At Race Workers School, Lessons Are Built for Speed
Everyone else in the tower seems to be wearing the same blank look and probably is thinking the same thing: Damn . . .
And it flips . . .
You start daydreaming about a couple of days back, in the classroom with 40 or 50 other newcomers, anxiously awaiting what lies ahead this weekend at Summit Point Raceway. The pictures on the wall ignite mental imagery of fast-moving cars and loud engines--exactly what you want to see and hear. You remember the instructor asking the students what they think people like most about auto racing.
"The crashes!" the guy behind you blurts out. Everyone snickers.
"Well, people, our friend here is very correct," the instructor says. He then passes out the instructional manual on flagging that we'll be using throughout the weekend. "The bad news for them is that we're here to prevent that. During this weekend, you will be called on to protect the lives of yourselves and the drivers that will be racing."
Welcome to Summit Point Raceway's Race Workers School, Summit Point, W. Va. Every weekend, from March to November, members of sports-car, motorcycle, and other auto clubs come to race at this two-mile, 10-turn track set on 472 acres about 70 miles west of Baltimore. We're here to learn about being on a race crew, by attending one of several training courses taught on-site. Three days, plenty of cars, lots of testosterone.
. . . and it flips . . .
You snap out of your trance and try to remember the path you had mapped out in case something like this happens. You recall the fire-training portion of the course. Your mind moves a mile a minute, mentally ticking off all the things you're gong to need: fire bottle, tow belt, walkie-talkie, flag.
You recall all the little notations in your flagging manual, like: Never use the word "red" when referring to cars. Always use another word, such as "crimson" or "scarlet." Your training partner explained that this is important to ensure there are no accidents due to a misunderstanding of calls.
Then, just as the moment becomes a little too drawn out, just when your nervous system can't tighten up any more . . . boom! The Ferrari hits, sending an array of "crimson" parts into the air and across the track.
"What color flag do I use? Is it the red one? Can I say red when referring to flags?" someone asks.
"Emergency, emergency, control, this is 5 waving yellow!"
"Control to all stations, we have an emergency at Station 5. Go ahead 5."
"We have a car that has just flipped over, we need . . ."
Everything happens so fast, you don't remember the rest of the conversation. But as the tension leaches away, you seem to be thinking very clearly. You are relieved to have gotten through the initial call; you'd been warned the day before that most breakdowns in communication happen during the initial call. You try to make sense of all the training you'd just gone through and remember what you were taught: If the car is on fire, you must approach with caution while trying to extinguish the flame. So you grab the fire bottle.
As you approach the car, you see waving yellow flags at the station next to you, so you know you must have given the control tower the right information--either that or someone saved your ass by doing it correctly for you. Either way, the situation has been handled properly.
Something in the back of your head is telling you that it's a lot less grisly than it looks, but you feel queasy just the same. You step over piece after piece of debris from the red . . . scarlet Ferrari. As you get closer, you start thinking morbid thoughts, picturing a disfigured, twitching body inside.
You get closer, and closer. And, just as you are upon the car's carcass, the door pops open and out climbs the driver, looking a bit disarrayed. He sees you and yells, "Did anyone get a picture of that?"
After all the training and work you put in over the weekend, after getting out of bed by 7 a.m. three days straight, after the constant drills and corrections, after finally getting a taste of working trackside, you are faced with this: an overly excited race-car driver who apparently had just as much fun crashing his car as he did piloting it. Of all the responses you might have expected, never in a million years would you have thought that the first thing out of the mouth of someone who has just wrecked a borrowed $120,000 machine would be, "Did anyone get a picture of that?"
After all the excitement dies down and all the debris has been safely pushed to the side of the track, the caution flag is removed. As you head back to the tower to resume your position, you reflect on the experience of the last several minutes and think to yourself: If the race crew's class is this exciting, what the hell must the driving courses be like?
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