As anyone who ever attended a motorcycle road race can tell you, there is a lot going on to be seen. A walk through the paddock and there is a hustle and bustle of activity every where you look. All around you see the racers and technicians going through their routines getting the bikes ready for the days events. Race officials mill about checking on all the aspects and details in preparation so the event can be successful. A great many details to attend to… so many people making the scene one of organized chaos.
For the fan it’s so easy to see the exciting racers and the machines. And it’s obvious that’s why we come to the track. To see the racing and experience the sounds and smells of the track and watch the action unfold before us.
But as all this happens an army of unknowns are hard at work as well. An entirely different group of fans are involved in the race but from a perspective that few take the time to see. There is an army that is as integral a part of the scene as any racer and without which no heat or round could be. They are there and to many they are invisible.
They are the corner workers. We always know who the fastest riders on the track are but the truly speedy are the guys who come running when a rider goes down. Out of the woodwork they show at a moments notice when the need arises. And then their gone again.
So who is the corner worker? What would make a person want to sit behind a concrete bunker all day and watch motorcycles go by?
There is much to be said about the opportunity of being in a first row seat for the racing. Nowhere can you get such a close up view to world class and grassroots racing than by being a corner worker. Only team members, officials and the racers themselves get such a wonderful perspective of the sport. Yes many venues offer very good chances for fans to get close to the action. And pit passes are a great way to get next to your favorite racer and the machines. But the corner worker is in the action at all times and always a part of the racing through the radio communication.
Ask any racer and they will tell you it is the corner worker they rely on and get their much needed information about track conditions and any possible danger ahead. Through flags, hand gestures and eye contact the corner worker is in constant cooperation and communication with the riders as they go by. The race control officials have a very good tool at their disposal with the corner worker.. They are the race control official and race directors eyes and ears. It is through the corner workers actions that the race officials are capable of creating and maintaining a safe, enjoyable event for all involved. The corner worker input allows the race officials to be able to make the right decisions about how to handle bad situations and also to identify the riders who are dangerous either by their actions or by some mechanical defect… not always can a rider tell if his machine is going south. Sometimes a sharp corner worker can catch a problem early and prevent a dangerous situation from becoming worse.
Lets be honest about the conditions of cornerworking. It’s not the gravy job you might think it is. You know it can be exciting! When a crash happens and the adrenaline is pumping it can be exciting for sure! But there is a lot to do in a very short time. And you have to make the right decisions about what to do very quickly. Do I cross the track when it’s hot? Do I stay in the bunker and call in? Sure, control is going to be helping and instructing but they are not on site and only the corner worker can make the right initial call. It can be very stressful.
Luckily the clubs are very proactive when it comes to training corner workers on track procedure. They do everything they can to give the corner worker all the information and tools needed to make good decisions in those worst times. A well trained and properly motivated corner worker can make all the difference in how a crash turns out for both the rider and the club.
But the conditions.. yes the conditions. that is where the men are separated from the boys… The corner worker understands first foremost above all even the racers what a track is like at floor level. The corner worker is subjected to all the elements that Mother Nature can deliver. Club racing is a grassroots endeavor for the most part. So rarely is the corner worker afforded more than cursory protection from the elements. Unlike Nascar or other forms of racing with elevated, closed viewing towers motorcycle racing is primarily a hands on sport for the track workers. The necessity to observe at close proximity and be able to get to a downed rider quickly is paramount and precludes anything more than a concrete crash barrier, a pop up sun tent and a fold up chair. So the prospective corner worker has to understand that he or she will be outside all day long…. sometimes up to 10 hours. Lightning not withstanding, the races go on rain or shine. a torrential downpour won’t be reason to stop a race as that’s what rains tires are for. Sunshine filled days are great unless it’s in the Oklahoma summer when it can get to 120-130 degrees and even you shoe soles become sticky. The Texas wind never ends in the springtime and gusts up to 30-40 mph can ruin even the most tightly spun hair-do and when the rain storms are over it’s always fun to run after and pull crashed bikes out of clay mud in a water soaked field. Your in the field and so are the snakes and flies..the fire ants and the mosquitoes. You can bet it will be freezing in the morning and sweating in the afternoon.
Such are the conditions a corner worker will face. In between the brief moments of excitement are hours of nothing to do but watch the bikes go by. But you listen to the chatter on the radio and wait for your time to help out a rider in need with plenty of time for your own thoughts.
So I ask again who would want to be a corner worker?
That’s not as complicated to answer as you might think. there basically are three kinds of corner workers. First you have the forced worker. A rider who has no choice and a lot of time no desire to be corner working at all. In many clubs if you want to race you are required to corner work at least a couple of weekends before you can become a novice or even get a race license. That’s not such a bad idea as it really can help a rider to understand whats going on from the corner working perspective. There is always something you can learn working corners that you might not pick up any other way. Plus many clubs have a tough time filling the spots needed to man the corners. So the requirement can serve to kill two birds with one stone so to speak. Give the aspiring racer another opportunity to learn the track and all that is and help fill those needed spots for the club.
Then you have the thrift minded rider who is glad to have a little help. Road racing is expensive and getting track practice can be hard on wallet for the budget conscious racer. For many though clubs and trackday groups offer track time in exchange for corner working. It’s a win-win proposition. the rider gets track time and the club gets to fill those spots. Plus again the rider gets some valuable exposure to tracks they will be racing on. a great trade off for sure.
And then you have the pure road racing fan. Many times corner working is a labor of love. This breed of corner worker is the ideal fellow or gal to have on the curve. They come because they love the sport and are willing to sacrifice to get close to the racing. Most of the time they are not racers but just real fans. But they are motivated and offer serious experience as many have been corner working for quite some time. They may already have been through the experience of a crash and would be a cool hand in an already adrenaline fueled situation. I’m sure a racer would absolutely prefer to have a worker with a clear head and a calm professional demeanor help them to get through a scrape versus a fellow who just signed up to get through the licensing procedure. Of course this not to take away the care anyone involved in such an incident. It’s just common sense to understand that experience is the key to remaining calm while under pressure. Either way it’s these warriors of the corners that come back race after race and are the backbone of any series operations
So there is a underlying story to the sport we all enjoy. An army of faceless unknowns who make the race possible. The racers need them and that’s enough. A corner worker worth his salt never lets the field conditions or the politics of racing interfere with the job at hand… protecting and helping the racers… and they do it without a promise of congratulation. It’s just the bonus when it comes because to see great racing first hand is the real reward.