It’s that time of year again, the time when my girlfriend and I fly down to Phillip Island to work as motorcycle race officials, this time at the penultimate round of the MotoGP.
I’ve made the pilgrimage every year since 2004, having started my career as a Flag Marshal working a corner at the World Superbike meeting and progressing to my current role as a Boundary Rider at both WSBK and MotoGP.
My job now entails riding around on a motorcycle attending a crash or mechanical breakdown to retrieve the rider and take him back to the pit garage.
It’s a coveted position.
The job is seen as autonomous, a bit of a luxury gig where I’m able to go wherever I want whenever I want, but in reality I’m just a part of a much larger team serving the riders and the event like anyone else.
My girlfriend Maree is a Sector Leader, responsible for a group of flag and track marshals and the efficient running of a number of flag points. Hers is a much more difficult job, involving managing people with varying experience levels and backgrounds.
The only way to communicate with the riders is via the system of flags, but to do this efficiently everyone concerned must play their part. Maree often has to deal with obstreperous males who think they know better, when in effect all she is doing is exactly what Race Control expects.
It’s actually those people working in the tower who call the shots, issuing directives for everyone else to follow, but sometimes male egos get in the way of doing a good job, especially when they must answer to a female Sector Leader.
I just hope none of them call her “Missy” or “Dear” – they’ll only ever do it once!
Oh, did I mention that we do all this for free?
What a lot of people, especially riders, don’t understand is that none of the officials gets paid for what they do. Each one of us spends our own time and money to be a part of the event. Air fares, accommodation, hire cars and living expenses often mean we’ll spend upwards of $1,500 each just to have the luxury of saying we were there, that we were part of this worldwide spectacle – yet we do it willingly.
It’s a passion.
When we’re not freezing our bums off at Phillip Island we’ll try to watch every other round on television, but it’s amazing what we actually look at. Often, instead of watching the racing, we’ll be checking out the background, examining what the flaggies and trackies are up to and second-guessing Race Control.
We’ve often been heard to say things like “that’ll be a Red Flag” or “that’s a jump start” to then see our call verified soon after on the small screen.
It’s great sport for us.
We also marvel at what an overseas Race Direction will let the flag and track officials do.
For example, at the end of every race we often see the flaggies and trackies run to the side of the racetrack waving flags and taking photos of their heroes, whereas at the Island we’re told to stay at our points. I guess it’s a more professional look for us but we do sometimes grumble about it.
We start each day at 6.30am and leave the track when everything is finished, often around 7.30pm. They’re long and very tiring days spent mostly standing up watching the proceedings, but we keep going back. There’s something about being up close and personal to the machines that brings us back year after year. We also get to speak with some of the world’s best riders.
So it’s off once again to the coldest place on Earth – well, that’s how it feels sometimes. This time two years ago on the Friday practice day the temperature dropped below freezing, with horizontal sleet and gale-force winds. We lost more than thirty marshals that year to hypothermia and the medical staff was kept busy long into the night. I was almost ready to drop too, even though I had on about twenty layers of warm clothing.
If you’re around on the weekend why not take a look at the race meeting. They’re broadcasting the Saturday qualifying (and that’s always really exciting), and then on Sunday there are the races. This year’s event is even more exciting as with only two rounds to go both Lorenzo and Pedrosa can win the Championship, and it might happen this weekend.
If you do watch on TV keep an eye out for me. I’ll be bloke in orange riding a dirt bike.