Marshalling Musings – Part Four, Snetterton again

I’ve mentioned the way we were back in the 1970s in relation to fire marshals, but to recap, at a typical club or national meeting there would be one guy who had the full silver coated asbestos suit and he would be with the fire truck ready to go if and when called.

Immediate assistance would be provided by marshals around the circuit who would work in concert with what was called (if I remember correctly) the two by two knock down system, the first pair using one type of extinguisher to knock down the flame and the second pair with a different type to seal the foam. We practised this stuff and were pretty proficient at quickly dealing with most incidents because most of our races were about 25 miles duration at most, so no-one had too much fuel on board, but we did this wearing our normal clothes.

On the day I want to tell you about here I was back where it had all begun for me, out on that old airfield that had become Snetterton Circuit. By now I had gravitated to marshalling on the start line and assisting the marshal with the chequered flag by keeping a lap chart.

This day’s meeting was a typical club event on the shorter circuit, but we had a round of the F3 championship as the main race. We had had an uneventful practice and got the racing programme under way after lunch.

One of these events was a special saloon car and third fastest in practice, and so taking the outside position on the front row, was one of the quicker Minis. I helped line up the front end of the grid and then took up my position with a couple of colleagues at the pit nearest the pit lane exit where my lap chart board lay ready on the counter.

The countdown to the start ran through, with engines starting and the noise rising to a crescendo as the starter raised the Union Jack. The flag fell and the car raced away but, on the change from first to second gear, that Mini on the outside of the front row broke a drive shaft and turned sharp right across the pack.

In making a series of phenomenal avoidances there was some contact down the order, but everyone made it away except the stricken Mini which was up on two wheels as it vanished from our line of sight beyond the control tower.

Reflex and training take over at these moments and I was running full pelt past the control tower before I realised what I was doing. There had been two sickening thumps that resulted from the impact when the Mini hit the infield Armco barrier barely 50 yards from the start and then the explosion as its fuel had gone up.

As the scene came into view we could feel the heat, but we spread out and fired our extinguishers. These had barely discharged when the fire truck arrived and our man in silver finished off the job with his superior equipment. Fire out we approached the Mini as it lay on its side. We watched with that numb feeling as our fire suited colleague pulled away the windscreen and peered in. The fire had been put out very quickly, but how quickly? Had we been fast enough to avoid the driver being asphyxiated? Our cooking foil clad friend turned to us and shrugged: No driver! The car was indeed empty.

“He came out like a Jack-in-the-Box” said a voice from behind the barrier. We turned and looked. “The driver” the man repeated, “He was up and out as it went up. The St John’s lot have got him” he went on, pointing to the ambulance parked behind the control tower.

We picked up our empties and hurried back to the pits. You’ll recall that I was supposed to be keeping a lap chart. Well all of the above was over and done just before the field came round to complete the first lap, so probably no more than a minute and a half. My lap one details were a bit sketchy, but I was on top of things from lap two onwards.

Demands of the races took our minds off what had looked like possibly a fatality and it was only later that we marvelled at the reactions of the driver in his escape.

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