Working trackside isn’t as glamorous as you think. I’ve spoken with fellow photographers on a number of occasions and we’re almost all in unanimous agreement – we’ve scared the bejesus out of ourselves. How? By standing in a place – where we’re allowed to stand – where we’ve measured up what could happen if things go wrong on track. So you move along to the next spot, often squeezing past marshals. If it’s during a race you say hello, maybe crack a quick joke and take up your new position to snap away. If it’s between races you have the chance to chat, and often pick up information that you won’t be privvy to in the spectator areas or media centre. Little tidbits that add to the flavour of the event. They are an invaluable source for a journalist. I can’t recall the amount of times a bit of info or opinion from them has helped put together a more in depth club racing piece.
The mobility is key for us, especially if we’re not comfortable with where we are, or if it starts to chuck it down. Depending on the track you might only be two minutes away from your car where you can take shelter before driving to your next spot. That’s not the case for the orange army. They are at their post all day, and if the heavens open they’re getting wet.There’s no moving on to a different position, there’s no ducking for shelter, or if it’s an unusually hot day there’s no avoiding being baked in the orange suit and heavy boots (it does happen!) Along with fire and medical staff, some club officials and other media (and the odd driver who is ruing misfortune) you don’t see anyone else trackside. The truth is you don’t get to meet people as zesty and enthusiastic for a good bit of racing as marshals. And you won’t get any racing without them, they are a breed unto themselves. And yes, if you step out of line they’ll slap you down, for your own good. Their main focus might be on track, but if we put a foot out of place, or a member of the public goes somewhere where they shouldn’t then the whistles blow and orders are barked in a way that would make a drill instructor wince.
It’s surprising how many have a keen interest in photography. I’m a Canon lad, and on many occasions I’ve been on the receiving end of banter from marshals with a preference for Nikon or Sony! A few have suggested angles and positions trackside that have returned brilliant shots I’d have never thought of. They can also be a bane for some photographers – along with ambulances – because their bright orange destroys a perfectly framed action shot. A nice low shutter speed snap with a clean, crisp car in the foreground, perfect motion blur and…… a massive orange blur smeared across the background! But you wouldn’t have it any other way. Along with fire and medical trackside personnel they are heroes. Each and every one of them. They are a breed unto themselves.
Many of you will have seen the reaction to the Max Verstappen British GP accident at Silverstone from some footage taken from the crowd. Marshals at full pelt heading to the scene of the accident? That’s not because it’s F1, that’s just what they do as a matter of course. A Fiesta Championship race at Croft. A BTCC meeting at Knockhill. A 750 Motor Club race at Mallory. There is no differentiation.
Right now it’s churlish to speculate, pontificate and analyse the ins and outs of Saturday at Brands Hatch. The motorsport community lost a volunteer. A person with family, friends and trackside colleagues. Someone who had that burning love for the sport. That family need to be in our thoughts right now. The Orange Army need to be in our thoughts right now.
The ‘other’ side of the fence isn’t glamorous – like I stated. Uneven ground, trudging through mud. Intolerable portable toilets. All the elements, sometimes in an hour. Boiling hot, freezing cold. None of it dims the passion. They keep coming back week after week. When you see the unpaid volunteer moniker it often isn’t just turning up unpaid – sometimes in conditions that people would shirk at if they were taking a wage to stand there. These folk often invest in a caravan or camper specifically for marshalling. They spend thousands of their own pounds a year on fuel and food just to allow people who love driving cars to do just that. To allow those of us who photograph and write about them to do that. To allow fans who love a day out spectating to do so. We should continue to thank them for what they give us the opportunity to experience, but right now we should also support that community as they mourn one of their own.