DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – You love racing, but you’re realistic enough to know you’re not going to make it as a driver. Perhaps you’re not especially mechanically inclined, either. But you feel like you’re more than just a fan and you want to get closer to the action. How do you get involved?
The Sports Car Club of America offers several ways for volunteers to get “inside the ropes” of events ranging from local autocross competitions to regional road racing events to IMSA-sanctioned 24-hour races. Formed in 1944, the SCCA boasts more than 67,000 members who share a love of cars and competition. The club features nine geographic divisions across the U.S., encompassing 114 local regions.
Aside from organizing and sanctioning races at the professional and amateur levels, the SCCA also provides free training for corner workers, timing and scoring workers, and other officials to work at events across North America and even around the world. These are the people who serve behind the scenes as the “mechanics” who put together a race.
Corner workers are crucial to the safe operation of any race event. Their primary job is to warn competitors of hazards ahead or faster cars approaching from behind. That’s especially crucial in sports car racing, where the inclusion of multiple classes can create serious traffic jams.
The role of a corner worker isn’t glamorous but the rewards are immeasurable. True, the hours are long – from early morning until the last checkered flag waves – and workers endure all elements of weather. But the opportunity to be part of the action and as close to the action as possible without actually being in a race car is the primary drawing card for most volunteers.
Not to mention the camaraderie developed among the community. At some IMSA road courses, in fact, many corner workers spend the race weekend camping onsite and gather when the day’s work is done to spend time together.
At the recent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship weekend at Detroit’s Belle Isle, their day started with a 6:30 a.m. meeting for the more than 100 volunteer corner workers, an hour before gates opened to the public and a full three hours before the first racing car turned a wheel. Their day ended with the track shrouded in darkness, activity having been delayed by a pair of incidents during the IndyCar race earlier in the afternoon.
Yet they were out there, laughing and joking, for 14 hours, on a hot, muggy day, under a constant threat of rain. As unpaid volunteers. With all due respect to the Peace Corps, being a corner worker might be the toughest job anyone could ever love.
Bob Duncan, formerly from the Lansing, Michigan, area but now residing in Florida, served as corner captain for Turns 8, 9, 10 and 11 on the street course, supervising two or three flaggers at each station.
Duncan showed interest in becoming an official when he attended an SCCA Track Day event in 2002, and he was quickly recruited.
“It was free training, and as soon as you get trained, you’re in – you’re doing everything,” Duncan recalled. “It took about two years to get enough experience for my local administrator to write a letter that said I could work at a pro event, which was an ALMS sports car race.”
He noted that things are more intense for corner workers at the professional level. “Suddenly, the cars were a lot faster than the amateur racing I had seen,” he said. “Within a year or so after that, I worked the Formula One race at Indianapolis, waving the blue flag, and I remember being able to see Michael Schumacher’s eyes working as he came around.”
Since then, he’s worked events across the country and around the world, even managing to incorporate flagging the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps into a European business trip.
“I build my entire relaxation around this,” Duncan said. “It’s what I do instead of vacation, though we do integrate an element of that. My wife supports me. She knows it’s my hobby and she actually comes to some races – she likes IMSA and Formula One. As corner workers, we often receive guest passes.”
Brian Sumeracki became involved with the SCCA in 1990. “I started out in club racing as a technical inspector, but I wanted to get into the racing part,” he said. “But life happened, and I got married. A friend suggested that I try flagging.”
He completed training in 2002 and mainly worked events at tracks in his region – Waterford Hills, Grattan Raceway Park and GingerMan Raceway. A longtime Chrysler employee, he also campaigned a Dodge Neon showroom stock car at SCCA events, and he also served two terms on the board of directors of the club’s Detroit Region.
He now works up to eight events a year and says the SCCA National Runoffs is his favorite.
“I got a couple cousins into flagging,” Sumeracki said. “I enjoy the camaraderie. You generally work with people from similar fields. I’ve met people from different parts of Chrysler who also work as flaggers.”
Shelby Township, Mich., resident Jim Megel claims he’s not a car guy, yet he has worked as a flagger at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I just like the racing,” he explained. “Some of these folks can tell you what the drivers had for breakfast, but I just like the competition. Racing is very technical.”
He started thinking about volunteer work when Roger Penske helped bring the Super Bowl to Detroit in 2006.
“I hit the wrong button on the computer and that didn’t go through, but about a year later, the Detroit Grand Prix came back to Belle Isle,” Megel said. “I reached out to the local SCCA and they just took me by the arm. I went to school, did the training.”
Clearly, for all the hard work that goes into being a volunteer, there’s plenty of payoff. And not just the legendary corner worker parties that traditionally cap a race weekend.
“It’s a volunteer thing so there is a satisfaction doing something for the racing community,” said Duncan. “You have that interaction with the drivers, and you are connected to the race in a different way than just sitting in the grandstand watching them go by.
“You get to be in absolutely the best seat in the house.”