DRM Interview: Craig Clarke
Craig Clarke and his staff have been the first ones on the scene of accidents in IHRA racing since 2002. In that time, he has seen just about everything on the track, and it has been his Track Rescue crew that has worked to make sure the crashes they have seen result in the fewest injuries possible. DRM recently caught up with Clarke to talk abot his difficult, stressful obligation to be the first on scene.
DRM: What is the biggest challenge you and your staff face a th the track?
CC: Dealing with the wrecks and dealing with the fires. Especially the fires, because when we have a fire, everything stops until the fire is out. When there is a fire, we have to immediately take care of it because it is a jeopardy to the life and safety of the driver. But we have to deal with different situations as they come along and be able to switch gears from one to the other.
DRM: How much preparation does that take because you have to be ready for everything?
CC: We have to be reeady, on-guard, all the time. We have to be ready togo the entire time we are on the property, where we usually are the first ones in and the last ones out.
DRM: How did you get involved in this business?
CC: I have been in Emergency Services since 1976 with Fire/Rescue and EMS. I saw the need for a professional group in motorsports, so I started in the sprint car ranks and then in drag racing as well as road courses, off-shore marine, motocross and AMA. We pretty much cover all types of motor sports.
DRM: How difficult was it to get started in the business?
CC: At the time, there wern't any regulations dealing with our particular venues. We pretty much had to write thm on our own taken from standard, traditional operating practices from Fire or EMS. With the experience and learning things along the way, we altered strategy, tactics and how to respond to different situations. Every wreck and every fire is different even though they're similar. Each is unique in its own way and we have to know how to handle that.
DRM: You've seen some pretty bad ones, haven't you?
CC: We've dealt with a lot of different situations over the years, from fires to the wreck themselves. We witness the wrecks so we can see what is known as the 'mechanism of injury.' We anticipate how the person could be injured by the way the vehicle impacts another vehicle or the wall. We've had cars literally climb the fence and become entangled in it. There are all kinds of unique situations and we have to know how to deal with all of them. We have to deal with techniques not only for extracting the driver, but for moving the wreckage away where you can get to the driver if you have to. It helps to have a background and experience in dealing with those.
DRM: With some of these wrecks you've seen, are you amazed sometimes when people walk away from them?
CC: That would be a good way to put it. It's amazing, the speeds involved. Safety has evolved over the years via the different inventions and improvements on safety equipment. That's the reason drivers walk away from tremendous wrecks with huge amounts of G-Forces on themselves, either lateral or frontal. The advances in safety technology are the reasons a lot of drivers walk away from what could have been either a serious or fatal crash.
DRM: Is there any one specific crash that comes to mind where you are just amazed that person is still here?
CC: Doug Foley. That was a tremendous impact. Keep in mind I witness all of the wrecks from the Top End where, a lot of times, the tire smoke may obscure what's going on with the wreck from the starting line. The fans can see more because they can see the wreck from the side and the smoke usually doesn't block their vision. Seeing that wreck coming at us we could see how he impacted one wall. then the other wall. It literally is amazing he survived, but he was wearing the proper safety equipment and that's probably why he walked away from it. He had injuries, but they could have been a lot worse.
DRM: Last year at the banquet, a lot of the racers got up and, in their speeches, mentioned how much they wanted to thank Track Rescue. How did that make you feel personally and what can you say about the guys that work for you?
CC: We have a very good team and are there first and foremost for the drivers. We've become friends with a lot of them and it's important that any series has a good working relationship with the drivers and their crews so that we understand each other. It's great the drivers recognized the group and I think it's important for morale. They understand if they are in a bad situation, we are going to be the first ones they see. They rely on our training and expertise in dealing with these situations. It's like a safety blanket with them.
DRM: That being said, when you see something like Clay's blowover last year or Doug Foley's crash in Canada, you know these guys personally and are friends with them...does that make it a little more difficult for you?
CC: Yes and no. When we're called into service we are completely focused on our job and what we have to do. You have to focus in on your job first. Later on it might affect you emotionally depending on what the circumstances are. But when we are dealing with it, we don't have time to think about emotions...you have to insulate yourself until your job is complete.