I have a dirty little secret…. Come to think of it, most of my friends that I have met in person have been letting me know about it for quite some time: I am an OCR Addict. I’m a member of far too many OCR Facebook groups. Hell, I even admin too many OCR Facebook groups. We talk about shoes, gear, course directors, and the future of the industry. A popular topic is what races are emerging to challenge the “Big 3” of Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash. More often than not the races being mentioned are Battlefrog and Atlas Race. Battlefrog is new(ish) on the scene and while they garner amazing race reviews and positive feedback on their challenging and innovative obstacles and courses, their attendance so far this year has yet to mirror their social media machine. Atlas hasn’t fared any better, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of “coverage” they get on Facebook. I do, however, have an idea of what current event might eventually have a puncher’s chance to enter the ring with the “Big 3,” and that event is Savage Race.
Savage has come a long way from their first event in 2011. They have added large scale innovative obstacles, an upgraded website with top notch customer service, and most importantly more participants. I recently went back through the timing company results from 2014 and compared last year’s fall Florida race to this year’s fall Florida race and their weekend attendance (Saturday and Sunday) increased from 4,608 to 7,480, an increase of 2,872 finishers in a year’s time. Florida is Savage’s home race, so I doubt the growth will follow in every market, but clearly they are doing something right. Considering all of this, I often find myself fielding questions about Savage Race from veteran OCR friends on the internet who somehow haven’t heard about or done the event. Don’t get me wrong, Savage Race has an online presence, but they have always managed to stay out of the fray of OCR drama and at the moment are thriving in spite of it. So, instead of posting a status asking the OCR community to explain all of this, I reached out to CEO and Co-Founder Sam Abbitt and Race Director Garfield Griffiths of Savage Race to find out for myself.
ORM: What is your approach to growing Savage? How would you say it differs from your competition?
Sam: We approach the growth of Savage Race with a combination of enthusiasm and patience. We’re excited to see the company grow, but also careful to grow at a pace that we can handle. We want to provide the very best experience for our participants, and that means delivering the world’s best obstacles and an awesome race experience every time. We may be growing a little slower than some of our competitors, but we’re know that our approach will ensure that Savage Race is around for a very long time to come.
ORM: I’ve had very positive customer service experiences with Savage in the past. Is this an area of focus for you?
Sam: Absolutely. We’re always working to provide great customer service to our participants. With so many people attending our events, it means that many people have customer service needs. Everyone on our team is experienced with customer service and helps out with it, which means that we can all take great care of people on race day, too. And we’re constantly working to improve our processes and come up with solutions that meet the most needs for the most people. It’s always going to be a focus for us.
ORM: Garfield, You’ve worked at other events, how has working for Savage differed from your other experiences?
Garfield: Savage reminds me a lot of my first OCR company, Fearless Events. They keep it small, and have a very family vibe going on. Everyone pitches in! At any one time, you will see SR team members running the volunteer tent, then sorting Payroll, then helping build obstacles….it’s great. For example; for my first Savage event a few weeks ago, I was build crew, an obstacle designer, a volunteer shuttle driver, I was in charge of the new SavagePRO program and helped get the elites ready to go. Oh yes, I even filled in as the MC on stage for 3 hours doing contests and such (yes, I did a “butt selfie” contest). Those people that know me, know I am happiest wearing many hats. I honestly love this approach. It keeps everyone busy and challenged – you would be hard pressed to get bored with your job here as it keeps changing.
The team at Savage is very hard working and MOST importantly, experienced. You have to remember they’ve been doing this since around 2011; not many races can say that. I was a little concerned about “fitting in” (you know how families can be), but not the case, I was welcomed with open arms and couldn’t be happier at this point.
ORM: You’ve revamped your elite heats to SavagePro and the payments are scaled based on location. Is this something you are looking to push further in addition to your successful open heats?
Sam: Yes, it sure is. We’re excited for the growth of SavagePRO and look forward to attracting more elite competitors to our events. This wasn’t always a strong area of focus for us, because we wanted to concentrate our efforts on developing a race that appeals to a wide range of people with all ability levels. But now that we’ve grown, we’re putting a little more focus on developing SavagePRO. It’s our goal to offer a well-organized, clearly defined SavagePRO elite heat with prizes and awards that do a good job recognizing the competitors. It’s going to be fun to develop this throughout the year and into the future.
ORM: Savage Race has stayed east of Texas and does well at most of their events, yet there is very little talk about them on social media. Why do you think that is?
Garfield: Funny thing, I have been asked this a couple of times. My thoughts on the social media chatter not being as “loud” as other race series is (in my opinion) to do with the Savage Race secret recipe for success… grass roots marketing!!! Plain and simple. I feel “other” races concentrate so much time, money and effort on the elite/media side of things that Joe Public gets overlooked (and the race numbers suffer). These races don’t seem to realize that Joe Public pays the bills. So, Savage has quietly and incredibly successfully given the public what they want for many years. This might not have all the pizazz and wow factor that the media likes to see, but *9,000 people at an event? That’s pretty “WOW” in my eyes. That being said, part of my job now is to help with the PR side of things and raise the profile of Savage Race even higher, like on that bloody ORM site..LOL…
ORM: What are your goals now that you are a race director at Savage race?
Garfield: Going back to my first answer, based on the way Savage operates, there’s really no such thing as a “Race Director” mainly because everyone does everything here. So, we really are all “Race Directors” and part of the “Operations” dept. As far as my goals? Currently, my goals are to fit in, and hopefully bring additional perspective to an already great company. Also, I plan to help with the continued, but steady, improvement and expansion of the Savage Brand.
I read a great quote the other day, that to me totally sums up the Savage “way.”
“A small team of A-Plus players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” – Steve Jobs
I will just leave that there.
ORM: When you first started Savage I imagine you had a vision of what you wanted it to become. How does Savage compare to your original vision now? What is your vision of the future?
Sam: We’re really proud of what Savage Race has become. We started with a small team and a big idea, and the goal of developing an incredibly high-quality obstacle race company. I think over the past 4 ½ years we’ve done a great job at moving toward fulfilling that vision, and we’re only going to keep going from here. We’re continuing to develop the markets we’re already in, and expanding to new markets as we’re ready. Our team has grown considerably, our attendance is quite significant in the industry, and our obstacles are world-class. We’re just going to keep going on the path that we’re on. The Savage Race future looks bright and we’re excited to be a part of the obstacle racing industry.
*Editor’s note- The event Garfield is referring to actually had 7,480 finishers. Typical no-show rates are in the 10-15% range for any obstacle race. Our experience is that almost all race directors tend to “round up” when giving attendance numbers. They also tend to include actual or speculated spectator attendance when listing these numbers.
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Nice interview! didn’t know their attendance was close to 9,000 people.
By the way, I have just went through my first year anniversary in OCR with a few over a dozen races on my belt (and about 10 more to come this year) of races of different kinds, and Savage was by far my favorite event!
Challenging, but so much fun without the pain of thinking about burpees or bodybuilders or any penalty or sorts. Not that I will fail many obstacles, but the fact that you are free to try without that weight in your shoulders makes it A LOT more fun!
Can’t wait for the Savage Fall race when it comes back to Atlanta!
Thanks for this article, Keith! It was nice meeting you this past weekend in Maryland!
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