When NASA went to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in July 2013, there was an incident that could have ended tragically for a course worker. Luckily this was just a close call, but it is worth discussing because it would be great for all NASA members to learn from this incident so potential future close calls — or worse —can be avoided altogether.
During the drivers meeting, it was noted there were many drivers who had never been to the track before. This unfamiliarity is key because it means drivers aren’t familiar with where the flag stands are. HPDE instructors tell their students to wave to every course worker on the first lap so you know where they are. This is great advice and is something I personally encourage every one of my team drivers to do while I am spotting on the radio. Whether they have been road racing for a decade or a year, “First lap out under yellow, make sure you wave to each corner worker.”
I am not sure if unfamiliarity was the case with the Mazda Miata PTE driver at MRLS. Regardless, the evidence is clear he ignored two flag stands and drove off course nearly striking course workers, two emergency trucks, and two stalled vehicles stuck in the gravel trap outside Turn 6. The shameful part about this close call was that on the previous lap, this car and driver witnessed competitors lose it and get stuck in Turn 6. This meant he had to know during the next time around there was an incident at this corner. Regardless, he ignored two flags — a white emergency vehicle on course flag at Turn 5 and waving yellow flag at Turn 6 — and nearly killed course workers.
Race driving is intense and often hectic. But to be a successful racecar driver you must be able to take in the whole picture, not just the rear bumper of the car you are chasing. You need to understand what is happening on the whole track and make adjustments. A plastic trophy or a plaque isn’t worth the chances of hurting a course worker. When the yellow flag comes out, see it, recognize it and live by it.
The video shows the close call from the in-car footage from the car directly behind the white Mazda Miata. The video shows the flags specifically and you can see how close of a call this actually was. Next time you strap into your racecar, think about where the flag stands are, and make a conscious effort to see what flags are posted. These are there to warn you. Heed the warning!