The View from the Scoring
Written June 14, 2005 by Allan Pratt,
(Expanded somewhat July 9, 2006.)
I was a volunteer at the 2005 Cal24 rally, and it was great fun. As I have
done in past years, I pre-rode the base route a week or two ahead of time,
"proofreading" the instructions provided by Rallymasters Tom Melchild and Mike
Heran and offering suggestions. I knew what the riders were in for: funky
county roads, the snowy vistas of Sonora Pass and Westgard Pass, the
switchback nightmare of Bodfish-Caliente Road in the dark, and some
oh-so-sweet late-night sweepers on CA166 west of New Cuyama.
The rally organizers Mike and Tom did an amazing job, the rest of the
volunteers were first-rate, and a grand time was had by all. Well, almost all;
the "oops" award goes to... well, I'll let somebody else tell that one. As far
as I know, no rider gave any volunteer a hard time, and thanks for that.
At the finish, Tom asked me to help score. This was the first time I helped
score a rally. That experience gave me a new perspective on rallies and the
things that happen during the critical time after the miles have been ridden
and before the finishing order is announced. I decided I would write down some
of my thoughts on that. I don't speak for the Cal24 rally or Tom or Mike:
these are my own observations.
Scoring a rally is a hectic activity. There are people moving around,
stacks of paper (and other junk) to keep track of, balky computers, tired
riders still coming in, and always the clock ticking down. The deadline for
the scorers is the banquet start time: if you don't have the finishing order
ready by then (and usually the Top Ten vetted by the rallymaster himself),
you're keeping everybody waiting - and your own lunch is getting cold!
Scorers have to exercise a kind of limited judgment. When a rider's answer
to a question doesn't exactly match the answer key provided by the RM, the
first instinct is to mark it wrong. After all, the guiding principle is "wrong
is wrong." But there are exceptions: if the wording isn't exact but it's
close, or if the phone number is right but leaves off the area code, you've
got a judgment call. Usually the scorer will ask the RM for a ruling, even
though it means dragging him away from the million other things he's doing
during the finish.
Judgment calls open up the question of variability: if there are multiple
scorers, one might mark the phone number correct even if the area code is
missing; the other might mark it wrong or ask for a ruling. Sometimes the
question doesn't come up until several riders' packages have been processed.
It is possible that a rider whose package has already been scored (or at least
scanned) won't get credit for a certain type of variance from the canonical
answer, even though later riders will. Scorers try to go back and review and
correct earlier packages, and try to remember and give credit for variances
equally, but they're on deadline and fallible. Just so you know.
Then there are the "consistently wrong" answers. As a scorer, when you see
the third or fourth sheet with the same wrong answer for a given question, you
start to wonder whether things weren't as clear in the dark as they might have
seemed while the RM was laying out the route. (See the "L-shaped bench"
example below.) This also calls for a judgment, where the RM can declare that
multiple answers are acceptable due to multiple "equally correct"
interpretations of the rules or the questions. Again, this usually happens
after several packages have been scored, and scorers have to go back and
I'm not trying to say things are always chaotic and random at the Scorer's
Table, and your final standing is just a matter of luck. Scorers try to get it
right, and try to apply the rules and judgment calls equally, but it's worth
knowing that things don't always work out perfectly.
As a rider, you can help yourself lock in the points and save the scoring
volunteers from making judgment calls by doing some simple things:
1. If a question's answer appears on a sign, copy down the exact wording
from the sign. Don't paraphrase or interpret. Question: "According to the sign
at location X, what should you do with children?" If the cutesy sign makes a
joke about "beholding" children and says you should "Be Holdin' 'Em,"
then that's what you should write down. Not "Hold them," which a Rally Bastard
or a scorer in a bad mood might have to think twice about.
2. Make sure you're writing down the proper piece of information. One
question in this year's Cal24 was about the elevation of a certain place with
a marker. It turns out there were two elevation values on that marker,
and at least half a dozen riders copied down the wrong one. (Insert the RM's
evil laugh here.) Reading comprehension counts: the question and the sign were
clear about which one was the right answer. The same thing happened with names
and dates from other markers: there was more than one on the sign, but the
question made it clear which one would get you the points.
3. The flip side of #2 is when the question and location do not make
it clear what the exact right answer is. If there's any ambiguity, record
everything you can. Question: "How many benches are at location X?" Answer: it
depends on how you count. Is it two benches, or one L-shaped bench? Several
riders saw this possible double answer, and wrote (and even sketched!) the
bench configuration. That was very smart. In the end Tom said to score both
"1" and "2" as correct.
4. If you don't see the answer, look again. One question was, "What is the
telephone number of the pay phone at location X?" One rider wrote "blank,"
because the usual location for the number was indeed blank. But this wasn't
that kind of trick question: the phone number did appear somewhere else on the
phone, and lots of other riders found it.
5. Copy information carefully and check it twice: for a different phone
number question, at least one rider copied the phone number down wrong.
Rallies (and scorers!) vary in the amount of leeway they give. The basic
attitude is "wrong is wrong," so a not-quite-right answer puts your points at
risk, subject to the vagaries of the hectic scoring process.
Of course, as always, read carefully and get the right answer to the right
question. Record additional information (time, odometer, etc.) as called for
in the instructions. Write clearly enough that the scoring staff don't have to
guess whether that's a one or a seven or a nine. All that good stuff.
Two other items from the 2005 Cal24, and not very jolly ones:
Unfortunately, Tom had to disqualify two riders who missed a checkpoint and
didn't call in. Every rider needs to realize that this is A Big Deal. When
this happens, the RM has to assume you're bleeding in a ditch, and will start
calling your family and the cops. False alarms are bad for everybody: the RM
doesn't want that grief, and your family doesn't want it, and you don't want
Also unfortunately: it happened that, due to checkpoint worker error, one
rider was believed to have missed the last checkpoint. This set those wheels
in motion again - calling the cops, calling your contact number. The situation
was resolved in a couple of hours, but there was a bad time for the rider's
spouse. You have to know that human error happens. Speaking for myself, if my
wife got that call, I think it could be fatal to my rallying future - or my
motorcycling future altogether! So I think I'd take the time to make my own
spousal call at checkpoints, just to be sure.
Just so I don't end on a downer, I'll express my thanks and appreciation to
the RMs and other volunteers again, to the riders for good behavior, to the
hosting hotel (Keefer's Inn of King City) which did a magnificent job for us
and made a contribution to CEID besides, the banquet site (Margie's Diner in
King City), and to the many sponsors who gave door prizes. Cycle Gear really
came through with something over $1000 in gift certificates of varying sizes,
and both Rick Mayer and Bill Mayer Saddles provided big discount certificates.
At the banquet, the representative from CEID (Center for the Education for
the Infant Deaf, the charity Tom selected as the Cause for this year) taught
us three American Sign Language words appropriate after a 24-hour charity
rally: "thank you," "motorcycle," and "bed."
This page was last edited
April 26, 2008.