Marc Williams, in the black...
Marc Williams, in the black and white firesuit, conducts a training seminar that is part of the Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative.
It's five minutes before the start of final practice at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida. Marc Williams leans against the tailgate of a Ford F-250, taking the last drink from a water bottle under the hot Florida sun. He tosses the bottle into a nearby can and begins to make sure the equipment in the back of the truck is ready to go. The truck is outfitted with state-of-the-art hydraulic extrication equipment and rescue tools that would make any paramedic worth their weight in stethoscopes drool.
As 40 ARCA/REMAX Series race cars take to the track in anticipation of the Construct Corps/Palm Beach Grading 250, Williams and his team of safety specialists keep a watchful eye over every corner of the 0.75-mile paved oval, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice.
At first glance you might think that Williams is part of the track's safety crew, but it doesn't take long to notice the flashy purple and black ARCA logo adorning his truck, also known as a first response "chase" vehicle. He heads up the Hardcore Motor-sports ARCA Safety Initiative, an innovative program that has been part of every ARCA race since the beginning of the 2006 season.
The vertically integrated safety program is designed to support the established track safety crews where ARCA races both at and away from the racetrack. An 11-year ARCA race official and former fire marshall, Williams is a full-time ARCA employee dedicated to running the Safety Initiative. His job involves coordinating efforts with host speedways' respective safety teams, as well as working closely with ARCA RE/MAX Series race team personnel and at other ARCA-sanctioned racing events.
Williams takes his job seriously, very seriously. "I take it personally when somebody gets hurt, no matter how minor," says the Michigan native. "I love what I do and I care about each one of these guys."
In fact, Williams has been unofficially using his professional safety background in his race official duties long before the Safety Initiative took on its full time status.
"The Safety Initiative is a project we have been working toward for some time," says Joe Wells, ARCA's VP Competition. "Putting this program in place will allow us to take on an even greater role as it relates to the safety elements in ARCA. It has always been our goal to be as responsible as we can be in our role as a sanctioning body."
Williams and Wells make no bones about the fact that the Safety Initiative would never have taken off if it weren't for the sponsorship from Hardcore Motorsports. The Brighton, Michigan-based high-performance parts retail sales company, owned by Bill Wells and Nevie Richardson, jumped on board the program for one very simple reason.
"As team owners in a number of different racing series, we see firsthand the everyday need for a strong and solid safety program," commented Bill. "We feel the Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative will benefit all teams, drivers, and crews through a combination of information and education."
Bill says the program is all about taking ARCA safety to a new level. A sanctioning body selling a sponsorship to cover the costs for their own safety program, the concept itself is a new level and puts ARCA light years ahead of other sanctions when it comes to safety.
"Safety is, and always has been, the primary focus of our competition department," says Ron Drager, ARCA president. "Our ongoing safety initiative will benefit tremendously from the support Hardcore Motorsports is lending in terms of personnel, equipment, and education. ARCA has benefited greatly from the many recent safety advances in motorsports brought about by industry leaders, and this initiative provides resources to elevate the level of our internal program."
It's not uncommon to see a...
It's not uncommon to see a Safety Initiative member (in red shirt) talking to racers in the garage area.
As Kentucky Speedway's track...
As Kentucky Speedway's track safety crew tend to the wrecked car of Justin Marks, the red Dodge of the Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative helps coordinate the cleanup.
The ARCA Safety Initiative...
The ARCA Safety Initiative wouldn't have been possible if not for the support of Hardcore Motorsports, a Michigan-based high-performance parts retailer.
A primary objective of the program involves information and education, as series officials and supporting entities hold various seminars and instructional conferences during the course of the year. For example, the Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative recently traveled to Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, to take part in a 16-hour incident response training session. The session, with a focus on hands-on experience, applied textbook skills and knowledge to potential at-track emergency scenarios.
"It was a very effective way to share information and interact with the track's safety team regarding all aspects of safety, fire, and rescue," said Williams. "The more we communicate with track safety teams and learn from each other, the more effective we'll all be when we work together on race weekends."
In addition to Williams, instructors included Kentucky Speedway Safety Director Charles Williams and Chicagoland Speedway Care Center Manager Linda Ptack.
During a recent incident response...
During a recent incident response training session at Iowa Speedway, Safety Initiative members took part in a variety of exercises including driver extrication.
Under cold and windy conditions, Iowa Speedway team members participated in a variety of potential emergency situations, including windshield removal, fire suppression, rollovers, extrication of drivers, and much more.
"We did everything from putting out fires to cutting roofs off cars for extrication," says Williams.
In addition to the hands-on experience on Sunday, several tabletop discussions took place in a classroom-type setting Saturday, allowing the free flow of information and opportunities to work with different team members.
"The class was very beneficial because the focus was a hands-on experience," says Gale Nungesser, director of operations at Iowa Speedway. "Learning what we can from textbooks is always a great idea, and to be able to apply what we learn from the books to real-life scenarios was beneficial to all.
"The experience allowed us to work and think together as a team. Since the class ended on Sunday, we've already received several phone calls asking if we could do this again next year."
Not only does Williams and his team travel to tracks for seminars such as the one at Iowa, but they also attend all the open tests with the Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative truck and trailer. The test sessions allow for initial inspection on all safety-related items from fuel cells to head-and-neck restraints.
"We have developed a detailed process designed to examine every aspect of safety equipment on the racecar during testing," says Williams. "The process involves several ARCA inspectors, including myself, culminating in the final approval for a car to be cleared for competition."
Current Crafts-men Truck Series driver Chad McCumbee has driven in a variety of different sanctions: go-karts, Allison Legacy cars, late models, ARCA, NASCAR trucks, and Nextel Cup. He has seen a lot of different safety crews and programs during his 12-year racing career.
"Having the same people at the track every week makes a huge difference," says McCumbee. "You have consistency, they know what they need to do and need to accomplish, and there is no way that can't be a plus."
The consistency McCumbee talks about is key to a successful safety program. But it wasn't always that way. "In the old days when I first started doing this, you'd go to a certain racetrack and they would really be up on safety," says Frank Kimmel, eight-time ARCA Series champion. "They'd have a good truck and good fire extinguishers and everything they should have. Then you may go to another venue that's not as equipped. Maybe it's a lower-budget track and maybe they're just not able to bring in that kind of thing. They may be getting volunteer help that's used to dealing with a modified car or a dirt late model or something like that. Those volunteers have no idea what it's like to get in and out of one of these types of cars."
Kimmel and his fellow competitors are excited about the continuity the program brings to the touring series. "Now we have the people that Marc himself has trained and you have the same general crew and core group at every single race. It has stepped up the entire program."
The Hardcore Motorsports ARCA...
The Hardcore Motorsports ARCA Safety Initiative Dodge, ready for action in the infield of USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida.
Fully stocked with the latest...
Fully stocked with the latest safety equipment, the ARCA Safety Initiative truck can run multiple air tools at one time.
The Safety Initiative crew...
The Safety Initiative crew loves having the Jaws of Life handy but hopes they never have to use them.
The strides the program has made in just its year and a half of existence is all the more impressive when you consider that ARCA resides in a world devoid of $20,000,000 sponsorships and private jets for every driver. "ARCA is still very small in what they're able to spend and the amount of people they have work for them and everything," says Kimmel. "For them to step up and bring in the Hardcore Motorsports company, get a sponsor, and have a full-on, out-and-out safety crew has been tremendous."
The success of the Safety Initiative at the RE/MAX Series level has led the sanctioning body to expand the program to their other touring series, the ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series for 2007 and beyond. Circle Track readers may recognize the name Terry Kibler, ARCA's new Truck Series safety inspector. Kibler, who already has a racing and emergency services background, also serves as the safety director at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Essentially, he will serve as the safety liaison between the Truck Series and the tracks they visit.
With the addition of Kibler, accolades from the drivers and financial support from Hardcore Motorsports, the future is bright for the ARCA Safety Initiative. As McCumbee says, "They are definitely on the right track."