predict for growth

predict for growth

Bracket Racing Handicap System

We have all seen the same phenomenon and heard the same stories of dwindling fleets at most, if not all levels of handicap racing.  Here in South Florida, the effects of this are glaring, with fleet numbers down almost everywhere.  Our club in Ft. Lauderdale has repeatedly had to cancel races due to lack of interest.  I have asked a number of people with boats that are ready to go racing, why they are not participating.  One issue that comes up again and again is ratings.  Our club uses a PHRF-type system, with more credits given than are allowed in PHRF, with adjustments that are more forgiving.  This came to pass after the true PHRF class within the club died off.  

I found myself working on an NOR for another race, and wondering whether anyone would show up, and what we could change about ratings to help spur local participation.   My first thought was whether or not I was the problem, as the club handicapper.  I looked at the numbers for another local area where I had worked on ratings, and the fleet numbers are falling precipitously there too, so I ruled myself out as the problem.  Eventually, I figured that it boils down to either people never being happy with their rating, (except the guy whose boat is winning everything, and he doesn’t want a new rating assigned in an Assigned Rating System), or another factor, like the economy.  

Back at square one, I picked up a copy of Hemmings Motor News, conveniently located within arms-length of the “captain’s chair” in our “special thinking room,” to look at some classic old cars that I could never afford.  I flipped to a page with a picture of a local Friday night bracket race at a drag strip, and had an epiphany.  Generally, I am thinking of a type of handicap racing similar in concept to bracket racing with drag race cars.  With brackets, the competitor picks the dial-in number (the time estimated to complete the quarter-mile track) and the winner is (usually) the car that gets closest to their dial in, without going below the number.  Those completing the quarter mile quicker than their dial-in "break-out" and are on the trailer for the night.  

In my scenario, each competitor picks the rating for their boat.  The winner is the boat that sails closest to its handicap for a given race, with those sailing below their handicap being tossed, or otherwise penalized.  In other words, while corrected times would still be needed, they alone would not decide the race.  They would be used in race analysis, to determine each boat’s sailed-to rating for that race, and the winner would be the boat that sailed closest to its rating, without going under it.  Competitors who give themselves fat ratings would get pinched when they sailed below their number.  Good consistent teams that know themselves and their equipment and have good teamwork would excel.  

Keep in mind, I cannot see this working above the local level, if there.  I am struggling with solving the race analysis issue, which would have to happen for every race, to determine a rating-sailed-to number.  With race analysis, a base boat has to be chosen, so the winner would necessarily be the boat chosen as the base boat.  There would have to be a better, or more equitable way to perform race analysis to develop the sailed-to ratings.  

The other problem would be sand-bagging, because a tuned-in team could give itself a ridiculously high rating, and then sail slowly around the course and not sail below it.  At some point, there has to be some shame involved…at any level.  Even in regular PHRF racing there are people who sail with old rags until they get their handicap adjusted.  This way, the shame would be much more immediate and public.  Sand-bagging could be avoided by not publicizing the ratings before the race.  

I ask the Intelligentsia of Sailing Anarchy for your thoughts.  Might this be worth pursuing, perhaps as an alternate scoring of a regular race?  How does one solve the race analysis issue in a logical and equitable fashion? How does one prevent sand bagging? Please check in here with your thoughts.