Motorsport – replacing the sex life of middle aged men since the mid 1900’s.
An annual motor racing trip with old mates is a highlight that many look forward to. But hey, if your going all that way and spending all that money, which we both and your wife know should be going towards replacing that horrific art deco wall paper in your spare room, why not get the best seat in the house? Ever thought about marshalling? It’s free, which keeps the missus happy, and unless you were in the drivers seat you couldn’t be closer to the action.
To save you trawling through various online articles to find out what it’s all about, we have asked our good friend Peter to give us the lowdown on marshalling, including plenty of his personal highlights. His stories rewind back to the 70’s from when he first began marshalling and the red tape was a fair bit thinner, to re-entering the sport in 2015. Here’s what he had to say.
“Marshalling is a great way to get into motorsport – and you get the best view in the house for free! There are lots of jobs to choose between, from a paddock or pit marshal through to on-track jobs or race control. All have plenty to offer and are equally rewarding.
So what made me want to try marshalling? It started with a love of cars and a love of motor racing that began when I spectated at some meetings at the old Crystal Palace circuit in the 1960s. My first stint marshalling began in 1972 and ended in 1993, when a demanding job and a young family needed my full attention. Fast forward to 2015, plenty of time on my hands so I made a return – and fell in love with marshalling all over again. As you might expect, it’s all moved on a long way in the past 20+ years, more professional, more regulations, more safety precautions but the basics remain – great sport, great atmosphere and a great bunch of enthusiasts to work with.
Back to the early days. I started out as a course marshal (we used to be called Luggers & Tuggers) and spent a lot of time pulling drivers and cars out of the catch fencing that was common on racing circuits in those days. Having had my grading card signed off by enough ‘Examining Post Chiefs’ – the most senior on-circuit officials – I then spent time as a flag marshal, fire marshal (including some pretty hair raising training sessions), assistant Post Chief, Post Chief and finally Examining Post Chief.
During my first stint marshalling I put in over 500 days on-circuit and loved every single one of them. Most of my marshalling was done at my local circuit, Brands Hatch, but I also visited other U.K. Circuits for everything from club meetings to Grand Prix, and also marshalled at Grand Prix in Europe – around 20 in all. As I’m writing this the memories come flooding back – great racing with a great crowd of people. I was very lucky that in those days access to teams and drivers was far less restricted, and memories include chats with team owners such as Frank Williams and Ken Tyrell and drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. These days things are, naturally, more restricted in the world of F1 but at other meetings things are much more relaxed.
Things that spring to mind from the early days…. Senna and Prost both stopping at our marshals post at Spa (Belgium) at the end of practice and Senna getting cross when we got dirt on his qualifying tyres when we pushed him clear (he was very friendly and chatty when he realised we were English!). Belgium again, the last GP at Zolder and I made the BBC TV broadcast when Alain Prost stopped with his turbo on fire and I put the fire out. Other memories are of the Le Mans racers trailing flames from the turbos on the overrun into Paddock Bend at Brands Hatch as dusk fell on the 1,000 kms race, chatting with Nigel Mansell while he was lounging in a deck chair outside his parents caravan in the marshals camp site at Silverstone a few hours after he had won the British Grand Prix (modern F1 drivers would have been far away in their executive jets by that time), chatting with Murray Walker during his frequent visits to our marshals posts….. The list goes on and on…
I can’t pretend that we didn’t live in exciting times when I started marshalling in the early 70s. I had the hat flipped off my head by a flying car, had another car go clean over my head while I was bending down to speak to a driver caught in the catch fencing, and had a spinning car knock the fire extinguisher from my hand while I was running to an incident. We took it all in our stride and never thought twice about it. I also attended several fatalities and saw things that I still can’t forget.
There were lots of fun times, though. Many of which would get us into big trouble these days. For example we used to camp overnight for the big meetings and the evenings tended to go on quite late. Turning up on post for the start of practice was never nice with a banging headache but the St John Ambulance guys would always come to our rescue. A few slugs of O2 normally sorted us out but, in extreme circumstances, a deep breath or two of Entonox (gas & air) did the trick. That would involve a lot of form-filling these days…
Spa in Belgium for the Grand Prix in 1986 was fun. The night before the race we went for a few quiet beers. Then a few less quiet ones. When we left the club it was bright daylight which wasn’t a great start to our day. We were staying at a military barracks, complete with gate guard. Most of us had been in the ACF or TA so we decided to show the soldier on the gate how good the English were at drill. Ten minutes later he gave us a round of applause and that turned out to be the highlight of the day when the Belgian medics refused to help us out with Entonox.
Andrea de Cesaris was a F1 driver with a bit of a reputation as a wild man (we called him de Crasharis). So there I was for a Brands Hatch GP on the exit of Westfield, a very fast bend. It was so dodgy in the days of big turbos and qualifying tyres that we cut back the undergrowth behind our post to give us an escape route. Come the end of qualifying Andrea got it all wrong at high speed. We hit the ground and heard *clang*… *clang*……… *CLANG*. When we got our heads back above the Armco there was what was left of Andrea’s Alfa up against the Armco further down the track. The crash wagon with a crane turned up (no posh loading beds in those days) and hoisted up the car. “Careful, don’t damage it!” Shouted Andrea. The truck driver turned to him and said “You’ve done a f***ing good job of that yourself mate!” Andrea looked so shocked….
Jokes apart, marshalling is a great way to be involved in this exciting and evolving sport. Marshals play a critical role at every motoring event, working tirelessly to ensure the safety, enjoyment and well being of everyone involved. The safety and training is thorough, and evidently there is more red tape and form-filling today, but you will take away endless memories and experiences whilst playing an invaluable role in motorsport. Plus, you don’t really have to be middle-aged. Peter would like to point out that he was 19 when he first stepped into those glorious orange overalls.
Interested? The British Motorsport Marshals Club is an excellent place to start.