’re ridden motorcycles or raced motorcycles, you know it. A lot of sports, maybe they get jaded, maybe they take things for granted. Bu in our sport, you see kids who come through the ranks, and how hard they work, how much they sacrifice, you do it for them. They’re the next generation, and we need to give them the best possible event and facility, so they can take it forward to the next set and keep the sport growing.

“You’re working all these hours and not getting much sleep, and you’re doing it in the Texas heat, but you never really get tired,” Shields continues. “You’re running on adrenaline, I guess. But that’s the way it is for anyone in motocross. Working seven days a week, it’s the common denominator. Our sport is all about the want, and if the want fails in any way whatsoever, you’re going to see it on the track.”