I was thinking about marshals the other day. I don’t mean the discount clothing store or the people who run the witness protection system, but the army of volunteers who work the races. If a driver goes off, the marshals are the one who pull the cars and drivers out of the way and keep the track clean of debris and such.
I can’t speak for the marshals in the US, but I had a love-hate relationship with the ones in the UK. Maybe love-hate is a little strong. Maybe more of a fondness -annoyance relationship. I respected the marshals because they volunteered their time and put themselves in harm’s way keeping a track clear and supporting drivers. Where my relationship got a little frayed with these people in orange was in pinch situations. At times, a marshal wanted to play hero. In a prang, when the marshals came running, I can guarantee one of them would want cut my harness off or pull the pin on the fire extinguisher system regardless of necessity. More than once I had to slap an overzealous hand away. I love the commitment, but I didn’t love the cost of unnecessarily replacing a six-point harness or recharging the fire extinguisher or cleaning out the engine bay and cockpit.
Where my relationship with marshals got tetchy was when it came to limits of their position. I feared one person and one person only during a race—the clerk of the course. The buck stops with this person. He/she is God. They can issue fines, kick you out of the event, report you to the governing body and generally put a crimp in your day. Marshals cannot, but that didn’t stop some believing they could. I had harsh words with several marshals in my day, but the most memorable was during a real pig of race. The race had regressed into a demolition derby. It was carnage from start to end. It was the only time I truly feared for my safety. Surviving the race was a Tolkienian adventure. I came up on the last corner to find two cars had slammed into each other and burst the tire wall. Tires covered the track. The marshal stood in the middle of the track with his arms out. He told me my race was over. No it wasn’t. The finish line was in sight and no one was stopping me from finishing. The race hadn’t been black flagged. There was just a local yellow and so I just rounded the marshal must to his disgust. If he thought he was angry with me, it didn’t measure to my anger. He put his safety at risk and he was interfering with my race. Words were exchanged, but his clerk of the course sided with me.
So yes, marshals could be a thorn in a racing driver’s side, but in the event of a really bad crash, the one person you want to help remove that thorn from your side is a marshal.
Thanks guys, but just leave the extinguisher button alone. :-)