Oops! We found some stuff we had forgotten

Whilst having a bit of a clear out we’ve found a couple of lengthy draft posts that we were working on a good while ago and never got around to finishing.

One is on the Ford GT40 at Le Mans and the other is on the Hunt versus Morgan incident in F3 back in 1970. Both are almost done, but are at that stage where there is a bit of detailed research to be completed in order to make sure that we get them as correct as we can manage.

Both have been printed off and we are working on making up a list for each of the things that need to be verified, or taken out.

We will try and get that done in the coming weeks and get both posts published. Apologies if you saw the trailers for these and have been waiting for the outcome.

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.

Marshalling Musings – Part Two, Brands Hatch

Following on from my debut at Snetterton I had become a regular and had, for reasons I was not certain about, become part of the start line crew. I would help get the cars lined up on the grid and then stand by with my fire extinguisher through the practice session and race.

Now I was not a fire marshal as we would see them now. I wore my normal clothes and a race jacket in the organiser’s colours (probably a nylon one thinking back….). We did have a guy who wore the tin foil suit and rode aboard the fire truck, but the rest of us relied on team work, equipment and training to work at any conflagration that we might have to deal with.

On this day we were at Brands and, if I recall correctly we had an F3 race as our main event with the likes of Brian Henton, Danny Sullivan, Alex Riberio and Gunnar Nilsson amongst the entry, all of whom went on to F1 later.

The incident that I recall though is from, I think, the Formula Vee race. I was midway down the grid and we got everyone lined up in their allotted place and retired to the sidelines. The countdown boards were paraded across the front of the grid at the relevant times and engines started.

As the cacophony rose my colleague grabbed my arm and pointed. A car on the outside of the circuit had had an oil union come adrift and a growing slick was forming under the car and enveloping the rear tyres. My colleague dashed over to the car with me in pursuit having grabbed two brooms and a bucket of cement dust (these were stationed all along the barrier for just such events).

We attracted the driver’s attention, got him to shut down the engine and take the car out of gear and we pushed him off the grid onto the grass on the outside of Clearways, then started dumping cement dust onto the oil slick and sweeping it in.

Now you will recall that we had had engines running when all of this started. As we swept the dust into the oil I was keeping one eye on the starter and saw the flag rise. Together my colleague and I dashed aside and managed synchronised vertical take offs that saw us safely over the armco as the grid departed. Everyone got away safely and we, with several others this time, got to work on our oily patch and were able to work on it for a couple of laps until the field was too strung out (we were using the short circuit) for us to have a gap in the field to work in.

No damage was done, the driver concerned was grateful to have been spared a possible big engine bill and the crowd seemed to have enjoyed the extra drama. As to the starter; why had he started the race with us still on the grid? “Well”, he said, “you were on the outside, everyone could see you and I knew that you knew what you were doing and were watching me, so what was the problem? We were already running late on the event and couldn’t afford an unnecessary delay”, so that was that. How wonderful life was before H&S began to get in the way of initiative, judgement and personal accountability.

 

coming soon; Hunt v Morgan and GT40s at Le Mans

No F1 or NASCAR Sprint Cup this weekend (apologies to the truck series), so just a preview of a couple of things that I am working on in my Setting the Record Straight series.

The first one will be on the notorious James Hunt and Dave Morgan incident on the 3rd October 1970. I’m prompted to this one because of Tom Rubython’s book on the former where, in amongst a whole series of things that should never have appeared in a serious book, he raised the last corner crash at Crystal Palace. I was there and saw the whole thing, so I’ve got something fairly well advanced that will talk about the 1970 F3 season in general and that race in particular.

Also in production is something on the record of the Ford GT40 at Le Mans. This one comes from the erroneous utterings of one Jeremy Clarkson who has claimed that the GT40 won the Sarthe classic 4 years running, when it plainly did not.

Both of these are taking a lot of research to make sure that what I write will be as factually accurate as I can make them; that’s what setting the record straight is all about.

Thanks to all of the people that have read my posts here over the months. I hope that I can keep you entertained. Both of the above articles should be posted here before the end of April. Feel free to challenge me on any racing incident that you would like to know more about.

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