What began as a donation from a Brewer High School alumnus to his alma mater a quarter century ago has become a thriving business that today provides timing services for scores of track meets, cross-country races, and road races around Maine and beyond each year.
“Basically we time anything that moves,” said Dave Jeffrey, president and the lone full-time employee of Brewer Timing Services.
Jeffrey, the Witches’ longtime former indoor and outdoor track head coach, began timing track meets in the Brewer area after Doug DeAngelis — an Orrington native and 1984 BHS graduate who now is president of Lynx System Developers of Haverhill, Massachusetts — donated a FinishLynx timing system he developed to the school.
The FinishLynx system works by linking a camera at the finish line to a laptop computer, which is equipped with software that sends a competitor’s place, time and distance to stadium scoreboards, other computers and designated webpages.
The system has been used at the Olympics, the Tour de France, and other high-level and prestigious events, and now is seen routinely at track and field events across Maine and other states.
“When we first started we just did high school indoor and outdoor meets and just the [Penobscot Valley Conference] meets,” said Glendon Rand, the Brewer High School outdoor track coach who helped Jeffrey start the timing business.
“It was kind of funny how we kept adding layers to it to the point where now you’re doing three [sports] seasons plus summer meets, and then growing from high school to middle school and college. It’s been interesting how you start in one place and then new avenues open up for you to do more.”
The timing services originally offered by Jeffrey, Rand and others who worked with the donated equipment grew so popular around eastern Maine that eventually the business became privatized under Jeffrey.
And the requests kept coming.
Jeffrey estimates that Brewer Timing Services worked 175 events during the most recent school year, ranging from middle-school track meets to New England prep school and college championships.
“We just started timing our own home meets, then other people started wanting us and it expanded from there,” said Jeffrey, a 1972 Brewer High School graduate and 2014 inductee into its athletic hall of fame. “I thought that once we got away from Brewer High School and became Brewer Timing there would be a cap on how much we could do, and that has proven to be totally wrong.
“I turned down probably 15 to 18 meets this spring because I just didn’t have the people to get them to where they needed to be.”
Brewer Timing Services now has six sets of FinishLynx equipment and has timed as many as four events in a single day.
The bigger challenge for Jeffrey involves staffing, with between two and five people needed to operate the FinishLynx system depending on the type and scope of the event.
“As a businessman, the hardest part of my job is keeping people, said Jeffrey, who has approximately 20 part-time employees. “The kids we train grow up and get real jobs, and then I have to replace them with other people. The hardest part is training people.”
Electronic timing has revolutionized the staging of track and field meets, with leagues around eastern and central Maine adjusting master schedules to accommodate the availability of Brewer Timing Services.
“I hate to admit it, but the way things have worked out we’ve sort of created the schedule because people need to have us there,” Jeffrey said. “The middle-school meets are held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so we can get our timing equipment there, and the high school meets are Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays so they can get us.”
That demand is based not only on the accuracy of the system, but also the immediacy it provides.
“It’s not just a timing system but a scoreboard,” Rand said. “It used to be a race would be run and an hour or two later you’d find out what the time was. It might be a league record or a state record but by that point knowing it was a state record was anticlimactic.
“Now when somebody crosses the finish line and their time locks up and it’s a record, just the reaction from the athletes and spectators and coaches creates a special moment for the athlete.”
There’s also an organizational element to having the system provide immediate results that helps create a smooth, fast-paced rhythm to the events.
“What we’ve tried to do is raise the level of track and field in the state of Maine, and that’s an ongoing thing,” Jeffrey said. “We’re getting new equipment all the time, I put as much of the funds into new equipment as I possibly can. I’m always trying to make our stuff the best so when you hire us we have the most up-to-date equipment.”
And that, says Jeffrey, traces back to DeAngelis, the inventor of FinishLynx.
“The equipment that’s being used was invented by a guy who went to Brewer High School and had a love for running and is also a genius who put something out there that basically put everybody out of business. Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know along with some luck, and it just It all meshed together really well in terms of Glendon and I and Doug.
“It was the right timing, I guess.”