Let me tell you about an experience I had last weekend. I was fortunate enough to be selected to work the Long Beach Grand Prix through the streets of Long Beach in California April 16th -18th. What a great race. You may remember that I said there are many ways to get involved with racing. Here is one that you may want to look at.
It has been said that the only seat better to watch a race is in the car. Working a race puts you right up front and in many cases right next to speeding cars as they circle the track. Long Beach is one of those. From the 200 mph Indy cars and LMP cars to the 150mph World Challenge cars, working is the next best thing to being in the driver’s seat. Let’s discuss some of the things workers do at these events.
You may have noticed when watching a road race on TV that there are several people around the track who wave flags at the cars as they go by. They are called the Flagging and Communication (F&C) crew. These people are the only way to communicate to the drivers that there is a situation either ahead of them or behind them. They use several different flags to tell the drivers they are being followed closely or about to be overtaken by another car (Blue flag with or without a diagonal yellow stripe). There is something on the track ahead that you need to watch out for (Debris flag- red and yellow stripes), There is something ahead that may cause you to take evasive action (Yellow flag- stationary as a caution, waving as a warning), a stationary white flag (slow or emergency vehicle ahead, in some races it also means that there is one lap remaining when waved at Start /Finish), A green flag (displayed anywhere except Start/Finish means you are past the danger condition on the track). Some other flags used are: red flag (which means the session is over or stop safely now, there is something happening and the race is stopped) or the black flag- which means report to the pits for consultation or if it has n orange ball in the center(meatball) it means there is something wrong with your car go to the pits to fix it. The last flag is the one that all drivers like to see the checkered flag- indicates that the race is over or the session is over. That’s the flagging side of the job.
Communication is the other half of what they do. For every action or observation on the track the information gets relayed to “control” who records all incidents and conditions called in by the corners. This information is used by the “stewards” who are in charge of making sure the event is run fairly and safely. We are the eyes and ears of control. So it is very important to be accurate and thorough in what is reported.
Now on to the good stuff. At Long Beach there are several turns that are not really turns but not really straights either. I was lucky enough to be stationed at one of these during this weekend’s race. The station was called “Rock Garden” and is in the middle of the “front straight”. The front straight is really a long sweeping right hand curve where the cars are really moving fast. The average speed by our station was estimated at 180mph plus and the speed approaching Turn 1 past us was almost 200mph before they slow down to make the 90 degree left turn in second gear. The reason that there is a flag station at Rock Garden is because the drivers can not see around the bend to Turn 1 from the start stand so it is our job as the flaggers to let the drivers know what is ahead.
The turn station is situated behind a concrete barrier with catch fencing above it and we must display our flag through a cutout in the catch fence. Many times on TV, you only see a flag sticking out of a fence. That is the corner workers doing their job.
It was the same this weekend. We would signal the drivers as they roared by only a few feet from our “window”. There is nothing like the whine of an 800hp Indy car whizzing by with the rush of air spilling off their rear wings or the high pitched revving of a Lemans Prototype car as it accelerates past, mere feet from where you are standing. The old saying about reach out and touch someone could very well be true when working a race corner.
Long Beach is a special event that has been running annually for 36 years. Many of the drivers including this years LBGP winner Ryan Hunter-Reay say the LBGP is the one race that they all want to win besides the Indianapolis 500. It is considered one of the crown jewels of Indy racing and for good reason. Several past winners can be found at all levels of open wheel or sports car racing and reads like a who’s who of motorsports champions.
To become an F&C worker you need to contact your local region or club and attend some of their local events to gain experience and take the training they offer to improve your F&C skills. There are several clubs in the Phoenix area that always need workers. Here are some of them:
Arizona region, Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)- http://www.azscca.com,
Pro Autosports Inc- http://www.proautosport.com,
National Auto Sport Association(NASA)- http://www.nasaproracing.com ,
BMW club of America- http://bmwccaclubracing.com ,
The Corvette Club- http://www.nuccofaz.com ,
Porsche Club of America- http://az.pca.org
Until next time, keep the shiny side up.
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