In retrospect the question put to me by Post Chief Richard Workman was a fairly simple one: “In a five car crash leading to a pile up, which Drivers do you attend to first?”
The answer, I was duly informed is this: ”I should attend to the Drivers who aren't screaming or talking, because those quiet Drivers might be seriously injured or dying”.
The premise of the question reminded me of Viggo Mortensen as Drill Master Chief Urgayle in G.I Jane (1997). During the intensive stress related induction of new recruits to the Navy SEALS he says: “Pain is your ally; pain will let you know you are still alive”.
I didn't spontaneously answer the question, and I suspect Richard Workman, knew I would not be able to. Privately, I've never been great with 'on the spot challenges', what's more I've failed numerous psychometric tests abysmally in the past. The question was just another amongst many.
Setting aside my IQ level momentarily, the more salient point had nonetheless been made. I was about to be involved, should I choose to continue, in a serious but 'unpaid' business. On Saturday 14th of November I was in the midst of a rather ubiquitous yet unique club. It was the official last day of the racing season at Brands Hatch, and there I was about to, gain a close insight into the views and attitudes of those men and women dressed in orange alongside just about every legal motor race in the country. I was temporarily inducted and introduced to the world of Volunteer Race Marshalling courtesy of MotorSports Vision Racing.
It was wet, windy and cold. I was soaked through, in pain, and on the verge of going into shock from hypothermia. I will undoubted go back for more.
On the last day of the Formula One season at Yas Marina, I'd noticed t that a bunch of British Race Marshals had been flown over to Abu Dhabi. The Marshal chosen to be interviewed by the BBC claimed he'd been Marshalling for thirty years, (a common trend I later found), I wanted to know more but, with the prospect of free travel I found added incentive.
I also had my 'professional' reasons for wanting to Marshal motor races. Principally, a closer look, and alternative perspective of motorsports supplied by people who have been involved at every level of motor racing, from Racing Club meetings to Formula One. What I was mostly concerned about was how established Marshals would react to me as an outsider. My apprehension subsided somewhat after I read the tone of the invitation I received from a lady named Mildred representing MSV.
When I arrived at Brands Hatch I found the other Marshals warm and accepting. I was placed in the capable hands of Post Chief Richard Workman by Mildred and from then on remained at complete ease with the people I was met. In fact, such was their willingness to engage with me on the subject of Marshalling and racing, that I was slightly taken aback by it all. Could it be I was making new friends out in the sticks?
Many of these Marshals had seen it all. As I sat down for a brief breakfast at 7.00am with Mr Workman and some of the more experienced Marshals I found there was hardly any circuit in Europe they hadn't indulged in their chosen vocation.
I asked, Nurburgring? Check, Zandvoort? Check. Spa? Check. Le Mans? Please, did I need to ask?
Mr Workman pointed out a Belgian member of the Marshal fraternity in his fifties, who'd travelled all the way from Brussels to Marshal the weekend races at Brands Hatch. There is a profound level of attachment to the cause which those outside the Marshalling fraternity may find hard to comprehend. Later in the day I was paired with a young Scottish (Nissan) Engineer named Alistair, who'd also travelled all the way from Northampton to Marshal races at Brands Hatch. The dedication and fortitude of the men and women that participated in Marshalling is as endearingly eccentric, as it is patently absurd.
Alistair being a veteran of Marshalling (even though I must have at least ten years on him) explained how British Marshal Clubs differ from one circuit to another. Unfortunately, I then realised the Marshal Clubs are subject to that human failing endemic in any organisation; 'politics'. There was sinking feeling as I realised that like most things in life, the more involved one gets, the more complicated the situation becomes. I contemplated this with a slightly heavier heart, until my spirits lifted when the roar of racing dominated the Brands Hatch Circuit.
The Racing in itself was very fast in the wet, there were few incidents, but it was extremely difficult to follow for a layman while marshalling. Events included the Cannon Tin Top Saloons, The Victor Meldrew Trophy and the Inter-marquee race events were a mish-mash of various Race Club types and engine classes. I'd been interested in finding out about the Victor Meldrew Trophy specifically. It turns out it's an easy going competitive race with a 40 second handicap for less powerful cars. It's not taken seriously, and as such, nobody really knows what rules apply. Even the Marshals who are usually much clued in found their knowledge wanting when it came to the Victor Meldrew Trophy. I enjoyed the noise. The main event was the Lotus Elise Enduro race, it was boring, even more so in bad weather.
Flag waving in gale winds is no easy task. In addition, the Marshals have to keep a keen eye on both major and minor racing incidents, signal cautionary messages and keep watch for the ever present Safety Car. It's not as simple as it looks. Keeping an eye out for the race leader about to lap another in the rain is extremely difficult. Even holding the 'Safety Car'board in bad weather is energy sapping.
By the end of the last Lotus Enduro Race at Brands Hatch I was very cold, very wet and very tired. But I was also very interested in looking towards 2010 from a Race Marshals' perspective. Writing about motorsports is what I love to do, just as much as the Marshals love living for motorsports. As a Writer I believe the closer you get to the ground for information the better. There's lots of first and second hand information filtering through on a regular basis but a fresh perspective from the sidelines helps to create a complete picture.
When I applied to be a Marshal at Brands Hatch, I had very little to prepare me; but now I have a lot more to work with. Most importantly, I believe I had an opportunity to meet some of the nicest people in my lifetime. For that reason alone I'm keen to Marshal at Le Mans should I get the opportunity. I might never race professionally and I hold no illusions about it. But, I find Marshalling takes commitment, and it really comes down to is a fundamental love motorsports. I'd encourage everyone who supports motorsports to try it out.
Photo Credit: BTCC.net