It doesn’t matter if your name is Lewis Hamilton, Hayden Paddon, Brendon Hartley or Ash Blewett (winner of the New Zealand Toyota 86 Championship).
It doesn’t matter if you are paid millions of dollars or pay for your own gas to get to a track; if you drive for a team backed by some of the largest corporations or simply drive for fun. You don’t get to drive at all without one important piece of a complicated jigsaw being in place, and that all depends on some other person giving up his or her time.
Being a corner marshal, a track marshal or a flag waver can almost be a career path to mirror that of a race driver. Start off at a kart track and progress to club and then national and perhaps international events.
To be a good marshal is a skill acquired over time with experience from knowing and understanding how the on-track action is unfolding. Many experienced marshals are drafted in from various countries to attend Formula 1 races in Asia or the Middle East and then some, whisper it now, get paid for doing it. Usually we are talking about compensation being a lunch, a hat or a T shirt , rather than actual money, but it does add a “feelgood” factor.
The marshals we see on TV are those out on the track but events would not take place anywhere without all of those people in the background — the people timing, scoring scrutineering, on the grid or start line, checking licences ... even the ticket booths and the car parking. Marshals play a vital role in ensuring the safety of every driver racing on track.
Just occasionally a marshal may get on TV for all the wrong reasons.
In 1977, F1 Drivers World Champion James Hunt was not having the best year, having retired from seven races and having won only two out of 15 leading into the Canadian Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season, at the Mosport Park track.
That race was going well for Hunt. After starting on the front row alongside pole sitter Mario Andretti, the drivers were having a closely fought battle with Andretti maintaining the lead but both drivers almost lapping the entire field. Almost, that is, until they came upon Hunt’s McLaren teammate Jochen Mass in third position.
Andretti got past Mass but unfortunately when Hunt tried to do the same thing ... disaster.
Nothing without motorsport marshalls
A “misunderstanding” between the two resulted in a collision with both spinning off the track. Mass managed to continue to the pits but Hunt was out of the race and climbed disconsolately out of the car with adrenaline still pumping.
As he was climbing from the car a helpful marshal got to him to assist. After rudely pulling away from the guy, Hunt wandered in the direction of the track with said marshal in close pursuit to keep him out of harm.
With Hunt ripping his gloves off, the marshal put a helpful arm around Hunt only to be met with an almost perfect right hook which sat the poor man flat on his back.
Hunt was immediately contrite and apologised, but the damage was done and he was fined.
That example is a rare occurrence, and these days considerable training is available for volunteers or marshals at motor sport events. The discipline has changed much over the years but the fact remains that, without marshals, there simply would be no motorsport.
If, as our New Zealand “Summer of Motorsport” approaches, you think you would like to be involved, get on to ‘The Motorsport Club of New Zealand’ themotorsportclub.com/ and have a look.