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A Controlled Environment

The Importance of Corner Workers

by Simon-Pierre Smith

People who have ridden only on the street will sometimes believe that their favorite little section of winding road is similar to a racecourse. They couldn't be more wrong. Many canyon highways have better pavement than local racetracks. Some have adequate runoff. With reduced state budgets the amount of police presence is dwindling to a bearable level. The thing a street lacks (and the thing only a racetrack can give you) is a truly controlled environment.

Take a minute to imagine if your favorite road was run like a track. At every on-ramp or cross street a worker holds back traffic until you go by. If the highway starts getting too much traffic then entry is restricted. Every 20 minutes someone with a broom tidies up each corner, and in front of every corner is someone to give you the "all's clear".

Above/right: Mike Sullivan gives Oliver Jervis a close up view of the fast line. Sullivan Wins this one to strengthen his overall season points lead. Corner workers get to see action like this from just a few feet away.

The corner workers provide this controlled environment. They are volunteers that come from all areas of motorcycling. Many are members of a club such as the Gold Wing riders or the Christian Motorcycle Association. The groups occasionally come out to help and a few individuals get hooked. A few are old racers who've burned out their adrenal glands or their wallets. These volunteers live in an odd neverland. Few are racers who have ever had the opportunity to wander the pits and mingle; yet they are rabid race fans and the best observers of racetrack performance. Each corner has a radio to report incidents and take instructions. When conditions are calm, the radio follows the positions of favorite riders. Controlling all this chatter is Chris Loomis, his deep voice made rough and commanding through decades of hard living and telling 18-year-old hot shots what to do.

Above/left: A corner worker gives a cautionary yellow flag to the three wheel racers.

When I had planned this article, I'd intended to wander down to a few corners and listen to stories from the trenches: tales of close passes and horrific crashes streaming from the lips of these volunteers. Little did I know that I'd be getting an up close and personal look at corner working technique.

It was in an early morning practice session. While going through the tight turn 4 hairpin in a dense pack of bikes, Conrad Krytenberg tucks the front tire of his big vintage bike. This isn't tough to do when traffic forces a rider to use an unusual line. His machine tumbled off to the right while his body flopped directly in front of my wheel. A half a second can seem like an eternity, especially when you've played it over in your mind a few hundred times. Each time I see my wheel strike his shoulder blades, or was that his neck? I'd better play it over again. As soon as I hit him I'm on the ground. A firm slap to the back of my head tells me I get to go helmet shopping. When I look up, a swarm of bikes goes by, obeying the corner workers that guide them to the safe line. In my gut is the angry twist of hard realization that running someone over has consequences. Conrad doesn't help this feeling by not moving.

Above/right: When the racing gets this tight, a controlled environment lets the racer focus on the competition, not the track quality.

The corner worker starts waving down the track in a "come hither" motion. I wonder what his problem is until I realize the ambulance is within sight of the incident. Imagine a street ride where there was always an ambulance in sight. This is part of what it takes to make a controlled environment.

Then starts the flurry of activity. The crash truck arrives and I help load Conrad's bike. Brooms are flying, getting fiberglass and windscreen off the track. Medics are doing their thing and I'm sent idling back to the pits on my still operable machine. A little while later the ambulance rolls out, no lights and no siren, a good sign. Later reports said he walked out of the hospital that day.

Above/right: Corner worker Ed Storm helps a crashed rider get out of harm's way in the turn 10 Bus stop.

At the end of the day the workers gather at the award ceremony. They tell exaggerations and sip the free beer that the club provides. A small reward for a long day's work.


Race clubs are always trying to groom a few more corner workers. If you think you'd be interested call the WMRRA Corner Captain, Nadia Shashani at 206 244-6228 or Nayas1975@Hotmail.com.


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