An open trailer passes us as we approach the Highway 92 exit off Interstate 95. The Brumos Porsche Daytona Prototype is on the trailer. We speculate that it has been to Jacksonville for repairs or perhaps it is a spare car. Our anticipation grows as we get closer to Daytona. We exit the interstate, heading for our hotel. As we pass the speedway the distinct sound of high performance engines reverberates through the night air. We look at each other and smile. What a beautiful, glorious sound! A quick check of the schedule reveals ‘Night Practice for Grand Am cars’ is occurring. It’s going to be a good weekend.
After collecting our credentials Friday morning, we make our way to the SCCA tent where we meet Flag Chief Rich. Rich assigns us to what he describes as “the most fantastic corner in all of motor sport”, the turn 7 complex. It is also called “the bus-stop” and “the chicane”.
At a brief worker meeting, Rich welcomes everyone and directs us to our respective corner captains. Today there is practice for the Rolex cars and the Continental Series cars as well as the 3 hour Continental Tire Series race. The track opens at 9:00am. The Continental race begins at 1:30pm.
Daytona International Speedway (DIS) is a HUGE facility! There is a lake in the infield complete with speedboats and water-skiers. The infield also contains an RV Park, complete with an RV America store, 50 amp hookups and dump stations. While we perform our F&C duties, throngs of workers are busy building sound stages for live concerts, lawn care folks are edging walkways, trimming grass and hedges and planting palm trees, construction types are building additional viewing stands, painting and putting the final touches on permanent bathrooms and showers. Dozens of security folks verify credentials at paddock entrances. Others drive open air people shuttles from parking lots outside the track through tunnels into the infield. It’s a veritable beehive of activity. Most SCCA workers park outside and a people shuttle is assigned specifically to collect us. The shuttle runs every 10 minutes, all day long.
The Central Florida Region has 3 minivans that are used to shuttle workers from the SCCA tent to their assigned corners. We load our kit into one the vans for the ride to corner 7. Once we are all at the corner, captain Ron holds a quick meeting. 17 F&C workers have been assigned to corner 7, Captain Ron complains that we need more workers. There are workers from Detroit, Colorado, Seattle as well as Central Florida. We met flaggers from Quebec, Washington DC, and the Carolinas. It is an amazingly diverse group. Captain Ron gives us our first instruction; “NEVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, GO OVER THE WALL ONTO THE RACE CIRCUIT! WE NEVER RESPOND TO AN INCIDENT! NEVER!, DON’T DO IT! We immediately begin constructing hypothetical situations where we should respond. The answer is always the same, NO! DON’T DO IT!, EVER! TOO DANGEROUS!
Captain Ron splits the workers into 3 platoons. Each platoon will work a 4 hour shift and get an 8 hour break. We are platoon 2, our shift starts at 7:30 pm. We hang around to watch the Continental Tire Series cars practice and also volunteer to work the 3 hour Continental Race at 1:30.
On the track diagram, it is labeled turn 7 and 8, but the station 7 crew controls the track from the end of NASCAR turn 2 all the way around to start/finish! To properly staff this section of track requires 4 sets of radios, 2 sets of flags and 8 workers. A couple of workers are positioned at Turn 6 Bravo (referred to as the pump house), 2 more at Turn 7 OUTSIDE, two more at The Lollipop’, and 4 more at Turn 7.
Turn 6 Bravo is an observation only post. We stand on top of a concrete building about 200 yards from the actual racing surface at the start of the back straight. As the cars come off the banking at turn 2 and transition onto the flat back straight, we observe and call control if anything unusual happens.
Turn 7 is officially the chicane. There is a break in the concrete wall where EVs may enter the track. A communicator and observer are stationed here. 2 flaggers are 30 yards downstream from the communicator necessitating the use of hand signals when communicating flagging instructions from race control.
Turn 7 Outside is on the outside of the track about 500 yards upstream from the chicane. There is a hole in the catch fencing through which, the flaggers poke the flags. You lean across a 3 ft concrete wall hoping to get enough of the flag visible through the hole, praying that as the cars pass you at 200 mph, they don’t suck the flag from your grip. How embarrassing would that be, to have the race stopped because you dropped a flag on the track?
The Lollipop is also on the outside of the track at the exit of the chicane. The lollipop is a metal sign attached to a pole. The pole sticks through the catch fence, one side of the sign says STOP, the other side says GO. If a driver bypasses the chicane for any reason, he is required to come to a complete stop, the worker then flips the sign over allowing the driver to proceed. We are not trying to point the driver into a gap, we are imposing a time penalty for skipping the chicane. If the driver fails to stop, we are to call control so the authorities can impose whatever penalties are appropriate.
There are 2 classes of cars represented in this series, Grand Sport and Street Tuner. Lots of Camaros, Mustangs, BMWs. Porsche Caymans and 997s in the GS class.
MX5s, Boxsters, Hondas, Jettas and even Minis are in the ST class.
The weather was nice, there was the requisite bumping, pushing and spins and some parts fell or were ripped off requiring surface flags and full course yellows. During practice a Porsche 997 loses control entering the chicane and spins.
At HPR when a car spins the speeds are low and the spin scrubs off enough speed that the whole incident occurs in 75 ft or so.
This Porsche 997 was going so fast, the spin lasted seemingly forever, the car eventually slams into a tire wall about 75 yards from the beginning of the spin. Keeping us behind the wall might be a good idea after all. A full course caution is declared! As soon as the cars line up behind the pace car, several EVs including a fork lift tractor converge on the Porsche. It is quickly slid onto a tilt bed, parts are collected, the fork lift replaces the dislodged tire bundles, the EVs disappear and we are back to racing.
A split start is used for the race and it is interesting that during full course cautions, cars in the GS class are allowed to pass the ST cars. It’s a sort of rolling ‘bubble sort’ (computer lingo). It is difficult to detect intra-class passing under yellow unless you are familiar with the cars and classes. The racing was close, they put on a terrific show. A BMW M3 won the GS Class, a Honda Civic won the ST class.
The 24 hour race is scheduled to start at 3:30 pm Saturday afternoon. We arrive at the track around 11:00 am and wander through the paddock, buy some souvenirs, and eventually make our way to the SCCA tent for lunch. The workers are watching the British Touring Car Championships on one of the large flat screen TVs. At about 2:00 pm the cloudy skies open up and pour rain. Since we are not scheduled to begin work until 7:30, we stroll the infield, our credentials give us access to practically everywhere inside DIS, the only place we could not go, oddly enough, is the winners circle. Thousands of spectators fill the infield, most are tent camping, campfires are smoldering from the rain. The air is filled with smoke, there is lots of beer drinking. The prime viewing spots are filled with giant RVs, lined up barely 6 ft apart. There was one with a 50 inch flat panel TV attached to the outside of the RV, the occupants are watching the race on TV while the actual race was taking place only a few feet away! Lots of folks are standing on RV roofs drinking beer. A football game had broken out in one section of the infield with college age kids running pass patterns between the campsites and cars. It is still drizzling at 3:30 pm when the race officially starts. The field follows a pace car for about a half hour. We watch the race for about an hour at turn 3 and 4 before heading back to the SCCA tent.
Around 6:00 pm we make our way to our station. Turn 7 Outside and the Lollipop have been assigned to us for our first on duty session. I relieve the two women working 7 Outside. After checking in with race control I began my duties.
Managing an event like this is a herculean task. We have a difficult time getting 28 corner workers for an event at HPR, imagine needing 82 F&C workers. Instead of 1 race controller, 3 are needed. Triple everything. The course marshall spent most of the time traveling around installing fresh batteries in the radios. There were 3 people preparing food all night for the workers at the SCCA tent. The 3 SCCA shuttles had their own comm channel to deal with all the requests for transportation from workers.
I’ve never worked so close to cars going 200 mph before. I jump back as the first one passes. Yikes! The sounds, the sights. There are no words. A corvette downshifts as it passes my station and the sound pierces my ears like someone fired a shotgun next to my head. The headset provides sound protection as much as communication. I take up my post and watch downstream. The Quebec crew is working turn 3, heavy french accents make the calls tough to understand. Race control is struggling as well and they request the turn 3 calls be repeated several times. Peter, from Quebec, working turn 3 has a heavy german accent, odd! Suddenly there is a flash of sparks down the track. I display a Surface Flag and call control.
“Control control, this is 7 outside, surface”
‘GO AHEAD 7 OUTSIDE’
“We are displaying a surface for a piece of tail pipe about 6 ft long, 100 yards before the chicane” ‘IS IT IN THE RACING LINE?’
“Yes, cars are hitting it” ‘COULD YOU TELL WHICH CAR IT CAME FROM?’
A few seconds pass and control declares all corners go double standing yellow. There is no way to hold 2 yellows and a surface flag simultaneously, so I display 1 yellow and the surface flag. The cars all line up behind the pace car and an EV swoops in to collect the flotsam and jetsam. Back to green. There are several other incidents (spins and metal to metal, 2 offs, 4 offs, cars blowing the chicane) and before you know it the next crew is here. I’m having a blast! Sad that our time is up, we head for the hotel around 12:30 am.
We head back to the track at 5:00 am Sunday morning. This time we work the inside of the track as flaggers. It’s shocking that so much detritus has accumulated at the chicane. There is a clean racing line but off the line a few feet and it is littered with all manner of car bits. Fiberglass pieces, a filler cap, there is an inner fender well in the grass island of the chicane. The wind is howling and it’s about 50 degrees. It’s cold and overcast. A few minutes into our session, one of the BMW Riley cars rear ends a GT car, causing the Riley’s nose to fall off right in the middle of the exit of the chicane. Another surface flag followed by full course double yellow. An EV arrives counter race, to get the nose piece. We display white flags for broken cars limping back to the pits. After every full course caution, the cars do the bubble sort thing. After the course goes green, ample opportunities to practice blue flagging present themselves. The interesting thing this session is learning the hand signals. The Double Yellow signal is one arm out while waving your other arm in a circular motion above your head. (like you are swinging a lariat).
The black flag hand signal is similar to an italian “cram it” gesture. Make a fist with one hand and shove that arm skyward, use your other arm to restrain the skyward motion by placing the palm in the crook of the first arm’s elbow. It must be a local hand signal because there is no Black Flag hand signal in the F&C manual.
I am shivering as the next crew arrive. We retire to the SCCA tent for lunch. After some rest, food and coffee, we return to the pit lane to watch the final 30 minutes of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. 5 minutes after the race concludes, the sun comes out! It’s been a memorable weekend.
The Winning Porsche Riley
The chicane at Night
The race is Brutal
Special Tip of the hat to:
CFR_SCCA Flag Chief Rich Kasson Thanks for letting us play with you folks, I had a terrific time.
CFR_SCCA Corner Captain Ron Offett Masterful professional job. Thanks for the hospitality.
Central Florida Region SCCA The coffee was always hot, the food was plentiful and tasty. Job well done.
PS. Additional Amateur Photos and Videos at;