Race Car Drivers Should Demand Better Trained Safety Marshals

There’s one thing I have always wondered: Do race car drivers care about the quality of the marshals that are responsible for track safety? Ultimately, their safety?

I’m not a race car driver, so I can’t answer that question with confidence. I have asked a few friends that race on an amateur and professional level and the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” especially from those that have had some marshaling experience as they were coming up in their racing careers. But seeing how training is limited especially here in the US, I wonder if the drivers are aware of the situation and should they be concerned? Shouldn’t they demand better training for marshals? To me it only seems logical.

This concept isn’t limited to pro racers, amateur racers participating in club events have just as much stake in the quality of training as some of the famous F1 or WEC celebs. Everybody has a stake, it’s safety we’re talking about here, human lives! And it doesn’t matter if you are getting paid millions of dollars to jet around the globe and put on a show for the TV audience and all those fancy sponsors. It doesn’t matter whether you have the best quality kit: helmet, fire proof suit, gloves, shoes and underwear. Neck restraints, arm restraints and state of the art roll cages, strong carbon fiber cockpit, etc. If you’ve crashed you’d want the first responders – the closest marshals to you, to know what to do rather than just call for help from race control. Sure depending on the severity of the impact a simple call to race control may be an appropriate action (it usually is), but if the scenario isn’t given sufficient priority or there is a delay in dispatching rescue crews to the incident, someone could be severely hurt. That’s you: the race car driver I’m talking about!

So what can be done?

Two things in my view: 1) awareness and 2) discussion.

Awareness is not the same as paranoia. I think many drivers, especially those that were either wronged by a bad call from a marshal about a particular incident, or those that had their car damaged more by the rescue crews than what the car sustained from the impact of the accident itself, are already aware that there are some marshals better than others. But I could only speculate they assume that the event organizer, or the sanctioning body that pays for the marshaling services to the organization that provides the marshals, would improve the quality of the marshals. In my opinion that doesn’t always happen. It’s like outsourcing. The FIA requires marshals for F1, they outsource this task to the local ASN. The local ASN turns around and compiles a crew from it’s own clubs and any other clubs it works with. And the clubs recruit (hopefully) people to make up their numbers to facilitate the requirements of the ASN. So the F1 marshal at US GP does not work directly for the FIA who pays for their services, but instead for USAC, SCCA, RSI, or directly for COTA. As a result, depending on who the marshal actually volunteers/or works with determines the quality of the training that marshal received. In the US nobody is trained specifically for F1. Sometimes your corner captain may forward you some FIA regulations passed on to them from the ASN, but that’s not always the case. So you as a marshal are on your own. Does a Formula 1 driver know this? Should they be concerned? And this is not limited to F1, MotoGP in Indianapolis is even looser with whom they let work as marshals for the Grand Prix, being a motorcycle enthusiast might be the only prerequisite it seems.

Discussion therefore is the appropriate solution I can recommend. We’ve all seen the movie SENNA and how the drivers have a direct impact on whether a race takes place. If the drivers aren’t comfortable with racing in a monsoon for safety reasons, perhaps the race could be delayed. If the drivers aren’t comfortable with the set up of a tire wall in a dangerous corner, they can get that wall modified to better suit their needs. If the drivers are aware that there isn’t consistent marshal training, they can certainly request it to be done.

How can drivers demand better trained marshals? Simple, ask to see what training material is used to educate marshals.

In this day and age, teaching marshals word-of-mouth with on-the-job training is primitive, especially in the US. There’s got to be supplemental materials created for each series, not just FIA F1… but WEC, IMSA, WC VISION (SCCA PRO), FIM MotoGP/SBK Superbikes, IndyCar, NASCAR, etc. It is the responsibility of each series to facilitate learning for the marshals that take part in their events, assuming the marshals have common sense and learn shit from Club events is foolish! Many drivers, especially the famous ones race in multiple series. Go nudge whomever it is responsible for trackside safety in each one of the events you do, to better prepare the marshals that have the potential to be the first responders at YOUR crash site wherever you race, and tell them you want them to be sufficiently trained. Demand better training. Often times marshals don’t have a voice because they are mere volunteers. Well, race car drivers certainly have a voice… use it!