I hear it all the time: "I want to get into racing but I can't afford it." Ok, what kind of racing? Now if you know you HAVE to be at the track and not some vast parking lot or airfield autocrossing, then listen up, Buttercups. I have the simplest solution ever: become a course/grid/tech worker. Of course this means you have to work, but hey, nothing is ever free. Or volunteer to help a team in need in the pits/paddock if you can. Why? Need you ask?
Simply put, if you want access to places the paying public isn't allowed, then this is your ticket. Without a crew wristband or being an official you won't get this close to the action. Other than the photogs, everyone has a purpose in this shot to keep a car in the race if possible.
Let's start with my angle, which is somehow I became a crew chief for two cars that friends own, both of which are Triumph Spitfires. I also help out on a few other cars when needed. A prerequisite for this is mechanical ability, of which I have some. However, not all of it is wrenching. There are myriad other tasks that need attending to. From lugging gear, to pushing the car around, to managing the driver before sessions, the list goes on. Pretty much lots of small and not so small tasks need to be addressed.
Another integral way to help is in the transport of said race cars. Helping to drive a truck and trailer halfway across the country is a massive help. Yet there are 1000 other things I and other crew members do. Observe.
You see all those people? Sure, some are just spectators, but most are doing something needed. Umbrella holding to keep the sun off the drivers, getting cold water for them, doing last minute checks on the car making sure it's ready to go. Or just being supportive, trying to keep their driver from defeating him/herself in their head. In this instance, I was there to help my friend Dave, as his Porsche 914 lost 1st gear. I was one of a few who would push it to speed so he could take off in 2nd gear.
Sometimes, life is a bit more exciting, especially during enduros. Those require pit stops, driver changes, refueling, etc. That means I get to suit up in a firesuit and all the requisite safety gear. Personally, I love it. Sure, it's hot and uncomfortable, but when the stop goes well, it's a great feeling. Plus, the fashion is awesome. A bonus is the cool wagon full of stuff I get to roll to the pits. Thanks to Robert MacKenzie for this pic.
Now I can hear the comments about not having friends with race cars, etc. Fair enough. This is where not only can you have fun and get close to the action, but you can make a huge difference. It's easy. Become a course worker. Become good enough and it even can become a paying gig. Yet there is so much more to it than that.
We all see the drivers, sometimes the crew, but rarely are the course workers noticed. However, without them, from load in to tech to grid to the pits to corners, we'd be playing Forza instead of actually being at a track. Let's look at some pictoral evidence:
This is a HUGE field, something like 70 cars. There was a line on the left that is rolling out. Notice the Grid Marshal in the white shirt and black pants. How did this not become pandemonium? Because of the Grid Marshals. They told us where to line up, made sure we all fit, and kept control of the always trying to explode chaos. They also answered questions patiently, were always pleasant to deal with, and can never get enough praise in my opinion.
Grid not your bag? Then there's always Tech. Or the pits. Or registration. Or timing and scoring. Or corner work. It's all important, integral, and noble work. It's also many times thankless, tiring, and aggravating, because you have to deal with weather, prima donna drivers, and crew chiefs like me.
In pit lane, we had officials to enforce penalties, or safety concerns. This is a dangerous sport, and they have to walk that line of letting us have fun while being firm about safety and rules. Yet I can guarantee every single one of the officials loves doing it. It shows in their faces, even when tired.
I love being behind the pit wall and being behind the scenes to an extent. I sometimes get some recognition. When I was loading out and about to go back to my hotel, guess what the officials and volunteers were still doing? Yup, gridding cars, standing in the sun, ready to do whatever was needed to keep things moving.
So, next time you feel like you want more out of a race weekend, when you feel like you need to truly be part of the action, ask a worker how to do it. It'll be one of the best questions you asked. Maybe someday you'll be part of a crew as awesome as these guys and gals:
These and many others are why events happen, and this crew was the best I've ever dealt with at any race event in my life. Big thanks to Tara for letting me use this pic. Lastly, even as a spectator, thank the workers. They do it for you.