Mark Grutza, CHIdiot racer, and now a CHIditarod Foundation Board Member, remembers coming into Chiditarod as a new racer and realizing that if they wanted to win, they’d have to go big. Here’s how they did it…
Year one of the Chidiots was a wake-up call. We arrived at the starting line with a poorly constructed woman in labor sitting atop an unmodified shopping cart with legs in stirrups clearly constructed from various home depot hardware. Our feeling of confidence lasted 10 minutes… right up to the point Action Squad and The Derailers rolled by with scale replicas of stage coaches and steam engines artfully designed down to the smallest detail. We shook it off, had an amazing race and discovered Chiditarod would become an important part of our lives despite being just another team in a crowd of creativity.
Years two and three saw better cart construction but race days ended with us crying, “Foul! The same teams always win.” The truth though… our carts weren’t that good.. and we knew it. We didn’t deserve awards. It’s a hard pill to swallow after weeks of constructing a theme in a cold basement.
Ever since that first-year mind-f@#$ of watching stage coaches and steam engines roll past we’d known one thing… we wanted to be Action Squad. So! Somewhere in year three we started having long discussions about our careers as Chiditarod racers. It wasn’t long until those discussions developed into a plan…. A long-term, drawn-out plan. And you know what? It worked.
Step 1: Play to your strengths. We had a couple guys with basic electrical skills (and we weren’t seeing much that on race days) so we came up with themes that incorporated sound systems, flashing lights, car horns and playable Pacman games. People take notice when you’re running down the street dressed as the Beastie Boys with Sabotage blaring from your cop car only to be drowned out by the intermittent BEEP BEEP of an actual car horn wired to a button on your dashboard.
Step 2: Win the low-hanging fruit. In 2013 teams where raising lots of money but only donating a few hundred pounds of food. So we donated 1,223 lbs (barely beating out second place) and took home our first award. In 2014 we knew we had to go double or nothing, so we donated 3,293 lbs. In 2015… 8,576 lbs. A long way from 2012’s first place donation of 260 lbs. Beyond the obvious fact that this was helping feed the homeless, winning Food Donation for three straight years gave us recognition.Step 3: Climb to the juicy top. We’re out of the food game. With Chiditarod recognition we’re now focused on raising money for the Chiditarod grant program and continually trying to out-do ourselves on cart design.
Step 4: Never forget Chiditarod = Oktoberfest + Halloween + Gay Pride Parade. You’re having fun with your friends on the most amazing day of the year. That’s a win in itself.