Before the invention of the Internet and cell phones, there was only one way of communication between race vehicles in trouble and their pit crews: the Stuck Stub.
Although rather prehistoric in nature, they are still in use today.
The “stuck stub” process is simple—you get “stuck” on course, in a ditch or a result of a breakdown, and you fill out a small piece of paper with some vital info about your predicament and hand it to the next vehicle that comes down course. He or she is supposed to pull you out of the ditch, or take the stuck stub to the next checkpoint and give it to an official, who can (supposedly) radio it into race HQ or your pit crew. Checkpoints usually were manned by Ham radio operators who could transmit over great distances.
In the early ’70s citizens band (CB) radios were the only hope for communications, but their hit-and-miss performance left a lot to be desired. In Baja, you were as likely to talk to a farmer in Kansas as you were to another pit crew a mile away. Some teams tried (illegal) boosters to triple their power with limited success. But help was on the way.
The stuck stub was used universally and was the only way to communicate, until 1976, when commercial FM radio became available to the high-end race teams who had big bucks to spend. Bob “Weatherman” Steinberger was hired to relay messages for the Stroppe and MacPherson teams at the 1976 Mint race, north of Las Vegas.
Bob bought a 20-foot weather balloon and rigged an antenna to it with 175 feet of cable. He was able to communicate with all 18 of the race vehicles of the two teams, but when team boss Joe MacPherson wanted to talk to Bob, he couldn’t remember his name. So, on the air, he asked for the “Weatherman,” referring to the big balloon in the sky. That was the beginning of the Weatherman legend.
After that, written stuck stubs waned in popularity; race teams bought FM radios, as the Weatherman and BFG Relay (Bob Hines) kept teams informed of cars that developed trouble on course, and a bonus, an update of when lead vehicles passed checkpoints.
It was a vast improvement over the stuck stub method, because the information went out in a matter of minutes instead of the hours it usually took for stuck stub info to be relayed from the racer on course to the checkpoint via another racer, and then by Ham radio from the checkpoints to race HQ and then posted on a board at start/finish, and viewed by the race team members.
A visit to the stuck stub board just outside of race HQ in Ensenada would reveal half the story of the race. Not the winning part, but it spoke volumes about who was broke down and where and, in most cases, why.
At this event, stubs read:
Car 128: Broke down between Checkpoint One and Two; broke front end.
Car 133: Out of race, in tow, 9:15 a.m. 31 Oct.
Car 102: Notify FAIR, cannot travel. Bring trailer Ck 1. (posted) 2:10 p.m.
And so on and so on.
This method is still used in the Best in the Desert races, where most of the content on the race frequency deals with operational problems on the race course and problems that affect the running of the event. Pit crew requests for the status of their vehicles are directed to the pit captain at the start and or finish line.
“The Weatherman” continues on the air at SCORE events, some 36 years after his debut, informing race teams and the public almost instantly after an event occurs on course.
Martelli Bros, promoters of the Mint 400, now use the services of the Weatherman to track vehicles around the course and inform all listeners of car status on his frequency. It relieves the Best in the Desert race officials (who actually put on the race for the Martelli Bros) of having to deal with such requests and let them focus on race ops. It seems to be a comfortable arrangement for racers and race officials.
Vaya con Dios
from the staff of Dirt Sports