Clarke to the Rescue
by Craig Murto
Every time the
USAR Hooters ProCup competitors the the green flag, you can find Craig Clarke behind the wheel. But he's not behind the wheel of a race car; he's behind the wheel of his Track Rescue Fire Department, Motorsports
SafetyTeam rescue vehicle. "I've been a fire chief for the last 20 years," Clarke said as he sat behind the wheel of his yellow safety vehicle during practice for a recent ProCup event at New River Valley Speedways in
"We're a private fire department, one of the only ones in the country." And Track Rescue is certainly one of the few that specializes in motorsports. Based in Sarasota, Florida, and
manned by state-certified firefighters and EMT's, "Track Rescue has worked not only with USAR, but with local tracks, NASCAR, USAC, NHRA, IHRA, a little bit if everything," Clarke said. "We do several race tracks in
Florida," the 39-year-old chief said. "We do USA International, Auburndale Speedway and Desoto Speedway, as well as cover the entire 2000 USAR tour. There aren't a lot of organized groups such as us. I know the guys
from New Hampshire who work with us -Speedway Safety up there. I know the guys from the IHRA, PTS, Atlanta,IRL...CART has their own safety team."
When he was 19 Clarke worked as a volunteer firefighter in
south Sarasota County. A friend informed him of a local track that was lacking in the area of emergency services. Clarke checked it out, saw the need for professional emergency services specializing in auto racing, and
everything just started from there. "Now we just keep trying to improve what we've got"
About 30 firefighters work for Track Rescue, mostly part-timers who work their assignment on the weekend. Five
trucks stocked with specialized gear, one fire engine and a specialized golf cart unit - that also fights fire -are dispatched to cover Track Rescues duties. The ProCup series is progressive in its approach to safety.
Not only has it contracted with Track Rescue to work each race on the tour and augment the safety personnel provided by each facility, those facilities are required to provide state-licensed ambulance transport for each
Too many smaller touring series and local tracks get away with a couple of EMT's- just enough to satisfy their insurance. "Our primary focus is safety," Clarke said. "We are the first-responding
unit to any incident on the track. We assess the situation; if there's a fire, we put the fire out. If There's a possible driver injury we would involve EMS crew's at that point. Were dual-trained and certified, so we
work hand in hand with the local crews at the different tracks that we go to. We coordinate with them. If we have as severe injury we can get air support. We carry everything we need for basic life-support so we can
work on our own if we have to."
Track Rescue's team at New River Valley included Clark and two other personnel. The truck was loaded with 450 pounds of dry chemical and 50 gallons of foam and water. A
100-gallon water system was on hand as a backup. "The dry-chem is a quick knockdown, and the water/foam secures it so it wont support re-ignition," Clarke said. "We also carry a full compliment of hand tools, heavy
hydraulic rescue cutters, as well as air packs - everything you could imagine is in the truck. Some of the equipment we develop for our use at the tracks; we buy it commercially and then modify it to fit our needs."
Track Rescue has worked with a number of different series in the past, but never before as a full-time presence. USAR President Gene Cox said that Track Rescue first approached the series about a year ago.
"Having a full-time paid rescue crew is not an inexpensive proposition," Cox noted, But it's worked out very well. Drivers concur. "You know, you've got guys working on their crew who get familiar with the drivers,"
said ProCup competitor Stacy Puryear. "They put forth a good effort to make sure that when there's an accident on the race track that they get out there immediately. I'll tell ya, I think its better to have one that
will follow the series than going to the track and have Joe Blow there. These guys take pride in what they're doing, and they want to be here." Charlie Ford has won Late Model Stock Car track titles, and raced on
Superspeedways. The 56 year old veteran, now a ProCup regular, "the safety crew keeps the medical history on all of the drivers; they know what they can do and what they cant do. It just gives me a
better feeling knowing that Ive got them to support me if I ever need them out there."
Bobby Gill, defending ProCup champion, qualifies as legend in short track pavement Late Model racing. "These guys have
their own deal, and they know what they've got," Gill said. "You sure have a better chance with them than somebody running around looking for a fire extinguisher!" Mario Gosselin is no stranger to short track
competition. He's a winner in the ProCup series, and threatens to win in anything that he enters. "The guys are more familiar with every one of us, and were more familiar with them," the Florida-based short track star
said. "I think its definitely a big plus that they've got their safety crew traveling with us. Traveling safety crews should be considered by other traveling series," Gosselin said. "Those guys, like in any other job,
get experience tending to these cars and these guys, in all these different situations week in and week out," Gosselin observed. "I think that's good; the more experience they get doing this, the quicker they can do it."
Track Rescues ability to provide quick on-scene emergency services is not the extent of the benefits it offers ProCup racers. As Ford mentioned, in case of a severe incident, medical records are
passed along that can be vital to the drivers care outside the race track. "It's a program that we instituted for our drivers," Clarke said. "Every driver has a medical card that they fill out with name and
address, emergency contact names and phone numbers, their medical history including any allergies, current medications they may be on, their blood type; important information that we would need if they were unable to
speak for themselves. We can go to this card, and then if they have to be transported we can give this information to the unit that transports them."
It helps the doctor at the other end to know what
he's dealing with. Clarke not only sees full-time safety crews a benefit that sanctions can give their touring series, he sees it as a prerequisite for competition. "If you're a racing series you have to have some kind
of a safety plan in effect that the drivers know what's going on, the officials know what's going on, and the fans have the idea that yes, they have an organized plan," Clarke insisted. "When something happens on the
track - a wreck happens - things are put in motion. Everybody has a job to do, and they go do their job. The cleanup crew has a job, the wreckers - we all have a job to do. Without that organization youre just dead in
the water. The fans will know immediately that things are not the way they should be, and the drivers too. But safety is taken care of as it should be in the ProCup series, THE FIRST MAJOR TOURING STOCK CAR SERIES TO
HIRE A FULL-TIME SAFETY CREW".
And few personnel are as specifically trained as those are in private companies such as Track Rescue. "We train on a routine basis," Clarke said of his already highly
trained and certified personnel. "At least once a month we get together. We get together at the tracks a lot of times at the events, when we have free time. Often old race cars and frames are used in Track Rescue
training, so that personnel are familiar with the construction techniques, which gives them an edge should driver extrication be required. We have to keep up with what's going on, too," Clarke observed. "A lot of
times well get together with the race teams and they'll show us, Now, OK, this is the new style, or, Things are being built differently now. Safety equipment is another thing that we stay on top of. The belt systems,
restrain systems...the on-board fire extinguisher; that's another thing that a lot of drivers take for granted."
But safety isn't something Clarke takes for granted. "Everything that you can put on your
body - whether it be the hood sock,a better suit, Nomex underwear, feet protection, gloves - all add together to buy you time," Clarke said. "And it buys us time to get to you in a bad situation. Our goal, as far as
average response time, is to get to the scene in 30 seconds or less. Our average response time is closer to 20 seconds. With flammable liquid, it can go from bad to nightmare in less time than you can blink. When
there's a fire on the track, everything stops - we stress this with our officials. You cant dilly-dally around; youre dealing with flammable liquids, your dealing with fiberglass, youre dealing with rubber tires, and a
possible injured driver who cant get out. The drivers are instructed to give the safety vehicle the right-of-way, Clarke said." But there have been a few instances when safety vehicles were slightly damaged after a
brush with a race car on the track while rushing to get to the accident scene. " When were dispatched, we put ourselves at heightened risk. If we have to go backwards on the track, we will do it," Clarke stated,
"anything it takes to get to the driver."
There is no such thing as a safe environment in racing. But USAR Hooters ProCup drivers have a safer environment than most, because USAR was bold enough to hire
Track Rescue as its full-time traveling safety crew. Clarke, first and foremost a proponent of safety, wishes other sanctions would do the same - and it doesn't have to be through Track Rescue. "You've got to have a
plan," he said as he sat behind the wheel of his yellow safety vehicle,preparing to ask a journalist to leave so that he could get ready for the evenings racing and concentrate on his drivers.
"You've got to have properly trained personnel".