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Marshalling Musings – Part One, Snetterton

In light of some of the stupid media remarks about the poor guy who slipped at the Canadian GP and found himself face to face with Kobayashi and then Petrov, I thought that I’d share some of my experiences. I started marshalling in the UK back in about 1973, and this one is from my very first event.

It was a Snetterton clubbie with the usual mix of special saloons, mod sports, Formula Ford etc. There was some serious stuff at this level even if it was one of the lower rungs of the motorsport ladder; Mick Hill had his 5 litre V8 Capri for example, and that was a fearsome device.

We’d met up on the Southend Arterial, probably at the Halfway House transport cafe, at some pre dawn hour to drive up to Norfolk and enjoy one of the legendary breakfasts in the paddock eatery before briefing and allocation of jobs and posts.

It was a foul day; drizzle at best with showers coming through all day. The sky was a steely grey in all directions for as far as you could see, and in the Norfolk flat lands that was some distance. This was a day for stoic indifference as far as weather was concerned.

As a newbie, albeit vouched for by the regulars who have convinced me to join them, I was quizzed on what I could do. I passed the fire extinguisher test easily (we stocked and sold them at work) and was allocated a post out near the Bomb Hole where I stood on the bank with just my pair of extinguishers for company part way between two flag marshal stations.

I had a programme, so knew the sequence of practice sessions. I would acknowledge the Course Car each time it came round, but that was about it for my dank morning and I was happy to head back in to the paddock for lunch and some human contact.

Fed and watered, Thermos flask refilled and some Mars bars stashed around various pockets it was back out to my Bomb Hole post for the races. I stood on the earth bank that surrounded the outside of the corner with a barrier that consisted of a scaffolding pole supported on uprights on top of it. This did not appear too secure so I had refrained from leaning on it, but my bank was about 4 feet high, so I felt pretty safe. Besides, at 21 you don’t worry about such things.

At some point the programme the up to 1300cc saloons race started. A plethora of Minis plus the odd Anglia and Imp swarmed round on the warm up lap (we were using the old full circuit I think) and around they came, this time racing and the 10 lapper was on.

Part way through the race one of the midfield Minis got into a bit of a tank slapper and speared off towards me. I would like to think that anyone watching would have admired my sang froid as I stood impassively at my post directly above where the car was headed, the sodden grass giving no bite to brakes or steering, but blind funk may well have played a part.

The Mini struck the bank immediately below where I was standing with a thump that I felt come up through my legs. It turned through ninety degrees as it bounced off in a cloud of mud and stopped, steaming, a few feet from me, still pointing at me. I could see the driver flicking off switches and fumbling for his seat belt release as I lifted my two extinguishers and moved to duck under the scaffold pole, but scaffold took on a different meaning as the impact had excavated the ground beneath me and left me standing on a ledge that, at that moment, collapsed like a hangman’s trapdoor.

Afterwards one of the nearest flag marshals said I vanished like a pantomime genie, the steam rising from the Mini providing a substitute for the puff of green smoke. For me, I found myself sat on my heels at track level. I got up and went to the aid of the driver. There was no fire and we helped each other up onto the bank. There was no safety car or any of that malarkey in those days, so the yellow flags stayed out on that section to the end of the race and then the tow truck turned up to collect Mini and driver.

I spend the rest of the races standing a few feet from my original spot and a couple of feet back from the edge; lesson learned.

It was a somewhat still muddy young man who got home about 18 hours after he had set off, but one who had enjoyed himself enough to have agreed to do it again.

Another adventure to come soon. Watch this space.


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