The Motorsport Safety Foundation [a non-profit organization founded by Henrique Cisneros of the TRG Porsche fame to honor the memory of his colleague Sean Edwards who was tragically killed in a crash in Queensland, Australia while instructing an amateur driver (www.motorsport-safety.org/)], is conducting a public survey about safety car deployment at various Motorsport events. The survey is targeted at Fans, Drivers and Race Officials (safety marshals): www.surveymonkey.com/r/safetycars
I filled out my opinion and when hitting “Done” it took me right back to the survey page. Not sure if the survey is broken, so I’ll just share my opinion here instead.
As a safety worker that has received formal training to be a flag marshal, track marshal, fire marshal, recovery marshal, communications marshal, etc. I think it is acceptable to have safety vehicles including wreckers/tow trucks/manitou cranes etc. to respond to incidents under local yellow conditions.
I think a Virtual Safety Car or the traditional Safety Car should only be deployed in circumstances where the incident obstructs a large percentage of the track making incident response dangerous under a local yellow condition. I think circumstances should dictate what percentage of the track blockage should call for a safety car, it will of course depend on the part of the track, the visibility at the corner, weather conditions, etc.
The drivers of course have to buy into the concept of safety respecting Yellow flags shown and not trying to push their luck gaining advantage while testing the marshal’s observation skills (getting called in for passing under yellow) or dismissing yellow flag warnings and carrying on at unreasonable speeds through the incidents.
But the most important suggestion I have that I wrote in the comments section is to call for universal and professional training for all marshals that participate at pro level events. If the fans, the drivers and people responsible for organizing safety marshals truly care about safety at the event, they must provide the training to the people that marshal… all of them. Period!
I’ve written a number of blog posts over the years criticizing the lack of training and all that got me was a lot of hatred, malicious treatment at the track and vicious rumors spread about me because I was going against the club or the racing series that I volunteered for. I have cut back my participation and obviously the series continue to race, nobody gives a fuck whether I participate or not. Marshals are dime a dozen, whenever one drops off someone else will take their place. Whether a marshal drops off as a result of negative treatment, injury as a result of the poor training or even death, doesn’t matter. The show will go on. And with the millions if not billions of dollars slushing around in the Motorsport world to put on races, paying for safety training would be such a detrimental thing to the people with money there’s just no debating about it. Volunteers better offer their services for FREE or else the racing series will suffer from the tremendous costs of properly training the volunteers… and we can’t have that. Right?
Well, I certainly don’t think so.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is the job of the FIA to recruit marshals for F1 events and to provide sufficient training to meet the FIA standards. It is the job of IMSA to recruit marshals for TUSC events and provide sufficient training to meet the IMSA safety standards. Are they doing it? Hardly… the FIA outsources this job to local ASN’s and some do a spectacular job like the Singapore GP organization, while others don’t (the US – because there is no F1 specific training, at all). IMSA does indeed offer marshal training through the NASCAR track services program, but who is that program available to? Not too many marshals I know. I was lucky enough to participate through my membership with RSI at Watkins Glen but I suspect the majority of the people working the Detroit GP at Belle Isle didn’t. And a marshal got seriously hurt in that race suffering broken bones and significant injury to a number of vital organs. Is that good? No, it is not! I’m sure some will argue that the injured marshal had to have received NASCAR training being one of the recovery personnel assuming that’s who got injured – I don’t think the identity of the injured marshal was made public. But I’m willing to bet a cookie that the flag marshals covering the incident did not. And that resulted in the waving of blue and yellow flag simultaneously… Blue to hurry up and finish the race at competition speed, and Yellow to be sure to slow down in time for the incident at Turn 1 after the Checkered flag. It’s absurd scenario but we’ve had a series of absurd scenarios where people that “Mean Well” totally fucked up putting lives in danger.
It should be noted that when I volunteer I expect a certain element of danger. I know I could die while marshaling, there’s always that risk. But I don’t volunteer so I can get injured or die because some fool makes a poor decision “meaning well” but placing my life in unnecessary or avoidable danger.
So no matter how much I will continue to get shunned by people that don’t like my criticism of their incompetence whether intentional or unintentional. I will continue to demand training for marshals. Whether I marshal myself, or get banned from doing it as a result of my opinions.
If some of these dedicated safety officials, fellow marshals, could enforce the “no-photo!” rule so vigorously (though very selectively), the same idiots could focus on providing the necessary training. If only they truly focus on the important aspect to facilitate the “safety” in our job as marshals, I think good things will happen.
I hope the Motorsport Safety Foundation gets some results out of their efforts. Even if it’s a non-profit, it’s still a business and they look out for their business interests in the business of Motorsport safety. But looking from my perspective as a non-paid volunteer, I think they should pick up the ball on training where IMSA and FIA have dropped it, and offer a valuable service that would undoubtedly make the sport safer and therefore better. Because if they don’t, who will?
And for the record, the training I call for should include some or all of the following:
- Pro Training Manual – at the very minimum
- Online Training – to teach concepts/theory and videos of incidents
- On Site Training – around the country to draw more marshals
- Specialty Training – pre-event morning meeting refreshers
- Recruit more marshals so we don’t work with skeleton crews
- Have a mentoring program or apprenticeship
- Make sure trainers are capable of teaching (aren’t assholes)
- Open feedback loop so that grievances aren’t kept secret
- Training and re-training for people/areas that require it
- Frequent and open communication about training opportunities
- Good record keeping of training received/grading system
- Regular training every year to cover new technology
- Multiple training opportunities to accommodate schedule issues
- Focus on training and professionalism (when people buy into this concept there would be no need for “no-photo” enforcement, marshals will embrace it and self police themselves and others).
- Safety should be Priority #1!
PS. The Motorsport Safety Foundation should recognize that “years of experience” is a very unreliable metric. If I volunteer for one F1 event per year, my experience level is very different compared to someone who volunteers six F1 events per year, or a mix of thirtysix pro/club events per year.