...tempted to completely ignore times and just use placements in heats like they do at midgets. I think that would make life easier for setting up the next heats, but not sure just how much people liked having the lucky loser time based qualifications after the winner.
We changed the heat advancement rules from the 1st SART to the 2nd.
In the first year, we also had 16 heats of 8. The winners and runners-up in each heat advanced plus the next fastest of the remaining six runners; in other words, the faster of the two 3rd place finishers.
People suggested that it could be better, so I changed it in 2016 (which we kept in 2017) to the winners of each heat, plus next three fastest of the remaining eight runners.
People wanted higher stakes.
In the 2015 format, here's how each position in each heat shook out. Because everyone in a heat starts at the same time, most people know where they are during the race.
1st: I can take it super easy. Even if I screw up a little and lose a place, I'm still gonna advance.
2nd: I can take it relatively easy, just gotta be top two. I can see who I'm racing against.
3rd: HIGH STAKES! I'm racing against someone I can't see!
4th: I'm probably out of it, because I have to move up a spot.
5th: I'm completely out of it because I have to move up TWO spots.
With the current format, the stakes are pretty much higher for everyone.
1st: I can take it relatively easily. I just gotta maintain this lead, but a mistake could cost me.
2nd: I'm not guaranteed a spot, because 2nd-3rd-4th in the other heat could get 'em all!
3rd: I'm racing against people I can and can't see!
4th: I'm 4th in this heat, but I'm having a decent race, maybe I can still advance!
5th: I'm probably out of it, but if I move up just one spot in this race and something wacky happens in the other heat, I have a shot!
The San Francisco tournaments had even higher stakes. One reason why the bracket was so confusing down there was that they re-seeded everything each round based on the most recent round's results, with some of the seeding was based on placings, others on times. And then there was the position-stealing. I'll admit, the position-stealing was a fun twist, the re-seeding mixed people up a lot more, and the top guys didn't take it as easy in the early rounds because they wanted to stay as high seeds. But dang, it was really hard to grasp what heat you were going to (and as the guy who was tasked with sorting it out, it was stressful). That said, if there's a simpler way of re-seeding everyone, it may be worth exploring.
At the first SART, after talking with several people, I suggested switching to the current SART advancement rules, and I received a lot of positive feedback. So in 2016 I switched it. In the two SARTs since, nobody has commented to me that they'd like to see some changes. (Perhaps there's some bracket suggestion chatter out there, but nobody has talked to me about it like they did the first year).
So advancement based strictly on placing in heats didn't work out well. I'm happy to avoid re-learning things... so the current system seems to work out well, possibly with some tweaking depending on turnout to accomadate possibily different heat sizes.
The one slight complaint I had about it was that I felt like I was constantly running against the same people. For example, despite my times being consistently around 10 seconds slower than Thomas Laria, I never raced against him head to head because I was in the top half of the bracket initially and he was in the bottom half. A bracket that adds greater variation in who you are racing would be a plus to me as a competitor, but has the disadvantage for the organizer of becoming very difficult to keep udpated correctly, and is confusing for the runners figuring out which heat they are in next. Seems what is currently done in Seattle is a good compromise between excitement for the runners, and ease of use.
Did you ever consider adding forking to all (or more) of the various races? I know it is more work to set up, but I wonder if it would be more fun espescially for rounds 3,4,5 where there is more competition within heats.