February 26, 2013

If I Only Had a Better Tractor - by Curt Tomasevicz


In a perfect world, athleticism would be the complete and only determining factor in a bobsled race. The team with the fastest push and the best driving lines would be the winner. But, in addition to these two athletic abilities, a fast time in bobsled is also dependent on the team’s equipment. The sled and the runners can help or hinder a team regardless of their athletic ability. Is this fair? Maybe not, but it is a fact of the sport.

Each team is always trying to find the most aerodynamic sled. Where should the sled’s weight be distributed? How stiff should the steering suspension be? Do we want the sled to be built from a lighter material to allow for flex or a more rigid material? At what temperature should the lubricating grease be rated? Along with a million other questions that can change from day to day.

Several bobsleds are flipped upside-down on the start deck at the top of the track before a race.
The race officials inspect the sleds and runners before the competition. 
In addition to the sled, the runners making contact with the ice can have different properties as well that can have a dramatic effect on a team’s downtime. Bobsled runners are not sharp blades like luge runners. Bobsled runners are rounded with a radius ranging from 4.0 to 7.0 mm. Sometimes they are at maximum radius in the front and taper to a minimum radius at the back. Runners are also curved from front to back. They are not flat like skies on the ice. A higher rock means that the middle part of the runner will dig into the ice more than the front and back. A lower rock will distribute the contact with the ice more along the entire runner.
So with these “non-athletic” qualities to a fast downtime, there is a fierce competition to find the fastest sled with the fastest runners. Of course there is an official specification book that regulates all measurements and gives guidelines to every shape, dimension, and material that make up a sled and runners. But as time passes and the sport evolves with technology, new and faster sleds and runners are being designed every day.  No one wants their technology shared with the other teams while, at the same time, everyone is trying to figure out why other sleds seem to fly down the ice.  
Sometimes however, it seems that this equipment competition can become an excuse. Teams that aren’t performing want to blame their equipment for their slow downtimes and poor performances. “My sled just isn’t as fast as theirs.” “My runners won’t go fast on this track in this weather.”
Similarly, a corn farmer may always think that a tractor with more horsepower or a planter with 4 more rows will help their profits and yields. Do you really think a combine with leather seats, air conditioning, and a XM radio will make a better farmer?
In bobsled competitions, these equipment excuses can even lead to accusations. After all, if a team is getting beat, it must be because the competition is cheating. Right? (We were accused of cheating in 2009 when we won the World Championship by almost a full second.)

Usually, the teams with excuses are also the ones that don’t have the fastest push times with drivers that aren’t finding the right driving lines down the track. Slow start velocity along with a trip down the track that includes multiple skids and wall-taps seem to be ignored. In our sport, only the fastest pushes and best driving can make you a champion. Great equipment can help, but there is no substitute for athleticism, strength, speed, and skill. The best equipment in the world doesn’t make a team great, the athletes do.
For that farmer wanting the better tractor? Never forget that hard work, dedication, and persistence make the difference, not the equipment.

“A person that is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else” – Benjamin Franklin

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