Professional racing organizations like NASCAR, Champ Car, Indy Racing League, and others employ small bodies of full-time paid workers. Off-track workers welcome and register competitors and spectators, organize the paddock and pit areas, handle security, inspect the competition vehicles for adherence to rules of performance and safety, and overseeing the resolution of disputes among competitors. On-track workers are expert in fire fighting, emergency extrication and medicine, and track cleanup.
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. According to one website, “They don’t have tour sponsors (now that would be really special... and deserved) and they don’t get compensated for their services. They make their own time and pay their own way to work races all over North America.” These happy nomads represent the majority of the workers for all other United States road racing activities -- Indy Racing League and Champ Car, Formula 1, NASCAR road racing, Trans-Am, SCCA Pro and Club Racing, Vintage, the Pike's Peak Hillclimb , and other races.
Volunteer workers are not organized by gender. Men and women work together to meet whatever need manifests itself, getting dirty digging wrecked cars out of barriers, treating injured drivers, fighting fires, and keeping the event organized and operating.
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) [http://www.usarm.org/ ], organized in 1964, and Lake Erie Communications [http://lakeeriecommunications.com/], organized in 1962. Both websites contain a complete and detailed manual for race workers. (SCCA publishes its own flagging and communications manual as well.) Other less regulated worker organizations include the Texas Turn Marshals and Racer Chasers [http://www.texasscca.org/racechas.html], the Leaping Lizards Corner Crew of Kansas City , the Swamp Rats from Florida, and more. All of these worker groups emphasize camaraderie among the workers to complement the competition of the drivers. The worker's four word creed is "Have Fun, Play Safe".
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.”
Like their paid counterparts, these volunteer workers also are highly trained in their jobs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The course marshals ensure that all required emergency equipment and vehicles (ambulance, wreckers etc.) are in place and ready to respond to an incident at a moment’s notice.
These experts have training in medical response, fire fighting, and vehicle recovery.
Flagging and communications
Next to the competitors, the F&C workers are the most visible people on the track. These corner marshals are viewed by the spectator as an integral part of the race, keeping the track clean, giving instructions to the drivers, and responding to incidents. These are the people who have the front row seats, standing on the corners in whites, waving flags and mopping up after the drivers have misbehaved. No one gets any closer to the action unless they get their own race cars. 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 signaling the drivers with flags, helping spectators, and keeping their sections of the track organized so that racing can proceed efficiently. When handling crashes and fires, these volunteers have been called the “shock troops” of auto racing, because until the ambulances, fire trucks, and crash/rescue vehicles arrive, the safety and efficiency of the track is in their hands.
Corner workers, also known as Flaggers, F&C, or Marshals, give consistent information to drivers with flags and signals (see below); help drivers and others in an incident; and communicate information to the stewards who are in charge of the event and make decisions based on worker communications because, unlike oval track races, the officials usually cannot see what is happening, and therefore rely on the accuracy of the workers' reports to make correct decisions. In an on-track incident, the safety priority of the worker is first to himself; then to his fellow workers; and then to the competitors. (An injured worker is a complication that is unwanted, and unnecessary if procedures are correctly followed.) The corner worker’s safety procedure is to recognize the hazard, know what to do to eliminate it, and do it in time for the action to be effective.
Corner workers have a number of main functions:
1. During sessions with cars on track, corner workers will constantly assess the condition of the track surface for accumulation of debris and oil. They will keep Race Control updated if track conditions begin to deteriorate, and will the appropriate flags signals to warn competitors of potential hazards.
2. Corner workers will also observe competitors on the track for driving behavior and mechanical condition of their vehicles, inform Race Control of any issues with same, and as necessary, document observations in writing.
3. If a car crashes or stops for any reason in their area of responsibility, workers stationed before that incident will display warning flags to oncoming race traffic. The communications person for that station will inform Race Control of the incident. Other workers will respond as necessary to further assess the incident and determine if it can be handled locally, and to perform initial fire suppression if necessary. In a case of a simple pull-off due to mechanical breakdown, corner workers will usually try to move a vehicle to a safer location farther from the racing surface and preferably behind a wall or guard rail. In a cases of a simple spin or off-track slide where the car is still able to continue, workers will help guide the driver in safely re-entering racing traffic. In case of more severe incidents, crashes, or fire, corner workers will request additional assistance from fire/rescue, medical, towing, and/or track clean-up personnel and their equipment.
4. Between sessions, or occasionally even during sessions with cars still on track when instructed by Race Control, workers maintain a safe race surface by sweeping debris from the track and drying any oil or coolant that may be deposited on the track by a race car.
All corner stations 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.
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 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, 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.
Flags use bright colors to convey information to the drivers to start and stop the race, direct drivers to slow down or change direction, and warn of other problems like imminent mechanical failure. Similar (but not identical) flagging systems are used by other sanctioning bodies, such as the FIA (Formula 1) and NASCAR. SCCA flags have these meanings:
These flags are displayed by the starter only.
Green: The event (practice, qualifying session, or race) is under way.
White: The last lap of the race.
Checkered: The event (practice, qualifying session, or race) is finished. Drive at reduced speed for a single lap and leave the track for the paddock area (practice or qualifying) or the impound area (race).
Yellow, Stationary: Danger, slow down, no passing.
Yellow, Waved:Great danger, slow down, no passing, be prepared to stop.
Yellow, Double: The entire course is yellow. Also shown by all stations on pace laps before races (not before practice or qualifying).
Red: Extreme danger. Come to an immediate controlled stop.
Yellow/Red: Oil spill, slippery condition or debris on track.
Blue, Stationary: A faster car is overtaking; watch your mirrors.
Blue, Waved: Yield to an overtaking car.
Solid black, furled and pointed at you: Your driving has attracted the attention of the stewards. They are keeping an eye on you, so whatever it is you did, don't do it again.
Solid Black with Car Number: Your driving has attracted the attention of the stewards. Stop racing and immediately proceed directly to the pits to talk to them.
Solid Black, All stations: The session has been halted. Proceed directly at a safe speed to the pits.
Black/Orange with Car Number: You have a mechanical problem. Proceed to the pits.
The yellow flag is the most important flag. Displayed at the corner station, it warns drivers of danger downstream, usually being one or more vehicles involved in an incident and therefore stopped or trying to regain control and rejoin the race. When approaching a station displaying a yellow flag, drivers should slow down and proceed with caution until they are clear of the emergency area. When the yellow flag is displayed, drivers cannot pass one another until after they are clear of the emergency area. (Drivers coming upon a waving yellow flag sometimes assume it is displayed just for one car that can be seen clearly. They accelerate, only to encounter a second incident around a blind corner.)
The yellow flag is displayed differently in different situations. A hazard off the track surface is indicated by a single yellow flag, held motionless. It warns drivers that a hazard exists off track where normally there is none. The driver can take his normal path on the section of the track past the incident.
A more serious situation involves a hazard on the track surface or in any dangerous position just off-track. This type of situation is indicated by a single waving yellow flag. The waving motion is intended to attract the driver's attention, and emphasize the hazard ahead. It is used to warn the driver that he may have to change the way he normally drives as he passes the incident. For instance, he may have to adjust his path in order to avoid hitting a stopped car. If a hazard is in a dangerous position such as the outside of a difficult turn, the driver may have to slow down more than usual to avoid the chance of sliding off the track and into a disabled vehicle. The most serious situation involves a stopped car blocking the most-often used part of the width of the track, called the 'racing line'. In some racing organizations, blockage of racing line is indicated by two waving yellow flags rather than only one. Since the racing line is part of the track the driver normally uses, the waving yellow flag(s) indicate the driver should be prepared to take drastic action to avoid a collision or hitting workers responding to the incident. For instance, he might have to be prepared to come to a complete stop, or even to leave the track surface.
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.
Each school consists of classroom sessions where the basics of flagging and communications are taught to new workers, and as a refresher course for more experienced ones. The classroom session covers such things as:
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.
Volunteers often need more personal equipment than full-time workers. Paid crash/rescue workers in NASCAR, Champ Car, Indy Racing League, and other organizations usually are not exposed to extremes of climate. Due to the types of tires these organizations use, amongst other factors, they don’t race in rain or other bad weather.
Volunteers in road racing, however, must man their posts and perform their duties in all weather conditions, including snow. So they spend their own money for the components that help them be prepared for anything. In an experienced corner worker’s 'kit', these items can almost always be found: