It takes a special set
of abilities to steer a race car around a track at high speed, pressed
within dozens of others. The senses are heightened and the adrenaline
is flowing rapidly throughout the body. Under perfect circumstances,
this is stressful, but when those circumstances become less than
perfect, it gets even more intense. The element of survival now
enters the mix.
Also entering the mix
is the track safety crew. They have been on alert from the start,
knowing there will be no advance warning. The crew must be prepared
to move immediately, never knowing what awaits them.
It certainly requires
special skills to work on a safety crew, regardless of the type
of racing. Weekly tracks need workers who are trained equally as
those traveling with the series.
Finding quality safety
workers can start with the local firefighters and emergency medical
technicians who provide safety and comfort within the community.
With a little training, they can adapt to the slightly different
world of auto racing.
Craig Clarke is the head
of Florida-based TRACK RESCUE,
which provides safety services for all types of racing. TRACK
RESCUE has traveled with series and provided weekly
safety operations. "The amount of training we do with our workers
depends upon their personal level of experience," Clarke says.
"We try to locate people who are already certified as firefighters
or EMT's. All of our people are cross-trained at the firefighter/EMT
level or higher."
To get the safety worker
familiar with the sport, Clarke provides a curriculum that deals
with possible scenarios in racing. "A lot of what they will
be doing is similar to what they're familiar with, but it's different
enough that we want to make sure they are familiar with the sport,"
Clarke continues. "For example, we'll talk about how the race
cars are built and get them to understand the construction. Also,
they'll be dealing with exotic fuels in some cases. They don't have
the concerns about burning plastics like they would at a road accident.
They also need to understand that these cars are more rigid. Race
cars don't have crumple zones like street cars. By the nature of
the sport, they will be facing different types of injuries. There
are a lot of blunt-force and internal injuries in racing.
"There's a lot of
on-the-job training. The work involves a lot of common sense."
Because it is a specialized field, it's important to keep people
once they are trained. The ones who do it don't do it to get rich.
"They enjoy racing and want to be part of it," says Clarke.
"They don't mind that it is a thankless job. They understand
that going into it. You have to be prepared to deal with the emotions
that come about when the situation doesn't go the way someone had
hoped. The drivers will take it out on the safety crew. We understand
that-even if it does make the job more difficult. A few moments
ago they were in the heat of the battle. Now, they're disappointed,
and they could be hurt and maybe not be aware of it. You don't feel
the pain until the adrenaline subsides in some cases. The promoter
wants to keep the show moving, so he's trying to hurry you along.
You have to do the job in the safest manner, and it may not be the
quickest in the eyes of everyone else.
"We're the first
ones in and the last ones to leave. It takes a special person to
While a doctor's bedside
manner is important to a hospital patient, a response team's relationship
with the drivers can be equally as vital. "Because of certain
regulations about personal information, we try to work directly
with the drivers," adds Clarke. "Many of the series will
try to collect information that will be helpful in treating the
drivers. We still want to establish that communication with the
drivers so that they are familiar with us at the scene of the incident."
Unless there is a red
flag, the response team has to face the situation of attending to
a mess while cars circle the racetrack. It may not be a problem
in many cases, but the potential for disaster is always there. Common
sense has saved many safety workers. "We take risks, knowing
we can be injured or killed, but we know that it's part of it,"
Clarke says. "That's why we have brightly colored vehicles
with lights. A drivers sees the lights, he slows down. I think you
can't have too many lights. Drivers are generally good about getting
out of the way, and their spotters keep them informed of what we're
"We have to be in
communication with the race command," Clarke continues. "We
always have a point man at the head of the scene. "He's watching
the field. All members have a whistle. When you hear a whistle,
you stop and look for danger. If the situation is too bad, most
tracks will give us a red flag to allow us to secure the scene safely."
fire require plenty of haste. These circumstances will draw a red
flag, and the response must be immediate. The crews not only must
extinguish the fire, but at the same time focus on additional responsibilities
related to driver safety. All parties should understand the urgency
of the situation.
RESCUE arrives for a race, there is an inventory
of equipment that is checked. "You have to be prepared,"
Clarke points out. "You can't have too much safety equipment
at a track. If something fails, and it can happen, you have to have
a backup plan and know how to switch to that plan. It's best to
work with the track and see what they have that can supplement what
While the safety crews
haven't found the job to get easier, they have found an increased
awareness in safety at tracks. There are some tracks that have been
that way all along. "There really hasn't been much in terms
of regulations," says Clarke. "Usually, each track decided
what it wanted to do. Some of them were proactive, and others didn't
have sufficient resources or equipment."
Safety is the responsibility
of all parties. The rescue crews play a role, but it is incumbent
upon everyone, including drivers and promoters, to maintain the
highest level of safety possible. Rescue crews do their part by
providing trained personnel. Don't expect compensation equal to
the task performed and the hours spent training. A simple thank
you is often enough for these workers. The safety crews know that
few come to the race to watch them in action, but countless drivers
have been thankful the crews have been there and properly trained
to handle the job.