Behind the Laptop: Human Error

No matter the sport, nothing is ever perfect

During the early months of 2019, sports talk radio was filled with discussion regarding the NFL Playoffs. Throughout the first three rounds, we saw human error effect the outcome for many of the games. The Wildcard weekend was highlighted by the missed/blocked kick for Cody Parkey and the Chicago Bears. The Divisional weekend was a dropped pass by Alshon Jeffrey of the Philadelphia Eagles. And of course, the Conference Championship for the Rams-Saints was ‘decided’ by non-calls from the referees.

As a lifelong Bears fan, it was a high range of emotions on January 6 watching the Philadelphia Eagles / Chicago Bears Wildcard game at Solider Field. The game, coming down to a field goal for Chicago, to take the lead and the victory. Placekicker Cody Parkey got the ball into the air, and the football perform a ‘double doink’ off the upright and the crossbar. The ball never went through the goalpost, and thus the Eagles won the game.

The Divisional weekend was ironic, as the Eagles had a chance to drive down and score to steal the victory away from the New Orleans Saints. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey – who was drafted and played for the Bears – had the ball slip through both of his hands and into the grasp of Saints defensive player Marshon Lattimore. The INT locked up the victory for the Saints.

Fast forward a week later on January 20, the Saints were driving down the field, eating up the clock and setting up to break the tie with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game. With less than two minutes in the game, Drew Brees attempted a pass to Tommylee Lewis. The play was broken up by Nickell Robey-Coleman on a blatant non-call from the referees on the field, and continues to be a topic of discussion surrounding the NFL during the off-season.

All three situations can relate to motorsports in general and of course karting.

The ‘blocked’ kick is similar to a karter taking over the lead on the final circuit, only to have a mechanical issue holt him short of the checkered flag. Missing a catch could be a karter charging his way through the field and before reaching the leader, nailing a barrier at the apex to bend up the front end components to end your race and chance at victory…or a podium as my fellow SKI colleague – who shall remain nameless – did at the Rock Island Grand Prix. No worries, I did the same thing in a heat race in 2015, and I have the scars on my leg to prove.

Of course, each and every karting weekend surrounds the decisions made by the ‘refs’, or race directors and officials.

I think the issue surrounding the NFL and the non-call, along with the other games mentioned, highlights that nothing in sports is perfect (aside from the perfect game in baseball). Drivers are going to make mistakes, be it driving off at the exit point or turning in too early. Racing is about making minimal mistakes and being the most consistent you can behind the wheel. Mechanics are not excluded from this, as sometimes the airbox is not tightened, or the sidepod may be left loose…again another situation that I am aware of.

Officiating a race has been open to human error. Not every penalty is going to be caught or witnessed by the officials overseeing a race. Attention may be focused on one group while an incident happens with another. Today, video marshalling has become a focal point of race officiating for karting similar to that of professional sports. However, the perception is that video should capture 100% of the penalties throughout the weekend. That, however, is not the case as it is still in the hands of humans to oversee the racing and to call what ‘incidents’ need to be reviewed, and which ones are not. The NFL ‘non-call’ further shows that you can put all the money and effort into making sure a game, or race, can be conducted without error. Yet, that is not the case.

Human error is always going to be part of sports, and especially in karting. While a race may seem perfect, there are always details in which you can make that performance even better. A driver can be more consistent, a mechanic may need to find a better setup for the specific track or conditions, and officials will never be able to see everything on the track, with or without video marshalling. I think that is why I love sports. You will never know the outcome until the final whistle blows, or in our case, the final checkered flag waves.

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