Marshalling: Go Orange in 2017

Marshalling: Go Orange in 2017

Why you need to try marshalling this year

 

For those of you that know me, you have probably seen me in the orange overalls a few times over the past couple of years. Actually, I wish I had joined the orange army sooner.

I believe that any motorsports professional, amateur, or fan needs to give marshalling a go at some point. Even if it’s just for one weekend and you never do it again. I decided to become a marshal when I was Project Leader of Formula Student UK at Silverstone. We used a group of marshals (mainly from the 750 Motor Club) at the competition for the dynamic events. Working with them at the various pre-season events and then at the actual competition made me realise a few things about our orange, fireproof friends:

  1. Marshals really REALLY love motorsport. They get up stupidly early and work long days as volunteers!
  2. Marshals need food. All the food. Seriously. You cannot feed them enough.
  3. If there is not enough food at any given moment, marshals will be very vocal about their displeasure. (I can’t highlight this point enough. Just feed them.)
  4. Marshals sometimes get given a really tough time. From drivers, teams, staff. They are pretty thick-skinned but very much appreciate a kind word now and then.
  5. Marshals work really hard. Even when they appear to just be stood around, they are watching everything that is going on around them, whilst enduring the weather (both hot or cold).
  6. Marshals are often retired. The average age of a marshal is quite old. This is purely an observation and quite frankly, I think its great to see how active and involved some of the older members of the marshalling community are, but it does highlight a gap of youth volunteers in motorsport.
  7. Marshals are like one big family. It’s sort of nice really.
  8. Marshals have a wicked sense of humour. I spend all weekend laughing.
  9. Marshals could save your life.

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So what made me join myself?

I realised that in order to be good at my job (which at the time involved managing marshals to an extent), I needed to experience it for myself. It seemed logical.

But what actually happened was I found that I really enjoyed it. For me, any opportunity to be around race cars is probably enough to justify a long day in the elements, but joining the orange army surprised me by being so much more than just that.

The most amazing thing was how willing experienced marshals were to pass on their wisdom. I have been lucky to learn so much from various marshal mentors. I find that I particularly enjoy volunteering for the small race meets, as the big meets (Formula 1, Touring Cars etc.) have more marshals than jobs. I like to be kept busy and to work hard on a weekend, so it suits me if a meet is not too busy with volunteers.

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Forming the grid at a BTCC meet in Snetterton

There are 2 marshal pathways you can opt for:

Track Marshals = Pretty obviously, the marshals out on the track. There are typically 2 or more on a post, who deal with flags, observation and any incidents in their areas.

Specialist Marshals= These are the marshals who are not on the track. The roles include running the start line, patrolling the garages and pit lane, being out in the paddock, and manning the assembly (where all vehicles assemble pre-race.)

I wanted to try a bit of everything – which is encouraged – and found that I enjoyed parts of both pathway, therefore did not want to follow just one. This is totally fine in orange army world. I like the thrill of being out on the track, but also love the busyness of manning the pit lane and start line.

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Marshals gather ahead of a race meet

The truth is; being a marshal costs money rather than makes money. They are unpaid, often travelling long distances to camp (yes CAMP) at meets. If they are lucky, they might get a voucher for food, but often not. When you think about the amount of money in some series’ (Formula 1 for example), it seems pretty incredible that we still rely entirely on volunteers for these roles.

Marshals can get a tough time. When tension rises I have witnessed teams get very frustrated with a marshal and more often than not, the marshal is simply acting on the orders they were given. Or they are acting on the safety training they were given. Because every single marshal is given yearly training.

And of course I am not claiming that marshals don’t make mistakes. It can be really tough because many of them have no radios to “upstairs” (Marshal speak for Race Control), so if last minute changes are being made, they might not hear about it straight away.

Luckily though, most drivers, teams, staff etc. are an absolute pleasure to work with, and often very apologetic if they do anything wrong. They often take the time to thank the volunteers personally at the end of a meet, which is massively appreciated.

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The weather can really make or break your weekend too. I really enjoy the summer meets when I can nicely toast in my overalls, but the overheating and dehydration can be a big issue for my friends out on the bank. Pack lots of water in the summer, because you can’t leave post to get more if you need it.

For me, the worst days weather-wise are when it is both cold and rainy. I am a COLD PERSON and therefore incapable of wearing enough layers of thermals under my overalls to keep warm in the winter.

Heavy rain can be particularly unpleasant because fireproof overalls + wet = smell of one hundred simultaneously wet dogs. Trust me.

But whatever the weather does, if you love motorsports, trying marshalling will be 100% worth it. I guarantee you’ll want to go back for more!

The important thing for everyone to remember is that marshals are there to make the meet run safely. They are there for you, whether you are a competitor, official, member of staff, driver, fan etc.

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I can honestly say I have actually experience some of the kindest, funniest and interesting people during an orange weekend.

Becoming a marshal made me see motorsport from another perspective:

It made me think differently about my behaviour.

It made me think differently about driving.

It made me think differently about how to make people feel appreciated for what they do.

Because without marshals, motorsport would not be able to happen.

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Marshal instructs driver ahead of acceleration run at Silverstone

Finally, what can we do do to encourage more young people to sign up?

 The worry is that we need more youth to keep the army going in years to come. I can understand it can be a bit difficult socially for young people if they view it as an activity for an older generation, but actually the orange family is one of the most welcoming communities I have experienced, so you shouldn’t feel put off at all. Becoming a marshal meant I have been lucky enough to hear first-hand stories of races that happened before I was born. I love spending time with people of all ages. For me, it has never been a problem.

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So what are you waiting for? If you are interested in becoming a marshal, you can contact any of the racing clubs directly, join the BMMC, or have a look on the MSA website.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to send me a tweet @BethLilyRace

Thank you to all my orange friends! 

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