When Mosport first opened locating the flag positions was a bit of by guess and by gosh. There was practically no experience in the marshaling ranks of working anything but airport courses.
The actual phone stations and controls for the lights were pretty well fixed and stayed that way but other positions were in a bit of flux.
On occasion there were sometimes heated discussions between control and the people on the corners about positioning. Normally all got settled with no ill feelings. As time went on the corner seniors usually got their way, although some old timers didn’t like it. The one exception to actually moving the control position occured in the second year at turn four (The Chute).
I do not know who came up with the idea but the phone and light controls were moved from the infield side of the track to the outfield or inside of the turn. The original position included a raised stand for the phone girl and the senior. Flag and safety marshals were at ground level near the stand and if there were sufficient people 2 flaggers were stationed at the top of the hill before the lights. As they could not see the control position they took their directions from the lights.
In reality flagging at the station was pretty much an exercise in futility. By the time a driver saw the flags he would have seen any incident in 4 for himself. The key was the flaggers and the lights before the turn. Even more than at turn 2 a driver was totally committed by the time he could see through 4 and trying to slow quickly would be almost impossible without crashing. You could probably change your line safely. I know I could and did without slowing down. Further most, if not all drivers would be looking up at 5 and would see both the flags and lights indicating a problem there in plenty of time. However, the decision was made to move the position to the outfield more or less opposite the original position. The phone light box and pole were about 10 feet from the track and probably 6 or 7 feet above the track surface. A small, sort of, level area was there with enough room for 2 or 3 people. The flaggers were to be positioned below there about 5 or 6 feet from the gravel shoulder and 3 or 5 feet up the bank. There was an even smaller leveled area.
The first time I saw the new position I squawked. It was totally out of a driver’s line of sight. I also thought it far more likely a car would go off there than on the infield side. Further down on the infield side yes, as occured a few times. My other worry was that the flaggers had no level ground to move to and quite a steep slippery hill above them in case of an errant car. There was no place level for any safety/fire marshals to stand. Try standing on a steep hill for 8 or 9 hours. The result was I was made senior marshal at turn 4. I had complained too much to suit someone.
I forget the club race but it was practice day so there was not a full compliment of marshals. Remember practice was on Friday and racing on Saturday. The turn crew was myself as senior, a phone operator and 2 flaggers. No Safety crew and no one for the top of the turn. I wanted to put my flaggers up there but this time control overuled me. I kept one extiguisher by me and there was another on the hillside closer to the bridge. As far as I was concerned the flag position was useless as no driver would be looking anywhere near where we were.
The main justification for the move was so we could see more of 5. This was true but really of no import. I had worked the infield platform as a senior I could see the flaggers on the inside of 5 and the lights. So if they went to waved yellow or flashing yellow lights we would automatically go steady yellow. That was standard procedure for the corner prior to an incident. If they had a stationary yellow we stayed green.
About the second practice session a Sprite came barrelling down the hill and got onto the gravel shoulder just below us. The poor flaggers sort of jumped but outside of a bit of a heart in mouth moment all was ok. A couple of practices later a Healy really screwed up. I let out a yell about the same time as the flag man facing up the hill grabbed his partner and they both scrambled up the hill. The Healy went right through where they had been standing a second before. The Healy bounced along shedding its exhaust but somehow didn’t hit anything solid and came to a stop in 5. I had a few words with race control and moved the flaggers up the where we were. I told control I didn’t want anyone that close to the track again and one of them muttered he would go home before he went back down there. Again I wanted to move them up to the top of the hill by the lights where they would be of more use and able to deal with anyone who stopped between 3 and 4. Heck even have a fire extinguisher up there. Control overuled me and said they could flag from up by the phones but had to stay there in case of a crash at the bottom of 4. My pointing out that marshals from 5 could get there faster didn’t go over very well. I definetely wasn’t too popular with race control as I had taken over the phone myself to press my arguements completely against protocol!
I figured that was enough excitement for one day and hoped all would be peaceful except for the usual spins etc in 5. Hah!!!
I was looking up the turn when I suddenly saw what appeared to be a formula car disappearing over the bank into the woods at the very beginning of 4 on the infield side. I immediately asked everybody if they had seen anything but was told no. I had my phone operator ask if 3 had seen anything. She had to go through control but whoever was on 3 just answered no directly. I insisted somebody had gone off but control said I must be wrong.
Muttering to myself I said to one of the flaggers grab a crowbar and lets go check. I took a 10lb fire bottle and we started up the hill. We didn’t dare go down to the level shoulder but as we got closer to the top the going got easier. About that time the flagger I had left at the station yelled up that there was a car missing and they were stopping practice with a checkered flag. I didn’t say anything but was thinking that a red would be better. Naturally we didn’t dare try to cross the track while there were still cars out and we were below the crest of the hill. Just as we made it to where we could see enough to cross the track a rather dishevelled driver appeared over the bank sans car.
Now we could see up to 3 and were able to cross the track. He had gone off on the approach to 4 and over the bank just as I thought. Amazingly he was just shaken but unhurt. The marshals at 3 saw us (as I found out later) and were able to confirm to control there was a driver with us. All I could do was wave to my phone operator as it was now to far away for her to hear us. We stayed with the driver until the ambulance arrived. The rescue truck and a tow truck were also on the way. In the meantime the two on us scrambled down into the trees following the flight of broken branches that at times were above our heads!
About 40 feet in there was a Lotus 20 FJr sitting forlornly in the bush. Luckily still upright and suffering surprisingly little damage.
What really stunned us was that there was a large branch about 4 inches in diameter dead centre in the seat. We could only surmise it had fallen down after the driver had got out. Practice was delayed for about an hour as trees had to be cut down to get the car out and there wasn’t a chain saw around! He had gone in so high up there was no way to get the car back out without removing trees. I have no idea how he managed to go off there unless something broke which would not be unlikely with a Lotus. He didn’t know what had caused the crash.
Shortly thereafter, common sense prevailed and the marshal post was moved back to the original location. Mind you if we hadn’t been on the outside nobody would have seen the Lotus go. Another reason there should have been marshals at the top of 4.
By that time I had over 40 days of marsaling at Mosport and like many others who worked most practice days as well as race days had a pretty good idea where cars were likely to go. Often better than those who worked control but hadn’t spent time out on the corners of Mosport despite more years of marshaling. Offs at the airport circuits were easier to figure out. That Lotus was sure an exception though.
Mosport was a different place then with practically no guardrail and no real runoff areas. Earth banks were just as often launching ramps as protection. Tire walls and concrete walls were years in the future. Just the same we usually had fun and took chances unheard of today. Working on live tracks was an accepted practice. Full course yellows were unheard off and reds a real rarity, even in practice.
Ed note: the photo above is looking back at turn 4 from 5 and was taken by Gary Grant at the Varac Festival in 2007.