2021 SCCA Runoffs – Indy Motor Speedway, September 28th – October 3rd, 2021

Another flagging adventure is in the books as I spent 6 days flagging at the SCCA Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was a different event from my first Runoffs I attended back in 2017 at this same facility. I’m assuming it should be chocked up mostly to the ongoing pandemic, but flagger staffing was way down for the event. It picked up for the races on the weekend, but practice and qualifying earlier in the week had some short staffing.

A smaller but mighty crew – 2021 F&C crew @ SCCA Runoffs. The author is in back against the grey/yellow wall divide.
Arriving in time for the start of the F&C meeting each morning means you arrive sooner than most of the participants do.

My first day of flagging had three of us at stations 2 & 3. We had a shared station captain, which meant one of the stations would be a single flagger. Blue flagging from Station 3 was near impossible because there is no visibility up track, so I offered to work 3 myself and handle both yellow flag and comms. Comms are pretty good at IMS as they are land line-based, not radio based. You just have the challenge of keeping the cord to your comms box out of the way of your feet, and not wander too far from where it plugs in. The other flagger who worked 2? Famed motorsports announcer Greg Creamer, who is a really good guy and loves to come out and flag. During lunch we were chatting, and he said if he could make a living flagging, he’d do it full time. Cool guy.

The view from Station 3 as you yellow flag

Next day I was assigned to Station 12, a return to the scene of getting bonked in the head by a golf ball-sized chunk of tire rubber back during the 2017 Runoffs. You are crazy close to the cars as they hug the wall coming into the braking zone for the right hander, literally able to tap some cars on the roof with your flag stick. Combined with being paired with a station captain that liked chatting rather than setting up station, and I felt like I was the station captain as I took charge and set up the station with flags and comms.

Still have the mark on my hat where I got nailed by a chunk of race rubber back in 2017 at Station 12.
Leaning on the wall to blue flag puts a flagger at risk from debris.

Wednesday evening, they offered a track walk for anyone participating. I decided to get my steps in and become more familiar with the track as I hadn’t see it in its entirety, so I set my exercise app to record the effort.

I walked the entire road course, which is outlined above.

Next day, I was assigned to Station 7, basically at the midpoint on the Hullman Straight. This was another station that posed some challenges for flagging. I suggested to my captain that as blue flagging would be very challenging with the head-on view of vehicles, we’d make better use of our small opening by just yellow flagging out of it, and putting the Comms person on the platform to better watch the large amount of track we were responsible. The station captain was agreeable to that, and it seemed to work well.

The small opening to the right of the platform provided little room for flagging, so we prioritized yellow flags and abandoned the blue. Paddock traffic was busy behind us, and we ended up taking on responsibility for keeping spectators off the fence as it was a hot zone and not open for spectating. The traffic behind us reminded me of the traffic threatening flaggers as Station 11 at Sebring, but was actually much safer than the Sebring set up. At least the provided cones to stake out some room for us when we walked behind the platform.

For race days – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – I was assigned to Station 1 (very busy!), Station 5A, and then Station 14. It was nice to be on 14 for Sunday as with weather expected we had some shelter to put our gear out of the way and protect it.

The event was very warm for late September/early October and while I was able to deal with it in my attire, standing for hours each day caused my legs to swell up for the race days. Gotta remember to bring along my support socks next time. Some racers complained about seeing flaggers sitting at times, but perhaps they should come out for a few days and stand all day. I think they’d get it.

Station 14, located in the front of the grandstand at Indy turn 1. Blue flagging can be tough here. I found a hack during the Formula X race: use binoculars to identify cars entering the turn at Station 12, and project if the leaders would catch back markers by the time the came out of the turn in front of us.

NER Night Races, Thompson Speedway, August 21, 2021

Once again this year, I discovered two of my favorite events were scheduled in conflict: my Patroon Chapter’s August track outing at Lime Rock Park, and NER’s Night Race @ Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. I skipped the night racing last year and chose to do a track day, but with my car “in the shop” and getting some much needed attention, I decided to sign up for the flagging opportunity at Thompson.

The view from my station at 10, coming off the oval portion of Thompson’s road course.

I’m used to flagging at night; I’ve done it several times as part of the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring event. It’s fun, challenging, and ultimately exhausting. However, I was curious to see how an SCCA region would do things, and rather than have high budget professional race rigs screaming around a course, I was intrigued to see how some low budget amateur racers would do it.

Most interesting aspect of this is racers were NOT allowed to use their headlights. Well, if I understood the rules correctly, they could use their headlights, as long as they were covered and only gave off enough lumens to simulate a running marker. In other words, you can see the light, but the light can’t be strong enough to illuminate anything. Some cars had some very trick LED strip lights to mark their front corners – those cars that normally would not have any operative lights in their class, for example. Others simply ran their running/parking lights. And interestingly enough, some chose to forgo any lights, at least on the front. Aside: everyone was required to have a functional rear lamp, be it a rain light on formula cars, or tail/brake lights on closed wheel cars, but even their brightness was subject to light output limits.

The track itself was pretty well lighted, with a bunch of portable lights stationed around the track. Unfortunately at our flag station, we had lights stationed across track from us and up on a hill, so racers could see us and our flags (a very important feature), but we didn’t have the advantage of any lighting on cars from our side of the track that would help us see their numbers, classing, or sometimes even their color. Fortunately for us we had no incidents in our section during the night time portion of the event, so it didn’t impede our calls. Blue flagging was a huge challenge under the circumstances.

Earlier in the day, we found a ground hornet nest in the middle of our tire wall. Didn’t impact us, but if a driver got stuck in the wall at that nest, I’m guessing they’d be none to happy. Reported to track personnel.

I liked the later-than-normal start to the event, allowing me to get up a little later and take my time getting to the track, but the finish of the event at about 11:30pm was the latest I’ve ever flagged. It kind of underscored my lack of enthusiasm for ever flagging at the Daytona 24 event. The racers who attended seemed to love it, so I’d come back and work it again if I have the chance.

Next event on my calendar, an autocross in September to close out my driving season, and then flagging at the SCCA Runoffs @ Indy Motor Speedway in September/October….

NER Thompson Majors, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, July 9-10, 2021

My very first day of flagging ever happened to fall on a day when the remnants of a hurricane blew through Lime Rock Park. The gentleman who was training me asked me at the end of the day what I thought of flagging, and I told him I loved it. He laughed, and said “If you loved in this conditions, you’re really going to love it under normal circumstances”.

I thought of this on Friday of the Thompson Majors event, as hurricane Elsa was due to come up the coast and overspread Thompson with heavy rains. And heavy rains it had in spades, as the track quickly was overcome with standing water. By the second session of Friday morning’s practice and qualifying, a lake formed at the station just before mine, and we watched in amazement as cars would come through on their first laps, not knowing the lake was there, only to dive for the apex and cause splashes towering 8ft in the air, and the race car visibly slowing down as they hit a wall of water. Action was suspended, and a waiting game then played out as we tried to wish the rain away. As us flaggers sat in the garages, deadlines of 11am, noon, and 1pm came and went. Finally at 2pm, they decided that there were too many spots on track that would not drain in time even if the rain stopped (which it did), so a consolidated schedule focused on Saturday were put in place. When we took advantage of the rain stopping, our visuals on the track revealed Pit In lane had about 6-8″ of standing water in it, a small river of about 3-4″ of water was flowing across the front straight just up from the starter stand, the lake at Turn 3 that was very deep, and smaller rivers running across the track before and after the hairpin at Turn 4 (my station).

Saturday dawned cloudy but rain-free. However, there was a lot of water still draining from the area surrounding the track. Track services at Thompson was out trying to dig some minor trenches in the grass to help reroute water drainage at the braking zone just before the bridge at turn 5. Cars handled the wet spots on track with pretty good strategies, but we still had some cars running off track due to water in key braking and turning zones. One Spec Miata entrant put down 3 of 4 pairs of skid marks that led directly at the armcom on driver’s right at the turn under the bridge. Some more trench digging by track services finally allowed that spot to dry up, and drivers didn’t have many issues in any of the wet spots after that.

NER has a great write-up with spectacular pics and video of the challenges from that event.

Gator driving thru lake on track
The water was a bit deep in the corners. Turn 3. Photo courtesy NER members.

Historic Festival 38 @ Lime Rock Park

September 4, 5, and 7 – I spent three days as a flagger at Lime Rock Park’s iconic Historic Festival. We were fortunate it got the go-ahead to take place considering all the restrictions on large gatherings, and for sure this event was different, as spectators weren’t allowed, but the racers themselves came out and supported the event to ensure car counts were good.

I was station captain at station 1, the entry to Big Bend. The great thing about station 1 is that it is a prime passing zone, and as such you get to see some excellent racing at this vantage point. The downside is that because of the passing opportunity that is presented to the racers at this point, you quickly find that not everyone possesses the talent required to pull off passes cleanly, and without contact. For the event, I wrote six reports of contact between cars – an all-time high for me. We saw some heart-breaking incidents between some fantastic and beautiful machinery, but fortunately all the drivers were fine.

SCCA Majors Road Race @ Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

July 11, 2020 – SCCA Racing in the Northeast has come back with Covid-19 protocols in place. NER had their first event recently at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (TSMP), hosting an SCCA US Majors race weekend. Knowing that the flagger crew generally is an older demographic, I was eager to volunteer to make sure that our new flag chiefs had enough volunteers to adequately staff all the necessary stations around the track. I was also anxious to get out and flag, having most of the first half of our season cancelled due to the pandemic. Being outdoors and not in a crowd is a necessity for me to feel somewhat comfortable in getting out to events. To further reduce the risk to myself, I decided to recruit my wife to join me as a flagger; bringing my social bubble along for the event was a good way to reduce exposures to others.

The weather forecast for the weekend was threatening to be pretty wet, with a huge storm making its way up the East Coast. Fortunately for us, the storm decided to head further inland than first anticipated, and as such we enjoyed hot and sunny weather for the race weekend. SCCA road racers were also eager to get out and enjoy some social distanced motorsports fun, too, as car counts were pretty good; some race groups were 30+ cars. My wife didn’t want to stretch her wings too much during the event, so she stayed on the yellow flags for both days, making me blue flag for both days. We were given an easier station to work so that I could keep an eye on both my responsibilities and give some help to my wife’s flagging duties when needed. By day two, she was starting to get the hang of the event and was commenting on specific cars and racer actions. It was great to finally get her out to an event and see what I do at these races. I’m hoping we can get out to a few more events as a team.

2019 SCCA Runoffs @ ViR

Just got back from a week away at the 2019 running of the SCCA Runoffs, the national championship event for SCCA road racing competitors.

I signed up to corner marshal for six days of the event – basically all of the qualifying and races, minus the test days. This was my second Runoffs, having attended the 2017 Runoffs held at Indy.

It was exciting to visit ViR, a track I haven’t been to since 2005, when I was participating in One Lap of America as a co-driver in a lightly modified E46 BMW owned by my friend Christo Tinkov. The SCCA staff did a good job of changing up our assignments each day, making sure we got different stations each day and thus different perspectives of the track. I was at 1 (Horse Shoe), 6 (Snake), 7 (Snake), 9 (Climbing Esses), 15 (Rollercoaster), and 17 (Hog Pen).

Rustic stations look great, but the shingles leave a lot to be desired when it starts to rain.
The view of Oak Tree from the access road.
Jared Lendrum brought his T3 STI and his T4 BRZ.
Honda had a T3 Civic factory racer on site.
The data acquisition guys from MoHud discuss their work.
With vendors on site, you can try on flagger suits before you buy them.
Working station 1, we discuss how we’ll work the day.
MoHud racers Jared Lendrum and Charlie Campbell attend the NER paddock party.
MoHud flag chief Rich Alexander catches up with Montreal F1 friends.
Found MoHud racer Jason Smith and his AS Mustang.
Flag meetings kick off before the sun comes up.
A Spec Racer Ford left it’s hood at our station after dropping two wheels over the curbing.
I’ll take a ride from anyone.
Beautiful moon over our cabin in Buffalo Junction, Va.
A back marker spraying oil for 2 laps meant big problems for competitors in the GT-1 race.
The tradition toast ends the event, honoring those members who have passed during the year.

By the end of the week, we all agreed that after being on our feet all week, we’d appreciate the sitting for the long ride home that much more. It seemed odd not being in that early morning flag routine come Monday morning. A good way to send off the year that was the 2019 race season.

IMSA & WEC – Super Sebring 2019 Prologue

The Super Sebring event was a great event, but it turned out to be a grind for the flagger crew. Other than the Wednesday of the event, the rest of the days – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – were incredibly long days (and nights).

We started our event with registering as corner marshals with Central Florida Region of SCCA, and then wandering around the WEC paddock.

Super Sebring paddock crawl brings Fernando Alonso at the Toyota Gazoo garage.

Other than Mr. Alonso, we really didn’t see any other motorsports “stars”, but there were some amazing sights.

Ever see a tent holding 15,000 Michelin race tires?

The WEC has a decent span of cars, and seem to resemble many of the marques and models racing in the IMSA Weathertech Series.

Friday’s WEC race was OK, but they definitely needed a bigger field of cars, and also need competition that can match the Toyota hybrids. Double the number of cars out there and it would have been a phenomenal event. Saturday’s IMSA race was more entertaining, but the rain Saturday morning meant it had a slow start before the action really got heated up.

So after working both races, here are the differences that impacted flaggers:

  • Headlights: the WEC cars use amazingly bright LED lights that seemed to be almost twice as bright as the IMSA cars. We ended up wearing sunglasses during the night time portions in order to look at oncoming cars when blue flagging.
  • Sound: the WEC cars were noticeably louder than the IMSA cars, and thus caused more discomfort when attempting to communicate among your corner co-workers. Noise is a major complaint by non-race fans, and cars can be plenty fast without being noisy, so I don’t understand why a series wouldn’t address this issue.
  • Safety Cars & Full Course Yellows: While the WEC’s FIA flagging rules can be quite complex in some circumstances, their safety car and full course yellow procedures are great in that they greatly increase on-course safety.

IMSA & WEC -Super Sebring 2019

In a few days I’ll be headed to Florida to see some family in Daytona and then head further south to Sebring International Raceway for the 67th 12 Hours of Sebring, where I’ll be flagging with the Turn 10 crew for the 4th time. This year’s event is being dubbed “Super Sebring” because the World Endurance Challenge is running their own 12 hour race, in addition to the traditional IMSA 12 hour race. From a flagger perspective, this is going to be bonkers. In the past we’ve worked gradually up to the 12 hour race on Saturday, having a normal 8am – 6pm hot track on Wednesday, going late until 9:30pm on Thursday for night practice, back to a normal 8am – 6pm for Friday, and then the exhausting Saturday 12 hour race, which usually takes us to 11pm.

For this year, this well-spaced pace is disrupted due to the needs of the WEC. From what I’ve seen of the IMSA schedule, that gentle pace is out the window, replaced with a quiet Wednesday, then night practice on Thursday until 9pm, followed by Friday’s WEC 12hr/1000km race ending at midnight, and then Saturday’s IMSA 12hr race ending at 11pm. Last year we were short on flaggers, and thus some of our crew couldn’t do the 3hrs on/1hr off rotation we typically do. Even with some time off, by the last hour of the race, I was asleep on my feet, staring at cars coming out of Turn 10 and trying to determine if I needed to blue flag for them as they approached us at Turn 11.

2018’s Turn 10 flagger crew, standing in the Turn 10 fan’s area. Lee, Greg, and the gang always take care of us race day morning by inviting us into their compound for a great breakfast before we tackle the race start at 10:30am.
After the 12hr race, we pack up and leave Sebring for another year.
Did you see the canopy blow out onto the track during the 2018 12 Hour race? Our crew down at Turn 11 had some interesting radio calls to make.

SCCA Road Racing – NER NERRC Finale Weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

What a great time!  SCCA road racing can be very exciting as long as the car counts are up, and this event delivered, with over 180 cars registered for the event.

Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park isn’t exactly the premier road course in New England, but it certainly brought out the cars for this event held October 5th & 6th, 2018. The weather was a bit cool, but it stayed dry, which I’m sure the drivers appreciated, as did the volunteers.

I worked station 4 on Friday, and station 1 on Saturday.  Friday we had a lot of pull-offs use the short chute in front of station and helped station 3 with those calls as much as we could, but despite a few spins in our corner, it was just enough excitement to keep us entertained. Unfortunately, the last race of the day provided the topper when Flatout Motorsports cars #00 and #91 got together while attempting to both get around a slower car. They touched side-to-side near the nose, and when they came together again they ended touching front tires, which didn’t go well. One of them literally had the nose of the car jump into the air, with both coming to rest against the armco on driver’s left just at the exit of 4.  Amazingly, both cars ended up driving away. Only one of the cars really had visible damage.  By Saturday the Flatout crew had repaired both cars and they both rejoined the fray.

Saturday was a busy day at station 1, which covers the end of the front straight and the curve leading over to turn 3. We had some spins, some bumping, and in one case, a Miata #13 that attempted a banzai passing move down driver’s right into turn 1, locking up all tires as he skidded like a missile into the cars that had already begun the turn, knocking into cars #16 and then #171. I kept my eyes on the cars that were contacted in order to report the incident to control.  Eventually both #16 and #171 regained their composure and rejoined the race, but I hadn’t notice #13 leave the scene.  One of my co-flaggers had watched the #13 car keep going straight after contacting both of the others cars, driving all the way out to the tire wall due to a damaged right front suspension.   We called out the EVs to come get the #13 car due to its exposure, and they came out with a flatbed to retrieve it. Later in the day, as the races continued, we saw the #13 leave the track.

It was a fantastic way to bring the 2018 flagger season to a close.  Looking forward to the opening of the 2019 season at Sebring, with the addition of the 12 hour WEC race in conjunction with the IMSA 12 hour race.  Fun times ahead.

Formula E – NYC e-Prix, Brooklyn, NY – July 14-15, 2018

Next up on the calendar was another pro flagging event: the NYC E-Prix in Brooklyn, NY. I had heard good things about this event last year, and decided it would be a good way to dip my toes in the world of FIA open wheel racing. I have friends who flag at Formula 1 events, and based on the stories I hear and what I imagine from them, I’ve always been a bit intimidated to try my hand at flagging them. Any time I come up on formula racers at SCCA events, I always find them difficult to identify – all you see is a nose and some indeterminate colors, and rarely can you see a number. Blue flagging a race can be a real challenge with that. So how better to see if my fears were real than to sign up for the Formula E race, and play a small part on some hugely experienced marshal team?

I signed up and was set for my adventure, safe in my anonymity, but then I got some emails that gave me a shiver. “You are receiving this email as you have been selected to be a post captain for the 2018 Formula E-Brooklyn race.” Gulp. Captains are supposed to know what they’re doing – they’ve obviously made some sort of mistake. I reached out to some of my more experienced flagger friends who were attending, and told them what had happened. The general reaction was along the lines of “You’ll do fine”. Oh, then alright. I tore into the materials they had emailed us. Decided it was pretty safe to skip the parts where it described how to build a car, and went right to the flagging rules and intervention descriptions. As a newer flagger (started in 2009), I’m definitely part of the post-intervention era in flaggers, and don’t have a lot of experience in attending to disabled cars, and especially ones with wings, and huge batteries/electrical shock risks like these. They provided a movie to show you how to assess and handle a car in the event of an accident (hint: there are multiple lights on the cowl to indicate whether a car is good (green), the electrical system has become unsafe (red or no light), and whether the drive sustained g forces sufficient to warrant a trip to medical (blue light)).

The schedule for marshals was excruciating, too: buses departed hotels at approximately 5am on Saturday and 6am Sunday, only to have a session at 7:30a on track, then have massive amounts of downtime since there are no supporting series in attendance, and batteries require time to charge!

My station, and my fellow marshals, turned out to be great. We faced the harbor, and had the Statue of Liberty across from us in the distance. In addition, the Freedom Tower was just off to our right. The podium, and all its ceremonies, were right behind us (we kept our gear out of the sun and rain by keeping it under the stage). One of the bigger surprises was that they staged the cars right in front of our station, so we got to watch the grid walk activity happen right in front of us. Saturday I was just in awe of being so close to the action, but on Sunday Liv Tyler, who earlier had done some demo laps in the Formula E spec car, poked her head into our cutout to pose for a quick selfie with one of my teammates. She smile at me and all I could do is smile back, star struck.