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Chris Mize Interview

Inside the Racing Industry’s Toughest Job, Race Directing, with Chris Mize

Interview and Recap by Sandusky Speedway PR, Jarrett Emmerich

Sunday afternoon, I sat down with Chris Mize in the tower of the legendary Sandusky Speedway for the final time in 2015. The smell of cigarettes mingled with that of race fuel being burnt on track as the hum of performance engines filled the air. The omnipresent cackling of the officials radio perpetually interrupted this serenity as the archaic piece of infernal technology barked orders from one official to another as it continually beeped due to its draining battery. These chaotic conditions are those under which Chris Mize performs the racing industry’s most difficult job, race directing. Now, I will attempt to explain what it is like, what Mize likes or despises about his job as well as his thoughts on how to ascend to the upper echelon of the profession as he has.

Mize began this interview by explaining a typical day as a race director. In painstaking detail, he explained all aspects of the profession, from working with the track safety crew to keeping the flagman up-to-date on what needs to be done as well as keeping promoters and track owners happy, making sure the pit area is organized, watching lap times and making the dreaded judgement calls regarding on-track incidents. A race director can have ten different things going at once and he has to accept responsibility for anything that happens, right or wrong.

Naturally, I asked what on earth would make someone attracted to a profession involving such responsibility. He had no real idea but reiterated that he is the most involved person at the track as far as on-track activity goes and that just increases the unexplainable attraction that we all feel for the sport.
I then asked Mize, a motorsports legend, what his favorite part of the sport is. He took a long, thoughtful pause and finally rested on the notion that the people who participate in racing are his favorite part of the very complex sport. Despite his rough demeanor on the radio, he has spent decades of time with these people, who at times cause him to stress out all week long. Even though Mize at times feels this way, he insists that he has still grown a strange affinity for the people who he interacts with in his profession.

We then delved into the more negative portion of his opinions on the sport as he explained why he loathes judgement calls and personal relationships. Unfortunately, these things constitute quite a bit of the profession that he excels so much at.
Judgement calls are, by their very nature, not always right; however, as Mize so eloquently states, “Fair is fair”. The failures in judgement that are sometimes unavoidable bother Mize partly due to his famous “50/50 rule”. Fifty percent of the people in the sport love you and the rest hate you. Mize adds that the half of the people who love you can dwindle quickly if the day isn’t absolutely perfect.

Personal relationships also make Mize’s job unnecessarily difficult. He explained with brutal honesty that relationships are rather volatile due to the fact that you may have to make a call against a friend. Mize went on to make a statement that stuck with me for the duration of the day, “I have no friends when I’m in this tower”.

I was rather taken aback and immediately asked for elaboration. He explained that although the statement is admittedly harsh, it is backed by evidence. When a race director makes a call that favors a friend, he immediately comes under attack for favoritism, regardless of the actions or call that is made. This is why you will never see Chris Mize wear a T-shirt with a driver’s name on it or root for a driver in the tower.

I next asked Mize what it takes to be a good race director. He took no strategic pause or thoughtful intermission to delve into his opinions on this aspect of the profession. Immediately, he explained that a good race director will lead the officials out of the chaos that is often times unavoidable in racing. When asked what training is recommended, he replied that sitting in the tower and watching current race directors perform the job is the best training one could hope for. He adds that many people think that they can take his radios and perform the responsibilities he is tasked with as well or better than him. However, no one but he, and those who sit in the tower next to him as I have be honored to do this season, know the chaos involved in race directing.

Soon, the on-track activity began to pick up and Chris Mize had to return to the job that he has performed admirably for many years. I quickly thanked him for his time and allowed him to turn to his race control radio and begin dictating instructions to both racecar drivers and officials, those subjects who, over decades of time together, have learned to both admire and despise this legendary gentleman.

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