<Statutory Long Post Warning !>
I signed up for the Swift “Record of Records” event the day it was announced on the net. I even sent the links to people I know who owned Swifts. I was biting my nails waiting to find out the location and the timing to make sure I wouldn’t miss it because of other commitments. I was happy to find it was for Sunday morning at a time when I was sure I could make it. I got my Father also interested to come. I was very happy to get the courier on Saturday afternoon with the details of the venue and the time. No mention of needing to reach at a specific time and no mention of what is to be done there. I felt the listing of goodies to be given was probably not required. I would have gone there without the goodies as well. Also wished more details of the actual record were mentioned.
We started out at 6.45 sharp – I get my habit of being punctual from my father and both of us were bathed and dressed by 6.30. Car was fueled up the previous evening itself and tire air pressure checked as well. We decided to take the Poonamalee High road to NH7 and as soon as we neared the Koyambedu junction we started noticing Swifts which we felt were on their way to the event. One orange car had a really nice body kit, 17 inch alloys, graphics with angel eyes headlamps, free-flow exhaust and multiple spoilers. Others had just graphics while others had alloys. The orange car with the body kit was driving at a moderate pace and driving carefully. There were a lot of swifts that darted between traffic like they were in a big rush to reach MMSC(Madras Motor Sports Club) track. Time was not even 7.10 AM. A red swift with 4 youngsters with angel eye headlamps and alloys was in a big rush. Strangely I was in a good mood and let all the “racers” go ahead. I was doing a sedate 70-80 when compared to everyone else.
We reached MMSC by around 7.30 ( there were uniformed guards outside the entrance guiding cars in) and found ourselves to be car #127 based on the number suck on the top right corner of the windshield by some guys in White t-shirts with Swift written on it. Wow 126 people beat us to Sriperumbudur. We saw two long rows of cars parked in the parking lot/field. We parked where we were told by the white t-shirts. A steady flow of cars were coming in. After we parked – there was no one to tell us what to do or where to go. We see people walk to an asbestos shed and followed them. We see breakfast buffet is available there. If we had known we would have come here and eaten – sparing my mother the hassle of getting breakfast ready before 6.30. Still ok – we have some coffee and wait – no place to sit – just stand. No one seems to be in charge and no one seems to have an idea of what happens next. I assume we have to just wait around. Suddenly there is an announcement to all vehicle owners with numbers less than 200 to be near their cars. We foot it back to the car – a good 300- 400 meters back. It is bright and sunny at 8 and already I am sweating like an animal. I was expecting further announcements but there were none.
We wait near the car for a bit and don’t know what to expect. We see some cars parked in a line waiting to be let on the track. Since there was no one to guide the participants – people started getting in their cars and getting in line behind the initial line of cars. The event management team is nowhere to be seen – only some people doing the initial number writing and asking people to park in the parking lot. Cars started creating new lines in addition to the initial line. Few white t-shirts suddenly turn up and try to merge 5 lanes of cars into one going to the track. They are calling up each other on mobiles – very clear that they themselves were not sure what to do.
Finally we start moving towards the track on a small approach road that could accommodate one vehicle at a time. It took so much time that my father had time to go to the rest room and come back and I had moved only a few feet. There were some boys with rags and cleaning solution wiping windshields of cars heading to the track.
Some balloons were tied to the wipers but they started bursting soon with the heat. A lot of cars were seen stacked 4 wide on the track. The JK Tyre folks were the first ones walking around giving service discount coupons while we were waiting to get to the track on the service road leading from the entrance to the track.
We finally were allowed to get on the track and park. People had no idea how long it would take and what we were waiting for. This was probably around 8.40 something. Didn’t feel like getting out of the car either so sat for a while. Then noticed white swift t-shirt wearing people walking around handing out large envelopes to each car. We get one too and find they are stickers for the car. We also get some forms to fill for using the track and allowing Maruti/MMSC and everyone else from being held responsible for anything that could happen on track. There are other things to fill which will get us a fuel card and amusement park tickets. A sheet of instructions was also given. A small Adidas red and black bag with Maruti Swift on it was also given. The bag had a lot of the goodies like a t-shirt( unfortunately M size – I have to wait for my son to grow up to probably 14/15 – no one else at my home will fit into it), cap, JK Tyres tubeless tire repair kit, couple of key chains, towel, pens, tissues. Wow so far so good.
We sweat and sit for at-least an hour while stickers are put on the cars. I had brought my camera with me and took photos whenever I could. Unfortunately while taking the photos I didn’t notice the “www.swift-life.com” sticker was being put off center at the front of the car. It was too late when I noticed. The huge white “SWIFT” sticker on the roof was nice but didn’t account for the curve of the roof and ended up being put in a way that is slightly off in alignment. Before I know it JK Tyre & Suryan FM stickers were also on the car. All this stickering work could have been avoided and instead spent on a good briefing for the participants regarding the event.
There was music playing loudly on the track and a lot of stalls with games seemed to be there. However since there was no announcement as to what the plan was – most people were in or around their cars. Only a few people/children went and played. I managed go get a bottle of water and bottle of Nimbooz – we had brought 2 bottles of water but they were already getting warm in the heat. I took photos of the car all decked out with stickers. Small thought goes through my mind wondering how difficult it would be to get rid of the stickers and the gum that gets left behind. I read the list of instructions given regarding the parade and find that the speed limit should be kept around 20 kmph and max gear to be 3rd. No overtaking no honking, no listening to music, no taking photos and no drinking, seat belts to be worn at all times. I was impressed by the rules. Didn’t think for a moment about if people would observe these rules.
Finally past 10 we see the start of the parade move. Still no announcements – I manage to get a photo of the starting set of cars and then rush into my car. Some people have left their cars and are at the stalls and do not know the parade has started. So it takes time for all to start moving. I get to a place where there is a video camera mounted on a huge swing arm that’s being moved all over taking photos of the participants.
The Parade Starts:
I see the lady from Guinness talking to a couple of guys who seemed to be the organizers. 4 lanes of cars were being merged into 2 lanes at the exits from the pits. I manage to shoot some more photos before handing the camera to my father to take some photos while I start to drive. We hear snatches of instructions while we drive past the starting point – mainly hear instructions about keeping the driver side window open for hearing instructions. I dutifully open the window – AC becomes pointless now so open both front windows and have the blower going on.
One old dude with a funny mop like haircut feels he has to honk when the cars start moving and he keeps repeating the honking at intervals.
We notice there is one guy on a bike before the first corner to the side of the road doing nothing and around C3 there is one more guy on a bike and another on foot who are half heartedly yelling out to cars that they shouldn’t stop but to keep moving. They do not look past where they stand where we have to slow down to a stop since the cars in front are not moving and we can see the cars all the way from between C3-C4 all the way to C8. We can see that those cars are not moving – there is no way we can move without breaking formation. We don’t move out of formation but inch along when the vehicles in front move ahead. The people who we saw yelling out don’t stop were the last ones for the entire track – we didn’t see anyone else anywhere on the track.
Till around C4 (4th corner) two rows of vehicles were moving beautifully maintaining speed and keeping distance. However as soon as we near the farthest end of the track from the pavilion we suddenly notice a couple of cars zoom through the middle of the two rows of vehicles and soon enough behind it others started following. These were definitely not maintaining speed, not maintaining formation nor driving carefully. All had their windows up as well. Most didn’t have stickers applied or had numbers higher than 500.
The order began to turn into disorder at that point .People broke all formation and generally went for it zooming and racing all over the track. I kept going at 20 for a bit then had to speed up to 30 to make sure I was not going to get hit by other vehicles. I didn’t go faster than that. Little past C10 we notice vehicles slow down quickly and come to a halt. I do so as well and creep towards C11. There are 4 lanes at this point on the track and two sets of drivers driving on the grass/mud on both the sides of the track. We stop at this point for quite a while without making any progress.
Finally we reach a place past C11 where we can see C12 and the start of the track. Nothing is moving and we cannot tell why. Suddenly we see the vehicle start moving and more rush past us on the track and off the track as well. At the starting point we are made to keep going with no instructions whatsoever. We pass C1,C2 and again the madness repeats. This time I felt it was worse since people were speeding much more than the first time. I stuck to the rightmost edge of the track and kept going hoping I wouldn’t get hit. I saw a couple of cars smack into each other – didn’t get to see how bad the damage was since I was too busy making sure I wasn’t going to get hit.
I had a very narrow miss when a Azure Grey Swift cut across my front leaving less than a meter to spare – he didn’t even notice my car while he cut across a corner ( I think it was C10) diagonally.
There was a bit when we were stopped near C11 where it was too far to walk to the start where all the people in the cars there had no idea what was going on at the start which was preventing the movement of vehicles. People that heard the briefing about the windows being kept open had the windows open for quite a while but the heat at around 11 AM made it hard to sit without the AC and without any shade. Soon people were out of the cars and walking around outside. Still smart alecs were driving off the tracks – wheels spinning and throwing up clouds of dust trying to get to the starting point – narrowly missing the people walking outside their cars.
Initially I thought we were at a position somewhere near the first quarter of the length of the parade but by the end of the second lap I realized I was in the last 2 quarters since most had overtaken us. By around 12.15 we were in the last quarter of the line.
We waited in the car for long time and couldn’t see any movement of the vehicles near the starting arch exiting the track. Some enterprising people moved aside the asbestos sheets and drove on the grass towards the pit lane since they got tired of waiting for the cars to move. Soon I realize there are very few cars behind me. I also notice an exit gate has been opened that leads to the entrance and to the highway and people are leaving that way. I even saw an I10 come in through that gate.
We saw some people (official looking types – not sure if they were from Maruti or from MMSC) walk from the starting arch towards the side gate and while they walked past they said you can leave this way – take a u-turn and leave. Some people including myself decided enough was enough and we backed up a bit , did a u-turn and drove off the track to the side gate. Strangely the people were giving out the fuel card and amusement park coupons there at the exit. Nothing was being collected from the cars (none of the cards we had filled were collected). I grabbed what they were handing out and started off to the highway. Since it was already 12:45 we decided to stop for lunch at the hotel past Queensland and then head home. Finally reached home a bit before 3 PM.
In Hindsight Notes & thoughts of what could have been done better:
- Who was responsible for the event ? Sponsorships are fine but there has to be one party owning such events and being responsible for them start to finish. No one dared own up for the fiasco – no one was to be seen managing or coordinating things.
- Gaps in communication:
- The initial details about the event gave a time saying 8.30-11.30. Mistake one – this communication could have the detailed agenda mentioned to ensure people showed up on time.
- A briefing of the volunteers should have been done. Also for 500+ participants probably at-least 2 volunteers for every fifty cars was required.
- A briefing of all the drivers was required at the start. People who didn’t make it on time and didn’t get the briefing should not have been let on the track. Just the knowledge of what the rules of the event were and the fact that violation of the rules would result in the whole event not qualifying should have been mentioned. There should have been explicit instructions on “No Racing”. If there was a problem with briefing all participants at the same time– it could be done in batches of 50 each.
- Most people who showed up (myself included) didn’t realize the record being attempted was the parade record and not the largest number per se that showed up. The sheet with instructions indicated they had planned for a max of 500 odd vehicles – but seeing what happened I feel even with half/quarter the number the organizers would be stumped.
- Suryan FM one of the sponsors of the event could have made use of their FM channel by relaying instructions live over the air – this would have ensured all vehicles were synched up on instruction without any gaps. They instead were playing random music /some interviews of people at the event – I felt it was interviews of people still waiting to get on track.
- A pace car/cars were required and volunteers should have been placed all around the track. Yes it was hot and would have been torture to stand in the sun but that’s nothing a good umbrella and sunglasses couldn’t remedy.
- No signs of any ambulance or medical assistance /emergency breakdown/tow vehicle. There were breakdowns we heard and people somehow managed to set things right on their own. I would be surprised if no one required some sort of medical assistance during the event. On a minimum there should have a doctor and ambulance on hand for any emergencies – people should also know what to do if there was an emergency of any sort – medical or mechanical.
- There was absolutely no police presence!!! Whenever there are large crowds gathering – it definitely makes a difference to have police presence. Of course this is on private property – but it is a public event – a request to the police and they would be there in full force. This could have prevented ugly fights from breaking out and also prevented petty theft from happening as well. I saw some youngsters break the binds on the stacks of tires near C11 and load up their car with at least 2 tires. What they can do with old tires is not sure – but they still stole it. I couldn’t see their car so don’t have the number plate.
- The stickering work done all around the car could have been avoided – saved the expenses and spent it on communication of details of the event and probably saved hours of time.
- Coupons for the petrol/diesel & amusement park could have been given at the beginning / it could have been communicated that coupons would be mailed to people if there was a delay.
- There didn’t seem to be any media coverage of the event by mainstream media? Why? Finally the only mention in major papers was abou the Gurgaon event.
All in all I wish it had been managed better and that the crowd had also behaved better. We could have been part of a Guinness World Record – but I guess that was not meant to happen.