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Marshalling Musings – Part Three, Lydden Hill

Having graduated to the start line it occurred to someone that I might make a useful lap charter to help the poor sod with the chequered flag. This isn’t as daft as it sounds as a field of frantic Formula Fords might easily have a multi car dice for the lead, and if they all take themselves off in some kamikaze move on the last lap who is next up? For most UK circuits the winner will be emerging from a left hand curve onto the finish line and the pit buildings obscure the view of what might be going on out on the track so, if the car that was leading on the penultimate lap doesn’t turn up, is the next car through the winner or a back marker? Watch the YouTube video of the 1970 Monaco GP where Brabham crashes on the last corner and Rindt streaks by both Brabham and, a few seconds later, the bloke with the chequered flag. But the latter ignores Rindt completely. And there were only about half a dozen cars left on the track at that point.

So ace lap charter that I was I got drafted in. Not to do the official race chart, but just so as we knew who to give the chequers to at the end (and, to a degree, on what lap – it was rare, but not unknown for a 10 lapper to do 9 or 11). After my general duties helping to line everyone up I would stand by the relevant official and make sure that the right car, on the right lap, got the flag waved at them.

I first did this at Brands, then at Snetterton, but at Lydden Hill I wasn’t needed as the officials stood on the outside of the track and the natural amphitheatre meant that it was easy to follow the action, regardless of how frantic things became on the track.

However, at the televised Rallycross from Lydden we used to run a three and a half lap race, with the next quartet of cars emerging from the lower paddock gate as the current four crossed the finish line half way round. By the time these had left the track via the upper paddock gate the next race was ready for the commentator (good old Murray if it was on the BBC) to tell viewers who the drivers were and then they’d be off for their three and a half circuits. This made a cracking format for TV and all action for the spectators at the track.

At my first one of these events, the European championship on the Saturday and then a money event for the same teams on the Sunday, there was a problem early on in the qualifiers when a complaint was made about the duration. The problem was that the guy with the chequered flag was stood out on his own half way round and it was solely down to him when to end the race; if he couldn’t count or got distracted….

The Clerk of the Course knew that I was the regular lap chart man on the circuits and asked me to take over. Sponsors Embassy gave me one of their hats to wear and the organisers made sure that I had a new and clean jacket with their logo on, so for a poseur like moi this was all heaven, added to which I got to chat up some of the Embassy girls and scored a lot of free fags.

But all at the price of getting it right which, fortunately, I did, but not without some drama.

There I was in nice race jacket and sponsor’s hat with my prized Polaroid sunglasses firmly in place to help the impression of cool as the first day drew into its closing races. In one of these John Taylor’s Stormont Ford Escort got a puncture in the nearside rear part way round the last lap. Now this was the wheel that took a lot of the load, but JT kept his boot in it. The track layout saw the cars briefly run on the start straight before leaving it onto a long right hander across the chalk at the end of which they rejoined the tarmac just before they passed my post and then would run on the tarmac up round Devil’s Elbow where, after I had given them the chequers, they would turn off into the paddock.

So here came JT, still leading even with the flat tyre. As he careered across the line the flat helped him oversteer right to the outside edge of the track where the tortured wheel rim ripped up a piece of tarmac and flung it straight at my face. I kept twirling the flag (the other three were in hot pursuit) and closed my eyes, turning my head sideways. I felt the impact as the debris caught me a glancing blow.

My precious Polaroid’s were gone, ripped off by the piece of track JT had inadvertently chucked at me. I found them later, but they were beyond help. I was missing some skin and got patched up by the St John’s team after the final (the show had to go on).

My heroics, such as I might have imagined them, proved of bugger all use in my efforts to pull one of the Embassy girls at the prize giving party, but I was cheered by news that the TV producer wanted to talk to me. A part in some action adventure perhaps? Maybe he knew an agent? No, they just wanted a bit more flamboyance with the flag waving at the Sunday events.

Having, like many, slept in my car overnight after the riotous party at the prize giving, Sunday dawned. Some of the early morning sights are best not described here, but suffice it to say that many of the continentals present had a very different attitude to public nudity that us rather reserved Brits.

Practice got under way and I had my own practicing to manage with a new chequered flag routine. Now I was familiar with the antics of Tex Hopkins, he of the lilac suit and flamboyant flag twirling that we Europeans best knew from Watkins Glen. Leaping into the air was maybe a little ambitious given that I was stood on the edge of an earth bank (you may have read of my Snetterton marshalling debut in part one if this series), but I could manage some serious twirling of the flag surely?

I managed to come up with something that was a big improvement and involved a two handed approach with me facing the winner to begin with and then carrying the double handed flourish on as I would turn and then keep the flag waving with my right hand for the other three finishers as they passed me.

It was a big and heavy flag, made heavier by some rain, so I wanted have something left for a real flourish in the later races through to the final. So far, so good, but as we got into the back end of the afternoon I gave it a big effort in one of the quarter finals, partly because there was a very close finish and I wanted to make sure that the drivers saw the flag in all of the excitement.

At the end of this race as my two handed roll began to fade I took my left hand off the flag and my right hand seemed to explode. The flag flew out of my hand, fortunately towards me so I was able to catch it left handed and carry on flagging the end of that race.

My right hand was out of action for the rest if the meeting and for the drive home. Thankfully my old Mk2 Ford Consul could almost pull from a standstill in third, and the column change was on the left anyway, so I made it back safely and consulted the medics the next day. A bad sprain was diagnosed which led to more than a few ribald remarks at work when I turned up with it bandaged and strapped.

I did the same meeting again the following year, handling the chequers on both days, but fortunately this time without incident. They were great days for Rallycross with the likes of Per Eklund in a rally prepped Saab, the De Rooy brothers in their F2 BDA engine DAFs, assorted ex rally Escorts, herds of Minis and a couple of VW Beetles, one campaigned with great flair by a certain John Button. I’d like to claim that I remember him playing with Jensen in the paddock between races, but the 2009 world champion wasn’t even born then.


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