Customers or Competitors?
Somewhere near the beginning of Jonathan Miller's book 'The Body in Question', he makes the point that one characteristic of human societies is that they adopt a distinctive garb when accepting a change in status. He uses weddings in all cultures as one of his examples, but he is mainly interested in the donning of the surgical gown, prior to allowing a barely introduced stranger to delve about in the patient's delicate and valuable interior. There may be more extreme examples of different status between perpetrator and recipient, but then when a patient enters surgery the subservient status is entered into voluntarily, and is frequently paid for by the patient.
Competitors at a race track also adopt a subservient status, and flag up their position in the hierarchy by wearing a Nomex race suit. Some of our members spend the minimum time clad in Nomex, others spend all day in their race suits. On occasion I ponder if the length of time clad in Nomex correlates with aspects of the competitor’s character, with those who spend minimum time Nomex clad being the most rebellious......... However, those who drive to and from a circuit in their Nomex are probably making a different sort of statement.
If competitors have identified themselves in the subservient role, those in positions of authority are identified by: badged blazers, tabards carrying various legends, armbands, and orange overalls. My view is that officials come in basically two types, those who wish to assist the competitor, and those who enjoy ordering people about. There is nothing unique about this, teachers can be divided into those who enjoy putting ticks onto a pupil's work and those that prefer to put crosses.
One of the anomalies about the structure of motor racing is that those in the subservient position have paid an appreciable amount of money with the intention of racing, in modern parlance, and I shudder as I write this, 'they are customers'.
The word customer has become all pervasive, replacing: patient, pupil, student, tenant etc, but not competitor. This means that the concepts that are attached to the word customer don't apply to competitors in our motor racing environment. Concepts like making the overall race-day experience pleasurable, efficient, and value for money. It's something we've made efforts with our partners to improve over the last few seasons.
It is frequently said that officials at a race meeting are unpaid volunteers, this implies that, like the village fete, organisers have to accept a wider range of skills and abilities amongst their volunteers than one would accept amongst paid officials. I disagree with this view, for, in my experience the majority of the unpaid, notably the marshals, are both pleasant and helpful. It is amongst the paid officials that one most frequently finds questionable behaviour, usually this takes the form of excessive officiousness, to the point of unpleasantness, if a competitor deviates from their sometimes unreasonable, ill thought out master-plan.
So, despite considerable reservations about being designated a customer rather than a competitor, I think it time that those in charge of race meeting embrace the twenty-first century, and look at the overall competitors' experience with the intention of enhancing this experience. This may necessitate the removal of the very few characters that have a disproportionately negative effect.
We have now entered the dog days of summer, which equates to school holidays with the disappearance of the excellent June and July weather (at least in the South East) and an absence of racing. When I first joined the club I believed that the summer layoff was to permit those with children of school age to holiday. I now recognise that the layoff persists year after year, and defies all efforts to fill it. A dumbbell shaped distribution of events is not ideal, but seems to be the norm.
One consequence for the club and for 'Startline' is a lack of material to publish in the summer months. As this juncture one must mention the splendid coverage of recent non-championship meetings provided by Tony Cotton. His reports have been well informed, well illustrated, and produced with commendable rapidity. It is just a pity that Tony had 'issues' with regard to some Belgian officials. It was also good to have the low flying Kiwi, Phil Moore back writing for Startline. Having recently returned to the cockpit after an eighteen month layoff I realised that I was not ‘driving fit’. Racing a single seater is even more physically demanding, I wonder if Phil did some serious training before Spa, and if he did train for Spa what form the training took!
The MSA still kindly circulate 'Motorsport Now' to me. Like most in house publications it tends to concentrate on the positive, and ignore anything inconvenient or controversial. As a result, the editorial was a paean in praise of the Silverstone authorities signing an extended contract to run the British GP. This is just as it should be, Silverstone is the home of the British GP for cars, but there was not a mention of poor old Donington Park. However, there is some good news on this front, a circuit has been reinstated, inspected by the MSA and FIA, and Donington Park is once again useable. After the loss of nearly a year's business, track-days have restarted, and one can be sure that they are keen to restart racing, just as much as we are keen to race there again.
Having made a disastrously unsuccessful bid for the top slot, we will have to wait to see how Donington Park resettles into the pantheon of UK circuits. One thing is certain, the loss of its prestigious Moto GP round will cost it dear.
I thought that I detected an element of post event euphoria following the club's successful meeting at Spa. But then Tony published his Spa disasters piece, and I am now trying to work out if Jeremy Goodman's ongoing disaster was more frustrating than Henry Fryer's experience of being sidelined by the failure of a minor component that would only become available after the event finished. Intermediate, somewhere between these two extremes is Darren Freeman's experience. All of these experiences form part of the rich tapestry of life for a Monoposto competitor.
"a distinctive garb when accepting a change in status". An American couple don flu masks and surgical gloves at their wedding.
"those in the subservient position have paid an appreciable amount of money".
..... 'issues' with regard to some Belgian officials
"I wonder if Phil Moore did some serious training"
pics from internet by TC. Only teasing with all of them.