There are plenty of people who perform thankless jobs, working hard, sometimes in dangerous positions, while receiving little or no acknowledgement of their skills. Perhaps spending an evening working at a race track wouldn’t seem to fall into that category, but it takes a whole lot of people to make a race night happen.
Most of them work for little money, and oftentimes just for a meal voucher or simply free admission. And, if you’re working anywhere near a racing surface or hot pits, there’s always an element of danger.
And, although spending your evening at a race track – and maybe even getting paid to do so, even if the pay is a hamburger and soda – sounds like fun, most track employees aren’t actually able to enjoy the races.
Sure, there are also the fulltime employees, the owner, sometimes a hired promoter, those folks who handle promotion and marketing partnerships, product deals, scheduling, etc., and they don’t usually receive much credit either. But for this column we’ll focus mainly on the staff that primarily works on race night while the fans are having fun.
If you haven’t already purchased your tickets prior to heading to the track, you’ll line up to deal with the folks at the ticket window or the pit shack. These people can’t even see the race track from their position, so usually don’t see a lap of racing all night, and oftentimes some of these people are also working well after the races are over doing driver payout.
From there, you’ll either walk through the front gate or walk or drive through the pit gate. Again, at most facilities you can’t see the track from either the front or back gate, and the people charged with manning those gates usually don’t get to see a lap of racing all night.
Perhaps you’ll grab a burger and fries before the races begin. Those concession workers work over and around hot grills and food warmers all night – even on the hottest of summer evenings – and also won’t see a lap of racing all night.
In the booth is the announcer and alongside him is usually the race director. The race director spends his time calling the shots non-stop, then when the races are over usually takes the brunt of the complaints. The other guy often in the firing line for complaints is the announcer, despite not making a single decision about the program all night.
Although most tracks have a buried loop and transponders and run their scoring off a computer program, there are still some tracks out there doing manual scoring. When you score manually, you cannot watch the race. You must strictly watch the start/finish line and record the number of each car as it crosses that line while trying to keep track of the leader to know when to start the next lap.
The flag stand where the flagman operates is a dangerous place to be, especially with open-wheel cars. And, trying to keep track of everything developing on the track, while simultaneously keeping track of the current leader, while also keeping track of how many laps remain, is not as easy as one might think.
Down by the track you have the corner workers. This is a heads-up job. These guys do quite a bit all night on and next to the race surface while the cars are on the track. And, they are usually the first line of safety/rescue in the aftermath of an accident. They’re usually the first ones to a driver whose car is involved in an accident, sometimes that may even involve fire but oftentimes corner workers are not supplied fire retardant gear.
Then there’s the actual safety crew/rescue workers, who are usually geared up in hot, heavy fire-retardant uniforms on those hot summer race evenings. Obviously, they spend a lot of time on an active race surface as well.
There is a pace car/truck driver as well as push truck drivers and wrecker drivers. They are all active throughout the night and are constantly on standby. Push truck drivers must be careful not to damage any of the cars they pull behind. If you don’t line up correctly behind a sprint car or midget it’s easy to find the front end of your truck climbing a rear wheel, and knocking off shock mounts and damaging body panels on that driver’s race car in the process. You will never be a hero for the good job you do pushing off cars, but accidentally damage one of the cars you’re pushing off and you will definitely be a goat.
There are also pit stewards, usually on the pit PA or staging cars for the next races, and they won’t see much, if any, racing all night.
And, if the track is a dirt track, someone (or some people) have been working throughout the week, throughout race day, and possibly throughout the race night doing surface maintenance or sometimes an entire rework of the track mid-program. Calculate correctly on all the variables – the rain, wind, sun, etc. – throughout the week and prepare a perfect surface and you oftentimes won’t hear much in the way of compliments, but have anything go wrong and end up with a track with a rubber-down track and there will be no shortage of insults hurled your way.
If the night runs late, you work late – even during long, grueling rain delays. If there’s a track policy that’s not popular, you’re still the person on the front line that has to enforce it, and you’ll often be criticized for that rule or policy, despite having had no part or say in its inception.
So, thank you track workers, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy a night of racing without you.