As the chequered flag falls on a race the crowds erupt into a roar of emotion, whether their driver won or not, it is vocally expressed. Media teams from around the world rush to the podium to get the interviews with the top drivers. The teams celebrate or console, some prepare the champagne others prepare the car for the travel to the next race.
The drivers stand atop the podium or sneak off to get the interviews out of the way, so they can reflect on the race. The fans at home cheer and celebrate or furiously smash the buttons on the remote to make the pain disappear.
The marshals however simply pack up and go home. Some may try and get to the pits, others may wander the paddock but, their weekend is done and they’re off to get out of their overalls and rest their legs ready for the racing to start next week.
Next week they could be at the Formula One, or a little club meeting, in a forest waiting for a rally car, next to a circuit waiting for 50 World Endurance Cars to go flying past. They could honestly be anywhere but, how much are they noticed? Did you ever think that you are watching the racing through the back of them and their duties of safety, maybe they’ve become invisible?
Sometimes they get referred to as the orange army, and commentators may say how motorsport can’t function without them, but what are marshals? In George Copeland’s ’50 years of Motorsport Marshalling’ he describes marshals as, “Unpaid helpers, enthusiasts.” (Copeland, 2009; 3)
Enthusiasts and helpers that aren’t often seen by the wider public, often hidden away by advertising boards, framed out of TV shots or if there are no incidents neglected all together. You may say you notice them but, the majority of the time we stare straight through them as we want to watch the racing, but where do marshals fit into the big picture of motorsport?
Motorsport is a delicate eco-system; just like in the natural world you take one part away from it and another part of it has to suffer. Marshals are often mentioned by commentators and the media’s kind words saying that; “Racing just couldn’t happen without the marshals,” and whilst they aren’t wrong there is a little bit more to it than that.
To understand how delicate it is you have to apply a functionalist theory, a concept based around interconnected parts, Andrea Cross writes; “It is made up of components where each part is vital to the organisation, if one part fails, the others must adapt, or it perishes” (Crossman, 2016). So, if we apply that to motorsport what does it mean?
As the commentators say; motorsport wouldn’t happen without marshals, as it wouldn’t be safe enough to go racing. However, you have to remember that there would be no racing without the fans driving their money into it and there would also be nothing for marshals to do or spectators to watch if you took away the drivers and the teams. Just like a table with four legs, you cut one of them off and the whole thing falls over.
Whilst marshals are important, they are doing it because they are enthusiasts who want to be there and are part of the bigger picture of motorsport, a picture that they seem to be almost invisible in.
The drivers and teams carry the glitz and the glamour; every weekend they are broadcasted to the world. To understand it a bit more visually it’s best to apply the Shuarts Celeb-Hero matrix which consists of four categories; High Hero – High Celeb, Low Hero – High Celeb, High hero – Low Celeb and Low Hero – Low Celeb, (Shuarts, 2007).
Drivers tend to feature in the High Hero – High Celeb part of the matrix, going wheel to wheel and doing battle with their rivals. If you think about it though, that act isn’t very heroic, it is entertaining which is why they get the stature they do, but there actions aren’t that of say a soldier.
Marshals on the other hand are the exact polar opposite of a driver; they sit in the Low Hero – Low Celeb part of the matrix. It’s not very glamorous standing in orange overalls next to a track and it’s only when something goes wrong that a marshal will become noticed. At this point they will move to the High hero – Low celeb part of the matrix, they are in action to get the driver to safety. Sometimes they have to pull a driver from a wreckage, or to fight a fire on a burning car, but once that is all over and the incident dealt with, they return to their invisible state.
Next time you are at a race track or watching a race on television just take the time to look out for a marshal and from there just be glad we are there, so you can enjoy watching the racing, because they are glad that you are there to make the racing happen so they have a hobby.
Written By Robert Lee (@RobLee559 – Twitter/Instagram)
Copeland, G. (2009). 50 years of motorsport marshalling. Daventry: British Motor Racing Marshals’ Club.
Crossman, A. (2016). Everything You Need to Know About Functionalist Theory. [online] About.com Education. Available at: http://sociology.about.com/od/Sociological-Theory/a/Functionalist-Theory.htm [Accessed 10 Jan. 2017].
Palmer, C. and Adams, I. (2011). The sporting image. Preston: SSTO Publications.
Shuart, J. (2007) “Heroes in sport: assessing celebrity endorser effectiveness”, International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, Vol. 8 Iss: 2, pp.11 – 25