READY FOR ANYTHING
After 15 years of road racing, I hit the track with Emergency Servicesand discover a whole new level of excitement | WORDS Philip Royle
It’s 5 a.m. as I roll out of bed, the sun’s rays beginning to dance on a deserted horizon. The daywill be a bona fide scorcher, sosays my phone, with highs wellexceeding 100 degrees F. If talesof Central California’s relentlesssummer heat hold true, thosesinister triple-digit temps will bein the shade. I guess that’s whyCal Club Region time-shifted itslate June SCCA Road Racingweekend, with Group 1 hittingButtonwillow Raceway Park at
6: 30 a.m.; hours earlier thanthe norm. But none of thatmatters. As a racer, the track isparadise, especially consideringthe pandemic had shutteredall activities for the three priormonths. But this time, theNomex I’m donning this Saturdaymorning isn’t my usual, and myrace shoes have been stowedin favor of work boots. Yes, thisweekend I’m covered head to toein safety gear to work EmergencyServices for the very firsttime – and I’m giddy anticipatingwhatever story is about to unfold.
“You just need black pants, a red
shirt, helmet, boots, and gloves if
you have them,” Sarah Hobbs had
told me before the event. She’s a
regular with Cal Club’s Emergency
Services crew, volunteering
along with her husband Steven
at nearly every race weekend
despite recently welcoming their
first child into the world. I don’t
know if they’ve seen it all, but from
amateur to professional races,
I slide into my gear, lace
up my work boots, and
head to registration.
WELCOME TO THE JOB
At 6 a.m. sharp, I show up atthe race tower to discover I’mone of the last to arrive. MarkSmith, the event’s Race Chair,is hastily distributing radios,the Emergency Services trucksare set up and ready to go, andSteven and Sarah, with babystrapped tight to Sarah, havetheir hands full of gear. Steventosses me a radio and directsme to the corner near pit-in thatEmergency Services calls home.
I’m introduced to Jordan,another new volunteer. Unlikeme, he’s completely unawareof how race weekends work orof the types of racecars. I soondiscover, though, that while I’mintimately familiar with the SCCA,vehicle recovery is like nothingelse. Jordan, on the other hand,has experience operating towtrucks and working as a medicalresponder. Combined, I commentto Jordan, he and I should be ableto make up one competent person.
While Group 1 grids on
the other side of the paddock,
recovery straps are threaded into
key locations of both Emergency
Services tow trucks – nicknamed
Tow 1 and Tow 2 – and Steven
offers the grand tour. John Kielb,
he says, will be the driver of Tow 1,
the primary tow truck for the
weekend; Fire and Rescue with
its personnel will roll Big Bubba if
needed. I ask who will be helping
us on Tow 1. John’s job, Steven
explains, is driving, so it’s Steven,
Jordan, and myself hooking cars.
Sarah would normally be there too,
but she’s in Timing and Scoring
keeping the baby cool – although
she’d prefer to be with the action.
As Group 1 hits the track for
qualifying, Steven walks us around
Tow 1, Tow 2, and Big Bubba. There
are straps, tie downs, clamps, oil
dry, brooms, extinguishers, and
more. Big Bubba’s numerous
compartments reveal everything
from fire hoses to the Jaws of Life
to a well-used baseball bat Steven
jokingly says is for making driver
attitude adjustments. Turns out, its
purpose is for creating clearance
on damaged cars, but as a racer,
I’m still chuckling at the joke.
Sitting under the E-Z Up,
I notice I’m not the only one
wearing Nomex. Some are
wearing fire-resistant jackets
while others are in one-piece
race suits. I admit to Steven that
I feared I was going overboard
with my gear. “If you’re going to
get gear,” he responds, “it’s better
to be over-prepared than under. If
you’re in Nomex, then we can send
you out on the fire truck, too.”
I’m glad, but also concerned.
I’m pretty sure I’d struggle to
tow a racecar should the need
arise, so I’m confident I’d do
more harm than good in a fire.
Then the radios crackle.
they’ve certainly experienced
more than I have – especially
considering the closest I’ve come
to Emergency Services is when my
racecar caught fire a few years back
and I got to ride in Big Bubba, Cal
Club’s fire truck, back to the pits.
“We have extra helmets and
possibly extra gloves on the
truck,” she’d said, adding, “We
usually meet at the outside tables
at the tower a half hour before
the first cars are on track.”
Since I still need to register
and get my wristband, and SCCA’s
pandemic guidelines mandate
social distancing and mask
wearing, I’m up early just to be safe.
From the back of my truck,
I grab a duffle bag filled with
my new attire. As a race driver,
I know looking the part is key to
success, so I’d ordered new gear
for this weekend. Also, being a
driver who’d been in a racecar
that was ablaze at this very track,
the need for flame-resistant
material was a no-brainer.
Two weeks earlier, I’d contactedRaceQuip for the company’sChevron- 5 Nomex SFI 3.2A/5red jacket, black Nomex pants,and two-layer SFI 3.3/5 355 redgloves. I’d also ordered RaceQuip’sfire retardant pit crew helmet.Unfortunately, RaceQuip wasout of balaclavas so I’d wrestledan old (clean) one from thebottom of my racing bag.
The Chevron- 5 series is builtfrom breathable Nomex with sidestretch panels and arm gussets.Motion, I assumed, would benecessary when climbing on