This weekend saw me juggle my 24th birthday celebrations with another weekend of marshalling at Donington Park as my friends in the 750 Motor Club rolled into town.
As their new race reporter, (BIG NEWS ALERT), I was keen to be on my best behaviour and do a fantastic job over the course of the weekend, even if that exceptional talent for gridding up, patrolling pit lane and being a human-shaped ball of orange happiness was being quashed by an over-enthusiastic, self-important little being…
Now, anyone who’s actually met me in the past will know that I am one of the most friendly people you could meet, whether it be at 7am sign on when all I really want is an intravenous drip of Starbucks into my veins, or at 6.30pm, when I’ve been running round in massive boots and it feels as though my feet are going to drop off… I’m always a happy and smiling little bunny.
However, after meeting someone who had been marshalling less time than myself – yet who had gone to the trouble of actually upgrading – the bright sunshine was slowly being sucked out of every pore this weekend. So much so that I am considering hanging up the probans.
I have met some wonderful people throughout my three years on track, but to have someone make comments designed to ruin my self-belief and make me paranoid that people were sniggering and laughing whenever my back was turned has just become too much to bear. Marshalling is a voluntary thing, no one should feel as though they have the rights to make another feel inadequate, we don’t get paid, we don’t get an award, we don’t get that many thanks, it’s supposed to be an orange community, but then one kink in the chain is often enough to ruin it for everyone.
The entertainment this weekend was courtesy of 750MC who are home to some of my favourite boy racers, and I will be following the championship around the country from now on. Horray! I was looking forward to cheering on my friends Alex Hall & Pip Hammond in Stock Hatch, as well as Alex von Ehrheim in the Locost series, a man who promotes e-bikes in the MR2’s and my latest Twitter BFF, Michael Epps competing in the British Formula Vee series. So, I unpacked my weekend supply of Midget Gems (they are SO not as nice as those soapy Cherry Lips) and took to pit lane.
First shock of the weekend was when I was told I couldn’t have my radio tuned into Race Control and that I had to listen to the bloke who had given himself the title of ‘Chief Pits’ for the next two days, and should anything ‘important’ happen, he would be kind enough to inform me… as a ‘regular’ marshal I didn’t actually need to listen to Race Control apparently.
Anyway, that aside, and the part where he deemed it appropriate to put his hands inside the top of my overalls to do up my top button, tell me I had “a nice arse” over the radio AND then complain that when I had to lean in to talk to a driver, you could see down my top. Yes, I am a woman, yes I wear a vest top under my probans, but on the hottest weekend of the year, I’m not going to have them buttoned up to the neckline am I?
Perhaps this is what spurred him on to asking if I “have a problem with men?”
Can you even justify that with an answer? If I had a problem with men, would I really volunteer in a sport that was saturated with men? No, I do not have a problem with men, I rather like men to be quite honest… what I do have a problem with is men who objectify women and deem it appropriate to demean them for ‘jokes’ over the radio and then claim that touching my chest was to button my overall up… I mean, really? How do you think I managed to get the rest of my outfit on that morning?
After this drama I was ready to walk, I couldn’t handle it anymore… I deal with difficult people every day at work, but I was hot, tired and not being paid to stand here and take this rubbish for an entire weekend. But instead of letting down everyone else, I requested to do startline with the lovely Jayne and Mary – who literally saved me during Saturday’s proceedings.
Between them, they helped me learn the techniques for a swift gridding up, and even let me loose on the pole flag once again – I had renewed confidence in myself, so much so that when it came to Sunday and I was the unofficial ‘chief startline’ I really felt I could whip these racing drivers into shape and show the ‘haters’ just what I was made of.
Yet within just a few hours of being at the track on Sunday, Captain Delusional had already made me cry, and without Jayne and Mary on hand, I was close to having a meltdown. One thing led to another and following a heated discussion, I realised that getting any sense out of this situation was like trying to broker a peace deal between Palestine and Israel so I just needed to get my head down and enjoy what I’d come here to do… look at racing drivers, I mean watch racing cars.
So, myself and three others took over responsibility for gridding up all the cars. Brilliant. Well, except I’d only done startline a few times, as had the other Silverstone-based marshal, and the two others, well, they had never done it at all. That said though, we made a bloody great team. After a few early problems, we got the gridding art down to a tee, and were coping with red flag situations, oil slicks and grumpy drivers like we had been doing it for years.
Watching the Stock Hatch Championship Class B’s race was pretty much the highlight of my weekend, not only because my boy Pip Hammond took the win, but because the legend that is Alex Hall (complete with his 750 Fan Club Sara & Stuart) clawed his way up the pack from 11th on the grid to an impressive 8th place finish. For a guy in his first season of racing, I think that deserves a massive pat on the back.
Elsewhere, Alex von Ehrheim was leading the Locost race before a massive oil spill led to the race being red flagged and his car suffering whilst waiting for the restart. When the race continued he dropped well back, but I will make sure I give him extra cheers at the next meeting to make up for it! Most of the other drivers seemed to cope quite well though, and were all very friendly during their 10 minute wait for the race to get underway again – so thank you for being nice and polite.
Speaking to people who actually know who I was and having drivers thank me before and after their race kind of made the other dramas worthwhile, after all, we’re not there to impress people who are far too deluded by a hunt for power to care about what’s going on right in front of them, the large volume of marshals do it for a love of the sport, and to get away from the reality of a boring 9-5.
I am pretty lucky that my success in ‘real-life’ usually doesn’t have me fazed by the attitudes of many people I encounter, but this weekend has left me with the question; “Do I just go back to life as a spectator or try to upgrade so that at least I have some ‘proof’ of my abilities in future situations?” I never upgraded because I don’t want to spend a day on edge, trying to impress someone else and convince them I am good enough. I would remain a trainee forever if it meant I could come to the track and have an enjoyable day out looking at cars, getting involved and watching the racing, but it seems a sad fact that this isn’t possible for me anymore, and I genuinely don’t know where to go from here.
I don’t know how many people dislike me, how many people think all I care about is nice hair, make up and meeting Sebastian Vettel. Most of these people don’t even know me, they don’t bother to hear that I wear lipstick and make up because I was bit in the face by a dog as a child, and they don’t appreciate that I constantly wear sunglasses because of a problem with my eyes not producing enough tears. But then again why would they?
The world is such a shallow place these days, and something that doesn’t fit in with the ‘norm’ is so easy to pick on, especially when they are outnumbered and uneasy.