Behind the Scenes

At the core of every motorcycle race meeting is a group of people working tirelessly to make things happen. A myriad of tasks are performed by a skilled group of volunteers whose only payment is the satisfaction of a job well done. Without their generosity there is no racing.

Come with me behind the scenes…

Turn 8 Sector Leader Maree Rutherford (black cap) with her marshals
2011 MotoGP – Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit

The first official contact a prospective race entrant has is with the Race Secretary, whose job is to process and maintain the mountain of paperwork required under the regulations. All necessary legal and formal requirements will be handled by this person, including obtaining race permits, formulating the Supplementary Regulations, issuing the Final Instructions, processing entry forms and fees, maintaining entry lists and so on. The Race Secretary is pivotal.

The Scrutineering Team ensures every bike is roadworthy, correctly numbered and meets the specifications of the particular competition class prior to going trackside. They check the rider’s helmet, leathers, gloves, boots and back protector. They also sight the competitor’s racing licence.

Standing out in all kinds of weather are the eyes and ears of Race Control – the Flag Marshals.

Carlos and Tosca at their flagpoint

Using coloured flags they warn riders of various situations on track – a yellow flag for example indicates danger ahead, a blue means overtaking is imminent. Many flags are used, and their meaning can be found here.

When an incident occurs the flag marshal will immediately display the appropriate flag and advise Race Control via radio, who will then decide upon the next course of action.

The Recovery team, usually deployed in crews of two, is tasked with the retrieval and transport of crashed or broken-down bikes. They use muscle-power alone to lift and drag whatever’s left of a motorcycle onto a trailer, then clean up any remaining debris or fluids to ensure the track is safe for racing.

Pit Exit staff control the flow of bikes onto the circuit at the beginning of each session, while Pit Entry staff ensure the riders slow to a safe speed after leaving the track before entering the pits.

Occasionally extra pit lane officials may be found on patrol, as special rules apply and access to this area should be strictly controlled, however lack of numbers means they are not always available.

Grid Marshals ensure the riders take their correct starting position as determined by their qualifying times. Using a green flag the marshal at the rear of the field signals the grid is set, allowing the marshal at the front of the field to use a red flag to signal handover of control of the field to the starter.

The Starter has sole responsibility for starting the warm-up lap, by waving a green flag, and the race, by the use of lights. Ensuring a fair start for all competitors is a priority, and the Starter will look closely for any rider movement before the light is extinguished. Such movement may result in a jump-start penalty for the rider concerned.

They also need a keen eye to see a raised hand amongst an ocean of riders, signifying someone has a problem with their machine. In such cases the Starter will delay the start allowing the rider concerned time to either fix the problem or be pushed from the grid.

The Timing team provides all riders with a working transponder to facilitate accurate lap scoring. Their equipment records each competitor’s lap times, which are then be published in hard copy and displayed on monitors for crews and spectators alike. They also use video cameras to assist in the determination of jump-starts.

If sufficient volunteers are available a Chief Marshal will be appointed, and it the responsibility of this person to assign all other marshals according to their experience and abilities. The Chief Marshal will brief everyone to ensure they know what is expected each day and check that all relevant equipment is serviceable and delivered to the correct place trackside.

Race Control is housed in a dedicated tower building and consists of a Flag Communicator, who handles radio transmissions with the Flag Marshals, and a Chief Communicator who speaks with any other official carrying a radio. They will relay information directly to the Clerk of Course as necessary.

The Clerk of Course effectively runs the race meeting, and is responsible for every operational decision made. The CoC will ensure racing is conducted fairly and in accordance with the General Competition Rules, the Supplementary Regulations and the Final Instructions as issued to all competitors. The safety of everyone trackside is a prime consideration of the Clerk of Course and they work closely with all concerned to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and to time.

The Steward has supreme control of a race meeting and has authority overriding that of the Clerk of Course. They don’t usually involve themselves in the operational side of things but may act as they see fit depending upon the circumstances. The Steward will inspect the racetrack to ensure everything is in place as required by the track licence, and once satisfied will hand the circuit over to the Clerk of Course. Stewards also adjudicate on rider protests.

Sufficient trained medical personnel are also required before a race meeting can commence. Professional companies provide the necessary people, chase cars, ambulance vehicles and equipment and are usually paid by the promoter.

Ten years as a volunteer track official has given me the opportunity to work in all but two of the positions outlined and I’m currently enjoying the challenges of being a Clerk of Course.  I’m not masochistic and therefore don’t have any aspirations to be a Race Secretary, however I have just completed the Steward’s training course and am looking forward to giving it a go.

Racing has not only allowed me to spend time with some of the world’s best riders – it has also afforded me the privilege of working alongside some of the finest people you could want to meet.

To many riders the officials just impose rules and stop them having a good time.

We’re actually the reason there’s a good time to be had.

Tower officials surveying the Wakefield Park racetrack


2 responses to “Behind the Scenes

  1. You left out that flaggies are in the unrelenting weather all day (freezing cold and wet, or boiling hot) and often on their own. As such, they tend to be socially awkward and untroubled by trivialities like personal hygiene. They are great people.

  2. They put in a brilliant effort, but you’re right, some of them can be a bit strange.

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