By Stefan Kristensen
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December 9, 2021
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What You Need to Know About Race Marshals

During a race, the focus tends to be on the drivers, but you can't forget about everyone else in the background who is doing their part to help the race go smoothly. These people include, among others, the pit crews, race officials, and of course, the race marshals.

Here, we'll be talking about everything you might want to know about being a race marshal, including what they do and what it takes to become one.

Who Are Race Marshals, and What Do They Do?

Race marshals are present in a variety of race events, including Grand Prix, rally races, hillclimb events, and kart races. In short, race marshals are responsible in large part for ensuring that the race proceeds as safely as possible.

More specifically, race marshals fulfill several important duties during a race, like displaying the various racing flags, cleaning up debris from the track in the event of an accident, and manning the fire extinguishers if a car happens to catch on fire. 

Race marshals are responsible for many other things as well; they're the ones who make sure that all of the cars are correctly lined up on the starting grid before the race begins, and they're generally responsible for keeping the cars organized, both on the track and in the pit lane. 

Despite the fact that race marshals are so integral to the safety of the race, the vast majority of race marshals are volunteers. Nonetheless, not just anyone can become a race marshal, as we'll explain shortly.  

Do Race Marshals Get Paid?

Being that race marshals are volunteers in almost every race event where they're present, they generally don't get paid. Race marshals may be compensated in some way, but it's often with something fairly small; they might have their meals provided for them for the day, they might get a free piece of apparel, or they might get a free ticket to the race that they can give to a friend.

As such, you have to be passionate about racing to be a race marshal. For those who are, however, getting to be involved with the races they love on such a personal level is really its own reward.

On the other hand, there is some debate over whether it's a good idea to not have a paid, dedicated team of race marshals for race events, particularly those in Formula 1. We're not suggesting that volunteer race marshals can't do the job properly; most of them undergo a fair amount of training and need a marshal license before they can take part in Formula 1 events.

However, because there's no real standardization for how race marshals are trained, it occasionally leads to errors that could have been easily avoided. Race marshals also have to work crazy hours; 13-hour shifts are not uncommon during a Grand Prix.

Moreover, many of the volunteers have day jobs as you might expect, so they're often being asked to work a gruelling race day after a whole day of doing their actual job. As you can see, it really would make a lot of sense for this kind of work to be done by paid employees. 

The problem with having a dedicated team of race marshals, though, is that because Formula 1 has events all around the world, it would be hard to ensure that everyone on the race marshal team was able to travel to and work in each of the countries where races take place. It's way easier from a logistical perspective to just have local volunteers do this work.

For other less intense race events, however, your average volunteer race marshal should be more than equipped to get the job done properly.

How Do I Become a Race Marshal?

So you're aware at this point that race marshals don't get paid and often have to work crazy hours, and you still want to become one? Well good, because that kind of dedication is exactly the sort of thing that makes a good race marshal. Being a race marshal is an important job, and it's vital that you care enough to do it well.

People often become race marshals through a particular organization, often one that is associated with a specific track. Again, because there's no real standardization for race marshal training, the exact training you'll have to go through is going to be different depending on where you are.

That being said, becoming a marshal generally involves the same basic steps and requirements. The most basic requirement is that you're at least 18 years of age; race marshalling is serious business and needs to be performed by mature and attentive adults.

If you're of age, the next step is to be certified to actually work as a marshal, which is usually done by the organization you're volunteering with. To get certified, you'll need to take a training course. Often, the organization you're with will provide the training.

Once you complete training, you'll be a basic or trainee volunteer. Generally, race marshals are relegated to specific tasks or areas based on how much experience they have. If you want to move up in the ranks of your organization as a race marshal, the best way to do so is simply to attend as many events as you can.

Most of these organizations decide when to promote volunteers based on how many race events they're attended, and if they've displayed an acceptable level of competency in regards to following safety guidelines, using race flags, and communicating with their crew members, among other things. 

As you get promoted, you'll assume more responsibility within your team, and your duties will likely progress from doing more hands-on stuff to fulfilling a more administerial role within the team. Bear in mind that to maintain your status as a licensed volunteer, you'll likely have to attend a minimum number of races each year.

If you want more specific information about how to become a race marshal and what the position requires, your best bet is to find out which organization near you is responsible for training race marshals.   

Written by Stefan Kristensen
Passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many stories behind racing that make it so interesting.
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