Forget marshaling as a Blue Flagger, working as a Starter is the most involved job while marshaling there is. Thanks to Jessie Lynne Honigs I was able to finally get a chance to experience working the Start Stand and I don’t think I want to go back to working regular F&C ever again. The Starter job is where it’s at!
So a little background about my plan on becoming a starter. I got the bug more than two years ago where after much thought about my “picture taking” issues from the previous season I thought all my problems would go away if only I could get a job marshaling closer to the paddock, right near the pit lane. Start stand was the obvious choice. I knew I couldn’t just jump into the role at any old Pro event and I’d have to work my way up by participating in some Club racing, so I asked the flag chief of the New York Region to give me the opportunity to learn the next time I come up to Lime Rock Park. He agreed but when the events came around I found myself on some random station working F&C and was very disappointed and discouraged to come back. This year I didn’t go back to Lime Rock at all. But I did go up to Thompson Speedway after Jessie invited me with the thought that maybe there I’d get a chance to finally learn. I registered through MotorsportReg.com for a club event, ticked the box for Starter, but knew full well going in that if they were terribly short on F&C people it’s likely that’s what I’d end up doing. And sure enough I got put on Station 3. This was cool because I wanted to help out in the time of need, and actually got to work with Jessie. We had a hell of a good time, but it wasn’t the Start stand and I had to delay my plan further. Until of course the second time Jessie invited me up to Thompson Speedway for another NER SCCA club event, where finally I got a chance to work Start.
What did I discover working as a Starter at Thompson Speedway?
I learned that it’s the best possible job there is marshaling, bar none, for me anyway… Here are the top few reasons I find the role of a Starter to be incredibly awesome:
- You get to Blue Flag!
- You get to keep track of all the cars in the field through Charting
- You get to throw the Checkered Flag
- You get to throw the Green Flag
- You get to Black Flag and Meatball Cars
- You get to work out the timing of Last Lap and when to Checker
- You work on the Front Straight and Pit Lane
- You are close to the Paddock and Garages
- You have a lot more Responsibility than any other station
- Your Mistakes are more visible than any other station
I could probably come up with a dozen other reasons why the Starter role is awesome but I’m too excited to think about them right now.
Suffice to say I was blown away with how awesome that position was and a little bit sad that I waited this long to finally try it. And I’ll say a few words about that:
F&C or any other specialty volunteering a club event will always be short on people. Hardly anything is done about recruiting, and the participation numbers are insufficient at most events. There’s nothing noble about being a nice guy and trying to accommodate the flag chief to work a random turn especially those that don’t make you personally happy because chances are after a bad or even less than good experience you won’t come back to work another race again, or at least not return frequently. So what’s the point? I think the most important thing to do while volunteering is to do a job that makes you personally happy. And for me that is working as a Starter.
The irony about being selfish is that SCCA as a club advertises volunteering positions by saying there’s a job for everyone! Of course in practice that isn’t always the case. I asked to work Start, someone didn’t feel it was worth it for them to oblige to my request, and so instead of having a satisfied volunteer working a position that person enjoys doing, they lost a volunteer altogether. And that’s stupid. But people do get that way. I pissed people off by taking pictures and calling some high ranking club members incompetent because they refused to offer training which the club should provide, and they would rather get rid of me as a volunteer than to put me in a position where I would receive the training I was after and perform the role I wanted to perform. Of course before they decided to “get rid” of me, they wanted to teach me a lesson against picture taking by placing me at the most remote areas of the circuit, so that when I did want to take pictures legally during our lunch break I had to chose between trekking all the way to the paddock or to actually eat lunch. It’s hard to change the politics of any organization even those where nobody gets paid to work. And volunteering is very political, clique’ey, and not always welcoming to new people.
So, I’m glad I got a chance to discover a role that I think I would really enjoy doing from now going forward. If I can’t get that role again in the future I simply won’t go to future events. But my goal is to do what it takes to master the role of a Starter so I could do it at Pro events. I definitely could use more practice. Even though waving flags on the start stand is no different than that on a random station as an F&C marshal, there’s definitely more work to be done, and I had made some mistakes while learning this weekend. For example: keeping time is a very important job of a Starter. The experienced starters I was learning from had two stop watches set to 18 minutes each to time the race. My job was to push the start button as the cars crossed the start line, and yet I pushed it when the cars received the Green flag even though the starter explained to me what I was supposed to do a few times. Why did I do it? I have no idea, I knew better and yet I did something anyway. Maybe from being nervous, or maybe from being premature and worried that I’d miss the correct start time by doing it too late. Starting the clock early is as bad as starting the clock late, so to get it right consistently requires practice. I also ran into a situation where the leader of the race was about to take the Checkered flag but was fast catching to a back-marker of the race. I threw the checker too early without pointing at the leader, who in turn wasn’t convinced it seemed that he was the leader because he drove around and took the checkered flag again. So I learned to point at the car that is about to win the race to inform them they are about to receive the checkered flag. I even made a mistake with blue flag which I enjoy the most. In a group of a combined field of fast wings and things and slow Formula Vee racers, I displayed a stationary blue flag to a slower FV car where I should have waved it because a faster Formula car caught it well before Turn 1. The starter told me to do this but for some reason I hesitated and he reminded me of his instructions immediately after my mistake to correct it. Props to the chief starter of the New York region for being patient with me and giving me good advice and training. I really appreciate the opportunity!