British motorsport has the deserved reputation of being amongst the safest in the world. This is due in no small part to the high standard and dedication of British Marshals who turn out in all weathers to ensure the competition is fair and safe.
Marshalling is one of the best ways of obtaining an introduction to motorsport since one can see at close quarters what is involved in competing without the expense of preparing a car and actually entering. Many venues do not allow spectators and so the marshals are the only ones close to the action!
The duties of marshals vary according to the type of event, as do their precise job titles, and so the following is only an outline of some of the work done by marshals.
Pits, Paddock and Service Area marshals ensure that the safety regulations, e.g. regarding refuelling, are observed; direct competitors to their allotted places; guard vehicles that have been involved in an incident and require the attention of a scrutineer; check that competitors have the right paperwork to permit them to start; and generally ensure the smooth running of these important areas.
Start Line marshals ensure that the competitors line up in the correct place; that helmets and seat belts are on; and generally assist the timekeepers in ensuring an orderly start.
Observers and Flag marshals are used at speed events to give warning to the competitors regarding incidents ahead; other competitors requiring to overtake, etc. The observers report to the Clerk of the Course on any dangerous driving and how significant incidents happened and were dealt with. At autotests and production car trials observers check that the route has been followed and penalty markers have not been hit.
Timekeepers check that competitors have arrived at control points at the appropriate time; give the starting signal to competitors; and note the time at which each competitor finishes. Race and speed events usually require that all the timekeepers be MSA licensed officials but for events like rallies and autotests only the Chief Timekeeper is a licensed official, all other timekeepers coming from the general marshalling force.
Radio operators act as the eyes and ears of the organisers around rally stages and wherever communication is needed but cannot be done by fixed telephone lines. They keep notes of which cars have passed and in what order so that should a car go missing its last known location can be quickly determined and appropriate help sent.
Course marshals are spread around the course to control spectators; protect the scenes of incidents; locate competitors who have gone off; if possible, assist competitors back onto the course if they go off; relay details of incidents to the nearest radio operator; etc.
Stage Safety Officers assist Stage Commanders in ensuring that all appropriate safety measures are in place in a rally special stage. They also attend and take charge of all incidents, making a report afterwards to the organisers detailing what happened and how it was dealt with.
Stage Commanders lay out special stages in accordance with the route planned by the Clerk of the Course. During the event they are responsible for the smooth running of their stage and make the final decisions as to whether or not to halt a stage in the event of an incident.
Many clubs have groups of members who regularly marshal together as a team. New marshals are always welcome and will initially be placed with an experienced marshal to learn the job. The AEMC and some clubs also hold training days where one can learn from the experts and, usually, practice the various skills without having the pressure of an actual competitive event going on around one.