"Five, Go Waving"
by Todd Byrum
The following article was printed in the March/April issue of Winding Road and Motorcycle Times, a regional motorcycling magazine. Thanks go to Todd for a great story (and to WRMT for recognizing a good story!).
“Five, Go waving” I called as I keyed the radio mic, jumped over the tire wall and sprinted out towards the track. A quick glance confirmed that the flag bearer (Flagger) in turn five had indeed started to frantically wave the yellow caution flag to the oncoming motorcycle racers on the track. An instant before that, I had caught a glimpse of a blue and white Yamaha R6 highside and throw it’s rider, as a stream of racers rolled through turn 6; “my corner”. As I ran across the 50-yard gap towards the crash site the dust obscured the facts but as that dust cleared I could see the rider face down on the race line.
“Control, this is six waving. Stop the session. I have a man on the track and he’s not moving.” The radio responded, “Control to all Stations. RED FLAG! I repeat RED FLAG”. No questions asked. I reached the downed rider as I pulled my large red flag from the holster on my back and began to wave it at the race traffic that was slowing and swerving around us. Elapsed time, maybe 4 seconds. I knew that this would happen to me some day. Major crash in “my corner”. As Corner Captain I was responsible for the safety of the racers, the safety workers and the spectators in my designated section of the 2 mile road course. Now it was time to see if I knew what I was doing.
Into my second year as a corner worker with Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Club (MARRC) I was starting to get comfortable with the procedures and the very professional “drill” of the Safety Crew and was starting to take on the task of Corner Captain. MARRC handles all of the Safety Crew/corner worker duties for the motorcycle racing at Summit Point raceway near Charlestown, WV. I was attracted to the idea of working with them first by articles in the local motorcycle press then by studying the wealth of information on their web site: www.marrc.org. After attending a day of corner worker training on a cold winter Saturday I was even more interested.
The MARRC organization was obviously very dedicated to the safety work they do for road racing in the region. They were also very serious about worker safety. Their attendance rules are - no rules. One of the Associate Safety Directors, Roger Bacon said, “If you want to try it then come out and try it. We’ll train you and work with you and take care of you. If you don’t enjoy it, there are no minimum requirements for attendance. We hope you do enjoy it and come back.” Once there for the day, the rules are serious and well thought out. Motorcycle road racing is a dangerous pursuit - dangerous for the racers and dangerous for the corner workers. Face it. The club sets the worker’s priorities while out “on the turn”:
The wisdom of experience. I have been to other tracks in the east over the years since I joined MARRC and whenever someone finds out I’m with the club all I hear is praise. “One of the best in the country” they say. The racers especially point it out. They like to race at venues that are safe. They know that safety comes from professionalism, sufficient equipment for the whole crew, ample ambulances on station, clear procedures, and a great attitude about road racing. I think that professionalism shines best when times are worst - rider down seriously and helicopter medical evacuation is need, fast.
When a Medivac is called for the MARRC Safety Directors really swing into action. The fire department is called to send a pumper truck which must always be on station when a Medivac lands and departs (helicopters create lots of static electricity and carry lots of aviation fuel - bad combination). The landing zone (LZ) is set and marked out. Crowd control boundaries are laid out and staffed by corner workers (the helicopter blades can throw a lot of debris so we keep everyone way back from the LZ and caution parents to hold and shield their children). The MARRC Safety Director coordinates the LZ set up and signals the pilot that the area is clear. The Fire Department Captain gives final landing clearance and MARRC keeps an eye on everything to assure that safety comes first and the rider is quickly loaded and rushed to INOVA Fairfax Hospital near Washington DC, some 50 miles away. Then we reset everything and go back to racing.
“Control to all stations. Let’s start a clear and green course check.” Nothing is assumed. “Station one, clear and green.” “Station two, clear and green.” And on around the 10 turns of the course to assure that nothing is overlooked. Every worker on every station has a radio with a headset. The radio is set to the Safety Crew frequency so all workers know what is going on all the time. The Captains have two way radios and keep Control informed of conditions on their turn. Control is a senior level Safety Crew member who is stationed in the track’s main tower. He or she is in contact with all the Corner Captains, the crash truck, the ambulances, the Safety Director (Safety), the Associate Safety Directors (ASD), the Race Director and the track owner and his crew. In other words, Control is in charge of the track. If she does not think it’s safe to release the bikes or to continue running on the track then her word is law. No one overrides Control. That authority enables MARRC to assure that Summit Point has one of the safest racing environments in the country.
And it has one of the nicest. The Summit Point track is situated well out in the countryside, west of Charlestown. There is a large apple orchard operation on the acreage south of the track area and much open land on the other sides as well. The land around the track is all wooded and green, as is the large infield. Every race weekend numerous racers, spectators and safety crew members are camped in the cleared sites throughout the forest and the open fields. I’m always impressed at how quiet the nights are at Summit Point. The racers don’t “party hardy” all night. They know full well that they are going out on the track to play a demanding, serious game at 8:00 in the morning and they must be in top physical shape. I have lots of respect for these guys and gals.
And you have to care about them to keep corner working. I was very concerned that day as I rushed to the fallen rider. Lying face down in the middle of the track he was fully exposed to the bikes swerving to keep away from him. Racers have an intensity about them while they are racing. Their minds are totally focused and planning ahead all the time. Near field obstacles are sometimes a problem if they have committed to a race line and cannot alter it without crashing themselves. Target fixation can be a factor as well as the mental challenge of sudden changes in plan or speed. I’ve seen racers run off course at 90 mph, dump the bike in a cloud of dust, roll two or three times then bounce to their feet, still racing in their heads, still going 90mph in their minds. It’s vital that we protect the racers that are still running as well as the one who just crashed until everything slows down.
Yes, I’m using the generic term - racer. Both guys and gals are out there in the full face helmets and full race leathers. And both guys and gals are on the turns to watch out for them and help if needed. Today the racer was a guy. He may have been only stunned or winded but when he did not move for those first few seconds I had all the data I needed. “Control this is 6 waving. I need an ambulance.” “Control to Baker. Dispatch to turn 6! I repeat, dispatch to turn 6.” No questions asked. If the Captain wants it he gets it. MARRC Safety Director Roger Lyle had reminded us that morning, and the words were fresh in my head. “Remember these folks are racing for a $15 plastic trophy. They want the track safe. If you have any reason at all, stop the session.” MARRC backs up their Captains.
The ambulance from “Baker Station” was rolling when the racer at my knee came awake and started to move his hand. As other corner workers arrived to take the red flag and to guard us I talked to him to keep him calm and prevent him from rolling over. We’ll let the Paramedics check him first. No back injuries thank you. He was conscious and alert and had the standard first question:” How’s my bike?” I looked up and spotted his once lovely sport bike lying on its side, covered in dust and trailing a line of plastic and metal bits across the pavement. But it was shut off and was not on fire. “It’s fine. We’ll take care of it for you. The ambulance will be here in about 10 seconds so just lay still. What’s your name? Do you have a pit crew?” I kept him talking as best I could. I could ignore the last of the traffic because I then had all sorts of MARRC members on station. The crash truck was pulling in. Workers from other turns were helping with the bike and sweeping and inspecting the track. One of the ASDs had arrived, as had the ambulance. The Paramedics took over with the rider so I got back to clearing the track and getting the turn back to normal.
We learned later that the racer was OK. Sprained hand. Treated and released. The full face helmet and race leathers, boots and gloves really paid off. Worth every penny. The bike was loaded onto the crash truck for the trip back to the pits and the corner workers returned to their stations in preparation for the resumption of racing. “Control to all stations. Does any station need additional time for clean up? Let’s pick it up with a clear and green course check.” “Station 1, clear and green” “Station 2, clear and green”……
I can’t explain it but this is endlessly fascinating. Where is that schedule? When can I get back there again?
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