Ever since the ALMS traveling safety team got disbanded following the merger of American Le Mans Series with Grand Am thanks to the NASCAR buyout, there has been an active discussion about this “issue”. Everyone, and I mean everyone has an opinion as to why this was a terrible idea. From fans to marshals even the drivers express their dissatisfaction and question current safety standards in place. Even though every track the Tudor United SportsCar Series visits provide their own local safety crews in addition to the same exact marshals manning corners from ALMS time, there is an “issue”.
So what is the issue?
Insurance, it seems.
TUSC/IMSA/NASCAR does not want to expose the volunteer marshaling body to the inevitable insurance risks of having them respond to active incidents trackside putting unpaid amateurs at risk. This, I think is at the core of the problem that frustrates everyone involved in the sport from spectators to marshals and of course the racers who’s lives are most at risk when they are stranded in dangerous situations whether exposed to speeding cars or other life threatening scenarios like FIRE.
Is USA or Canada the only place where insurance prohibits marshals from responding to incidents? I don’t believe so. While I am quite new to my marshaling hobby, I’ve done enough volunteering around the world to see that the same racing receives different marshaling efforts around the world. I as a marshal could respond trackside in France for Le Mans 24h but am limited to flagging-only at Nurburgring 24h. Back home, I can go trackside for Formula One in the US or Canada, but cannot for IndyCar series where paid traveling marshaling team is responsible for all incident response efforts.
What’s the solution?
Training. Training for everybody, I think. The insurance concerns in the US and Canada are valid. The marshaling body, myself included, is a risk to itself due to the lack of professional training. We work pro events but most of us are amateur at best when it comes to working such events. There is little to no training at all levels and for all positions. I’ve been very vocal in the marshaling forums about the required training we should get (one would think) but my pleas fall on deaf ears because the debate rages on whether paid workers should resume their duties as a traveling safety team. Piss poor excuse if you ask me. Because people choose to complain about something they have little control over and fail completely taking action over something they really could have an influence on, when it comes to their own safety. SAFETY for fuck’s sake!
The way I see it we all are to blame. If we don’t care for our own safety by believing we are all experts and don’t require regular and professional training, we are all full of shit. If airline pilots are required to do simulator training to keep their license… or police officers doing regular shooting range visits to keep their skills sharp, both high risk jobs requiring finely honed skills. How could marshals in the US or Canada be so cavalier with their opinions thinking they are just fine doing what they do just by showing up to club events. Perfect attendance does not equal experience.
The solution to this “issue” as far as I’m concerned is professional training to all marshals wishing to work “Pro” events. Whether SCCA implements it (I start with SCCA because they are the de facto FIA sanctioning body here, AND I pay them $85 every year to be a member, where does that money go? maybe some of it should go to MY safety?) or IMSA, or NASCAR or the FIA itself… something should be done from the top down. It’s obviously not happening from the grassroots level up, at least not consistently around the US. I’ve worked events out West with the San Francisco Region SCCA, with the Lone Star Region in Texas with the Central Florida Region, with Detroit SCCA Region and of course the trifecta where I live with North Jersey/South Jersey and Mo-Hud Regions of SCCA… and all of them work differently. When you mix all the different personalities who have their own ways of doing things at one professional event, everyone pulls in their own direction, and they’re all correct in their eyes because they are experts.
We need standardized training like the Brits offer. Bring back the log book so training can be clearly logged. So marshals can do proper upgrades based on the skills they learn. Don’t assume people know anything just because they attended multiple years of pro events. Do what the Australian CAMS does… and if needed contract them to offer training, they got plenty of experience from teaching the Singaporeans, the Koreans, the Bahraini and the Emiratis.
Please train us and there won’t be an “issue” with safety! Which is the #1 priority for everyone in Motorsport!
I have also received plenty of personal attacks in reference to my questioning of the current training situation. Most commonly people say that “if you don’t feel confident doing something, don’t do it” we’re just volunteers and we shouldn’t put ourselves into situations we are afraid to handle. And to clear the air, I’m not particularly worried about my level of training. I went through the proper FIA mandated Formula One training when I started marshaling in Singapore. This included classroom theory training. Recovery training at the Manitou facility how to handle the lifting of a car onto a flatbed or off an active track. As well as intense flagging training in New Zealand when I lived there. I am fully confident in my competence. I call for mandatory training in the US and Canada because despite our separate experience level we need to be able to work together without questioning each other’s abilities. Often times there is someone on station that tries to force his way onto others, and depending on the mood of the day, his or her technique changes to suit that mood. I want people to do things one way: the correct way.