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Getting Your Way-Point Across Pro Navigator Erica Sacks’ Waypoint Nav-School helps racers learn how to improve their GPS and navigation skills By Dan Sanchez Photos courtesy Erica Sacks From the first time Baja was challenged by Bud and Dave Ekins, navigating across the desert was done with maps, compasses, and fuel stops that confirmed the general direction along the way from Ensenada to La Paz. Soon afterward, maps and compasses plotted the course, but it wasn’t until the use of GPS that navigation became an advantage for race teams. No one knows this better than Erica Sacks. Her father Chuck Sacks is a SCORE Baja 500 and SCORE Baja 1000 winner racing in 1600 and Class 5, later joining the Mullen Class 10 team to victory. He was influential in getting Erica involved in racing early, where she began competing in 1600 vehicles, and then in various forms of rally and off-road racing. “I love racing and quickly began making a name for myself in it,” said Sacks. “I love navigating and wanted to learn more, so I got better at it.” Although Sacks comes off as a sweet and energetic young lady, she is also a fierce competitor. With 20-years of racing experience, Sacks is Baja hardened, extremely tough, dangerously smart, and has navigated for her dad, as well as racers such as Cody Parkhouse, Dale Ebberts, Jessi Combs, and Brian Busby. She’s also a Lowrance brand ambassador and has navigated for many pro-rally and off-road championship race teams, most recently, 2019 SCORE Trophy Truck Spec Champion Sara Price. Sacks is such a strong believer in how advanced navigation techniques can lead a team to victory, she started a navigation school to help other racers learn the various methods acquired from her experience in many forms of rally racing.   “Knowing how to properly use a GPS and plotting during pre-running, has dramatically changed the role that the navigator plays in a winning team,” says Sacks. “There are different types of navigation depending on the sport, including Desert GPS, Rally, Map and Compass, Stage Rally, reading navigation notes out of a book, Rally Dakar, and Time-Distance and Speed Rally. I’ve grown up in off-road and learned about Stage Rally, and the importance of plotting details along the course. I’ve taken some of that to merge with Desert GPS navigation and it’s amazing to see how this has changed the game.” Sack’s Waypoint Nav-School has attracted everyone from beginners to experienced race teams, all wanting to improve their navigation techniques, as well as shortcuts and tips on the Lowrance GPS systems. Some of her classes have included members of the Wilson Motorsports team and the team of Justin Lofton, and many others. “Plotting details along the course is where it’s at,” says Sacks. “Most of the top racers like Robby Gordon, Justin Matney, and others use it, but I was surprised that many experienced teams signed up for certain classes once we started.”   Keeping Up With GPS Technology According to Sacks, modern GPS systems may seem intimidating at first, but they’re really simple to use once you become more acquainted with them. “Becoming comfortable with using a GPS like the popular Lowrance systems with touch-screens, is the first part of our training,” says Sacks. “In our Level-1 class, we introduce you to the system and demonstrate how to use them step-by-step. The Level-2 class is about computer editing, using remotes, the Lowrance Link app, and data overlaying such as speed, amperage, and more. It’s a hands-on class that is essential for getting more practice in what you’re doing in actual time and when pre-running on the course.” Within the courses, Sacks shows examples of the various Lowrance units, old and new, many of which have different advantages for certain types of vehicles. “It’s important to start by choosing the right unit for the vehicle, says Sacks. “For example, some units use three amps of battery power while others use only one amp. In a UTV there’s no alternator so you want a unit that can go longer on a single charge and that is also easier to charge.” She also shows the importance of screen size as well as units with options like a remote button that can make them easier to use in certain vehicles. “Some Lowrance units have a seven-inch screen while others come with a 12 or 16-inch screen,” says Sacks. Some models also feature a built-in remote that when combined, can make it easier to operate, especially while pre-running.” In her class, Sacks also covers the differences between internal and external antennas, using certain buttons on the unit as shortcuts back to various screens, flagging waypoints, using the joystick, and other common problems. “One of the biggest complaints that racers always bring up is their screen locking up during the race,” says Sacks. “The problem is that with a touch-screen unit, it’s easy to accidentally lock the screen if you touch it. Then it won’t track the vehicle and the screen stays in the same place. We often go over an initial set-up that shows you how to pause the touchscreen mode to avoid locking it.” Beyond The Basics Sacks also teaches the proper set-up for the GPS units that are better for off-road racing. “Using the Navionics mode and how to properly set your Orientation also makes the GPS systems more applicable for racing,” says Sacks. “We also show how to set waypoints, use icons for various types of obstacles along the way, and how to import and export files from the GPS to a memory card to transfer from your pre-runner to the race vehicle.” She also explains the importance of running laps through sections to mark the course in greater detail after each lap. “When you’re pre-running through sections you start slow marking every rock and danger point,” she says. “Then taking another faster run, you can see how those points affect your vehicle and add those notes. At race speeds, you get a lot more feedback from the driver and vehicle, allowing you to add those details to your notes.” Learning how to send coordinates to the team when you breakdown, as well as marking pit areas and communicating with the team when approaching is also part of the class. “Being able to get through an area faster is the result of proper waypoint setting and note-taking,” says Sacks. “Overmarking for dust especially is huge. Being able to mark dangers, areas to not pass anyone are also critical and can keep you in the race. No one wants to slow down on any part of the course, and if you’re confident the vehicle and driver can handle a certain section at speed, you can communicate that and gain some time to win.” The Waypoint Nav-School now has online live classes for Level-1 and Level-2. In-Car training is also available, as well as private training. For many teams who don’t have time to pre-run and want basic course notes, Sacks also offers these notes for sale on popular SCORE races. More information on the Waypoint Nav-School can be found on their website, SJ

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