by Ian Hamilton
As a life-long fan of motorsport (in all its guises) , I was saddened to hear yesterday of the death of a race marshal at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The marshal was helping to retrieve one of the cars that had crashed during the race and tripped whilst retrieving a dropped radio, falling underneath the wheels of a mobile crane. He couldn’t be seen by the crane’s driver and was run over, suffering fatal injuries.
Race marshals are part of the group of people without whom events like this just couldn’t take place – they’re an integral part of motorsport and do it basically because they love the sport and not for the money (which is only token).
As a child I was fascinated by the glamour of motorsport, especially F1, and remember buying my monthly copy of Motor Sport magazine, reading it avidly and then (for some reason which I can’t for the life of me work out why) copying down the results of the race into notebooks! My Dad would take me up the Thruxton, the nearest circuit to Bournemouth, and we’d watch the races – especially the F3 bonanza at Easter. When I passed my driving test I was keen to get involved, so volunteered to marshal at Thruxton with the BARC and after attending the necessary training sessions was allowed to work at the races. Payment was a can of beer, a couple of pounds and a stamp in the marshal’s book, which allowed you to gain credits over the year and (if you’d attended enough meetings) get a special badge – wow! 🙂
Race meetings at Thruxton were great fun, standing out in all weathers for hours on end, retrieving cars and debris from the track and putting out the odd fire and cutting drivers from cars (luckily they were only minor incidents). With experience I moved up from being a fire marshal to a flag marshal, which at least meant I don’t have to run across the track! I even marshalled at a couple of British Grand Prix (which in those days alternated between Brands Hatch in Kent and Silverstone in Northamptonshire) – that was when you felt part of something bigger and more glamorous.
Thankfully these days, motorsport’s a lot safer and there are fewer fatalities, but it still is and always will be, a dangerous occupation. So, next time you’re watching a rain-sodden GP from the comfort of your armchair, just spare a thought for those marshals and other volunteers without whom it couldn’t take place! 🙂