Josh has been a member of SCCA and a flagger since 1970 and currently is Chief of F&C for the Washington, DC Region.
Since my last article, at Summit Point Raceway in Summit Point, WV, we've had our Race Emergency (Crash and Burn) School, March 15th, Driver School, March 22-23, MARRS I (Mid Atlantic Road Race Series), April 5-6, National, April 19-20 and MARRS II at the Connellsville, PA Airport. It seems like the season is almost half over already.
Crash and Burn School had 60 participants including many new workers and a handful of drivers out to learn what flagging is all about. For the advanced session, we had a productive panel discussion between several drivers and senior flaggers regarding how best to present information to the drivers to be sure they see and interpret correctly what we are attempting to convey to them as well as what drivers can do to convey information back to the flaggers. The morning classroom session was capped, as usual, by Dave Rolls' presentation on what to do and not do as first responder to a racing incident involving driver injury. Dave's presentation cannot be adequately described with mere words. Suffice to say that he presents his material in a manner that you will not soon forget.
Dave is a longtime friend, ex-flagger, ex-driver,
ex-paramedic and currently a Deputy Sheriff for Mineral County, WV. As his
50th birthday was the following day, I had a cake made, complete with a map
of Summit Point Raceway and miniature cars strategically placed at various
positions around the track.
During the afternoon training session, everybody got to practice hands-on
fire fighting which already has paid off as we have had several incidents
involving fires this season.
Driver School saw 80 student drivers learning the "correct" way around Summit Point with about 40 flaggers on hand to help keep them out of trouble. My son-in-law, John Burkhard, completed his second school in their ITC Honda Civic and will be racing starting with MARRS III in June along with my daughter, and his wife, Beth. He still hasn't wiped the grin off his face.
MARRS I fielded 248 cars and with over 50 flaggers on hand it was a good weekend. The largest race group was ITS/ITA with 52 cars attempting to qualify and 48 actual race starters (Summit Point is a 2 mile track and 50 cars is the maximum allowed). Needless to say, that session was a busy one as were several others with fields of over 40 cars.
The National produced 220 entries and 70 flaggers. There were enough workers so that all stations were fully manned and even had the luxury of "off sessions", something we haven't had for some time. It almost felt like 20 years ago when we routinely had over 100 flaggers for an event. As the portion of the track from the turn-in point for station 3 and the apex at turn 5 had just been repaved, a number of new lap records were set during the course of the weekend. In FA, Kevin Firlein turned a 1:09.396 in qualifying and 1:09.809 during the race in his Ralt RT-4 to set a new overall track record. In all, 17 drivers were under their existing track records in FA, FC, FF, FV, F5, GT1, GT2, AS, T1, GP, GT5, and SSC.
The Connellsville MARRS weekend on May 3-4 (a Steel Cities event) saw some of the most bizarre weather I've ever encountered in all the time I've been flagging. There were about 120 entries and 25 flaggers for the 7 flag stations. Fortunately, on Saturday the temperature was in the mid sixties, but that was the only nice thing about it. The wind blew steadily from the southwest at about 40-50 mph all day and we were assailed with intermittant sun, fast moving low hanging clouds, rain and thunder showers complete with hail. When it rained, it began very suddenly and was over and done with in about 5 minutes time at which point the wind proceeded to quickly dry the track surface. Drivers had a very difficult time deciding what tires to run for the 6 lap qualifying races on Saturday afternoon. Holding a flag against the wind presented a major challange to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. This was the first time I had seen Legends cars run. Two of them were in attendance and both ran well in a straight line, but had problems downshifting and turning.
The closed wheel hardship practice session Sunday morning produced a really nasty incident at turn 1. The turn 1 flag station is behind two "Vee" shaped blocks of "Jersey" wall at pit in. The Finish stand (Start is at station 6) is on a scaffold protected by "Jersey" wall and the pit entrance, marked by cones, is on driver's left and goes behind the Finish stand and the turn 1 flag station. Just past the Finish stand, the track kinks to the left and passes the pit area (separated from the track by "Jersey" wall). Just before pit out, there is a right/left chicane constructed of tires and cones, but most drivers treated it as a straight. Flag station 2 was located off track on driver's right at the middle of the chicane and just before pit out.
Several laps into the practice session, an ITA MR2 lost it at the left kink past the Finish line and spun into the "Jersey" wall at station 1. The car impacted the end of the block closest to the track with its passenger side door and shoved the end of the block more then three feet to the left, split the block behind it (the other part of the "vee" at pit in) in two and knocked both pieces several feet each into the pit lane. The car then spun back broadside onto the center of the track along with assorted tires, cones and other debris creating 80% track blockage. The session was immediately black flagged for all. The right side of the MR2 was crushed in about 3 feet by the impact, folding what was left of the passenger side door over the passenger seat. Amazingly, the apparently uninjured driver declined a trip to medical. The alert flaggers at turn 1 saw it coming and bailed out taking several pit workers with them and no workers were injured. It proves once again that there's no safe place on a race course and even though it's "just a practice session" unexpected things can and do happen.
The rest of the day went fairly smoothly with some new lap records set (the course was slightly different from last year mostly with regard to the construction and position of the aforementioned chicane). The weather on Sunday was cooler (mid 50's) but with much less wind and we received only a few light sprinkles throughout the day. Steel Cities Region provided much appreciated lunch for workers both days and dinner Saturday evening.
Coming up on May 9th is Tri-Region's Driver School followed on May 10-11 by North Jersey's Double Regional at Pocono Raceway, May 16-18 is Brian Redman's Jefferson 500 Vintage Race at Summit Point with a National at Connellsville the following weekend and MARRS III at Summit on June 7-8.
As always, be careful out there!
This article is copyright © 1997 by Josh Cockey.
Photos by Martin Burk