Motorsport marshal

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"track marshall" redirects here. For the manufacturer, see Track Marshall.
Track marshals in Britain, in this case waving a red flag

Motorsport marshals contribute to enjoyable, efficient, and safer motor racing. They are responsible for the safety of competitors and are stationed at various points of danger around race tracks to assist them in case of any collisions, accidents or track problems. Marshals are also known as course workers, corner workers, corner crews, turn marshals, corner marshals, track safety workers, or other equivalents around the world.

A rally marshal holds much the same duties, but are present at rallies. They are usually housed in posts along the stage of a rally at junctions, to be of aid if a car has an accident.

Motorsport marshals can be either paid or volunteer workers depending on the organization they work for.

Becoming a marshal[edit]

Anyone wishing to apply to be a marshal would usually be advised to attend a training session that takes place at their nearest circuit. Normally this would be a two-day session with the Saturday being reserved for flag training for experienced marshals wishing to become flag marshals and a session held for those of all levels on Sunday.

During the Sunday session in the early morning, after a briefing session, marshals are usually split into two groups, newcomers & inexperienced and those who are more experienced. During a newcomer session, they would be advised on what to bring to the race. The afternoon session would normally consist of fire fighting exercises, where marshals would work in pairs, one holding the blue (Dry Powder) fire extinguisher, which they use to reduce the flame to a manageable size first, then the second one extinguishes it completely with the white (AFF Foam) extinguisher. After that session, the newcomers would be shown one of the observer posts which they will be stationed at during the race.

Once the training sessions are completed they will be debriefed. At the end of a training day a potential marshal would be given a list of meetings they wish to work at. In order for them to do so, they must fill in the sheet and send it off or speak with a marshal from that particular track who could provide them with a contact to give them an entry ticket to get in.

Learning duties[edit]

Workers attend sessions that are technically titled Racing Safety Schools, but more informally are known as Crash and Burn Schools. These schools are usually 8 hours long on a Saturday, but can be two-day events, usually 8 hours on Saturday and 4 to 5 hours on Sunday. The classroom session covers such things as:

  • The flags
  • Basic communication procedures and equipment
  • Safe operation of a worker station
  • Worker and station equipment (see below)

After the classroom session, students practice fire fighting (especially important since many novice workers have never so much as touched a fire extinguisher) and extrication, the proper term for removing a driver, presumed to be injured and possibly unconscious, from his or her wrecked car. Drivers often lend their cars for these important practice sessions, letting novices inspect the car's safety and performance components.

If the school takes place at a track, the participants may be taken on a tour of the paddock and introduced to the various car classes and vehicle types. They may also spend time working with experienced marshals on a turn station, putting into practice everything they learned during the classroom sessions.

The day at the races[edit]

A marshal is expected to attend the signing on session in the early morning at which they will be designated a post they will be working at. Once they have been assigned a post they will make their way to it and be signed in. Here they must have their registration card which will be handed to the observer. Each group of marshals would usually work in twos, Flag Marshals would remain outside the observer post and Incident Marshals would usually work in two pairs. Before the first race is to commence each pair of Incident Marshals must ensure that they have with them one white (AFF Foam) and one blue (Dry Powder) fire extinguisher at their designated marshaling point. If not, they must retrieve them and these are placed to one side of them, 10 metres (33 ft) away from the post.

At the end of each race Incident Marshals would swap places with the other Incident Marshals ready for the next race to commence.

After the final race is completed, Incident Marshals would take their extinguishers back to the observer post to be locked away in the metal box along with the flags and broom, as well as a bucket of sawdust used to clean up spilt oil. Once this is done, the marshal would be handed back their card with an observer's signature to show they had done their part. By then, with nothing else to do, they are free to go home, although many would go to the circuit's bar, where drinks would be provided, to have a drink and converse with other marshals about their experience that day.

When a marshal gains their experience, they will be advised to invest in membership of a marshals club for insurance purposes, as well as an orange fire retardant suit, as this is the chosen colour, due to the fact it does not clash with any other flags. It is true though that any orange clothing is encouraged as well as a worker's safety tabbard.

Duties[edit]

Chief Track Marshal[edit]

Often a Chief Track Marshal's responsibilities will include the supervision and briefing of marshals for all daily activities, allocation of day-to-day marshaling duties; provision of marshal's vehicles, training of all marshals for incident handling, flag signalling, fire fighting, communications and basic track first aid as well as monitoring of health and safety on site to ensure the safety of all guests and personnel off-track. During the race the Chief Track Marshal’s role is running the radio “network” and communication with all other track marshals as “net control”.

Successful Chief Track Marshals are highly organized with good communication skills and have previous experience in track marshaling or similar motor sport roles.

Off-track workers[edit]

Time and scoring

In the dry, air-conditioned comfort of the tower with their stopwatches and computers, the timing and scoring personnel keep track of the progress of every car on each lap. They provide the qualifying times, lap charts, and determine the finishing order.

Pit and grid

Wearing distinctive shirts to set them apart from the pit crews and drivers, the pit and grid workers position the cars on the false grid, make last-minute safety checks, and are responsible for safety in the pit areas.

Registration

The registrars organize the official entries and provide passes and credentials. They are also the first people to meet the drivers, workers, and officials when they arrive at the track.

Sound control

Armed with sensitive detection equipment set up in a quiet portion on the track, these workers are responsible for ensuring that cars do not violate local or national sound control regulations.

Starters

Perched on their stand above the start/finish line, the starters control the start and finish of the practice and qualifying sessions and the races themselves. They also display the black flag signals when required.

Scrutineers

The tech inspectors make sure that every car meets series technical specifications and safety regulations before it is allowed onto the track. They also perform the post-race inspections.

Stewards

The stewards are responsible for the overall organization and operation of the event, and are particularly concerned with issues involving safety and the enforcement of the rules. Most stewards hold, or have held, a national competition license.

On-track workers[edit]

A flag marshal at the 2005 United States Grand Prix

Course marshals

The course marshals ensure that all required emergency equipment and vehicles (fire trucks, ambulances, wreckers etc.) are in place and ready to respond to an incident at a moment’s notice. They are to give consistent information to drivers with racing flags and signals; assess the track surface condition; observe competitors for driving behavior and their cars' mechanical condition; help drivers and others in an incident; and communicate information to the stewards who are in charge of the event and rely on the accuracy of the workers' reports to make correct decisions.

Emergency services

These experts have training in medical response, fire fighting, and vehicle recovery.

Flagging and communications

Next to the competitors, these marshals are the most visible people on the track. They are viewed by the spectator as an integral part of the race, keeping the track clear, giving instructions to the drivers, and responding to incidents. These are the people who have the front row seats, with no-one getting any closer to the action unless they get their own racing car. They are highly trained to handle crashes, fire, the needs of drivers who may be injured, and track cleanup. They have other duties, too, including signalling the drivers with flags, helping spectators, and keeping their sections of the track organised so that racing can proceed efficiently. When handling crashes and fires, these volunteers have been called the “shock troops” of racing, because until the ambulances, fire trucks, and crash/rescue vehicles arrive, the safety and efficiency of the track is in their hands.

Equipment[edit]

Paid crash/rescue workers in NASCAR, Indycar, and other organizations, will have their equipment supplied whereas volunteers may need to spend their own money for the components that help them be prepared. For events that continue through rain or other bad weather, marshals must man their posts and perform their duties in all weather conditions. In the United States it is strongly recommended that anyone directly involved with activity on the racing surface follow NFPA 610 guidelines.

Clothing[edit]

Marshals of top racing leagues dress in flame retardant overalls, usually white or orange so drivers see them clearly and so any flag displayed can be seen and comprehended more quickly. Warm layered clothing may be necessary underneath the overalls, since workers often must stand in one place for periods as long as 45 minutes, so movement like walking that generates body heat is not possible.

Gloves and boots[edit]

Sturdy and comfortable boots or shoes are essential because workers are on their feet much of the day. Hiking or safety boots are preferred because they protect feet from injury. Open-toed shoes or sandals are not allowed because bare feet can easily be injured. An extra pair of socks is beneficial when it rains or is cold. Gloves of two types are needed. First responders wear welder’s gloves or Nomex gloves protect their hands when pushing a hot car or removing a hot car part from the racing surface. Other workers may wear insulated gloves to protect their hands from the cold.

Headgear[edit]

A hat or cap keeps the sun and rain off the worker’s head. A knit cap keeps the head warm in cold weather. In hot weather, a bandanna or towel can be wetted and put around the neck for spinal cooling and to protect from sunburn. Sunglasses reduce eye strain. Some series and/or countries use protective headgear in case of an accident.

Tools and accessories[edit]

A whistle (on a breakaway lanyard) helps the worker get attention. A knife or cutting tool is used for an assortment of things, from cutting apart breakfast pastries to breaking windscreens for driver extrication. An optional rope may be needed for pulling race cars.

Personal comfort[edit]

A warm drink and packed lunch is advised as marshals will be standing at their post in various types of weather, although a few venues provide food and drink. Personal medications, sunscreen lotion, and at some circuits insect spray, are a must.

Marshal post organization[edit]

All posts are organized essentially the same. The person in charge is called the corner captain. He or she directs the assignments of workers to such duties as flagging, incident response, and communications. The corner captain determines the section of track that the crew will maintain and coordinates this with corner stations “upstream” and “downstream” of race traffic direction. He or she assures that the communication link is working; that corner equipment (see below) is complete, functional, and properly distributed; that all guard rails and barriers are intact; and that the track is free of obstacles and is “ready to race”. He or she coordinates with any emergency response vehicles in the area; assures that the station and surrounding area is kept free of press personnel and irrelevant officials; is responsible for keeping visiting personnel out of danger areas; and warns officials of any problems in the spectator areas like illness, altercations, or unsafe conduct.

In dealing with the corner “crew”, the captain briefs the worker team about the day's activities; monitors crew levels of alertness and tactfully corrects anything that is wrong; monitors proper and quick flag use; directs the corner crew in the event of an incident; may dispatch a vehicle during an event at the directions of the stewards; and reports all incidents, including crashes and driver misconduct, in writing.

Besides the corner captain, the worker team is composed of these positions and duties:

The Communicator relays information between the station and the stewards, who receive this information through a head communicator known informally as "Control". The station communicator may maintain an informal log of events, and acts as an observer at the station.

The Yellow Flagger watches the track from his or her station to the next downstream station, assesses incidents, and displays yellow flag(s) as required. This worker always remains standing and ready while vehicles are on course, keeping the yellow flag ready for use, tucked under the arm and out of the competitor’s sight.

The Blue Flagger watches upstream traffic for overtaking cars and displays the blue flag and other flags as required. He is responsible for keeping all flags other than the yellow flag available for instant display. He also is responsible for alerting the other workers if an incident is heading toward them requiring them to move.

The First Responder goes to incidents on or off the racing surface, assesses the situation and relays information to the stations. The worker assigned to this duty must understand vehicle velocities and trajectories. A worker responding to an incident with a fire extinguisher can run at about 8 mph. Therefore, to cross a track that is 40 feet (12 m) wide will require about 4 seconds, running at full speed. A race car traveling at 100 mph will require only 1/4 of a second to travel the same distance.

The Secondary Responder assists all other corner workers as requested by the corner captain. This worker also acts as an observer and reports to the Corner Captain as required.

Depending on the design of the race track, the main corner station may also have other subordinate stations behind barricades or protective safety fencing, where workers are stationed (a) to be closer to a possible area where crashes are likely, or (b) to be in a position where they can respond to an incident without crossing the track.

Corner equipment can vary from track to track, but usually includes a communication system of either telephone lines or radios: a set of race control flags; brooms and oil/coolant absorbent material; fire extinguishers and fire-resistant gloves; pry bar; a supply of corner report forms; and perhaps a first aid kit, bug spray, and other amenities. Most, though not all, corners have gazebos for protection from sun and wind. The average station area is about 400 square feet (37 m2), and may be square where concrete or grass pad is available, or long and narrow behind barriers. No matter what the shape, the station must be visible so approaching drivers can see flags and hand signals.

Marshal organizations[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Almost all British marshals are unpaid volunteers supplemented occasionally by certain paid crews for special duties. Marshals are registered with the British governing body, the Motor Sports Association(MSA) and are often members of organizations such as Intervention Marshals UK (IVMUK), the British Motorsport Marshals Club (BMMC), British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) and the Silverstone Marshals Team amongst many others. British marshals have been known to attend foreign events such as IndyCar, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and many F1 events worldwide. Motorcycle marshals are organised differently, with support for FIM events coming from RaceSafe and RaceSafe-accredited marshals.

North America[edit]

Volunteer workers, usually members of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), are unpaid, incurring their own expenses and buying their own equipment to support a sport they love. These volunteers represent the majority of the workers for all other United States road racing activities.

Although they are SCCA members, the workers themselves organize into either loose or highly regulated operational units that are separate from their membership in SCCA. Two of the oldest and most well known are the United States Auto Race Marshals (USARM), organized in 1964, and Lake Erie Communications, organized in 1962. Other less regulated worker organizations include the Texas Turn Marshals & Racer Chasers, the Leaping Lizards Corner Crew of Kansas City, the Swamp Rats from Florida, Michigan Turn Marshals (MTM), Race Services Inc. at Watkins Glen International and others. All of these worker groups emphasize camaraderie and professionalism among the workers to complement the competition of the drivers.

Bobby Unser, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and competitor in all forms of racing, once paid SCCA workers a great compliment, albeit an ironic one, when he said during a televised racing broadcast: “These SCCA workers may be volunteers, but they’re no amateurs. They’re as professional as anyone in the sport.”

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Associations[edit]

Marshaling guide[edit]