TORONTO – They may get little recognition outside a tight circle of racing insiders, but every Verizon IndyCar Series fan should take a minute to thank the volunteers who ensure their sport is both safe and more enjoyable.
These unsung heroes are such an important part of race weekend that drivers often take time out of their busy schedules to ensure they give them a personal thank you.
“These volunteers are amazing. They don't get paid and it's not easiest work, either, because they are sitting out in the hot sun or rain, and they are very good at their jobs, so I have a lot of appreciation for them,” said No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver Will Power.
“When I was in Mid-Ohio last year, I went for a walk and met a couple of corner workers who were staying in motorhomes. They had also volunteered at the Indianapolis 500, they'd been around the sport for years and they knew the sport so well.”
There are two distinct sets of volunteers working at all 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, including today’s Honda Indy Toronto.
First are the marshals who make sure the drivers and fans stay safe during the race.
“You can't go racing without the corner workers and safety crews — it's literally impossible,” said Kevin Savoree, president of Green Savoree Racing Promotions that promotes the Honda Indy Toronto and two other events on the schedule. “They just all have a love of racing and take their role very seriously and always do a great job.”
The number of corner workers is determined by the layout of the track, but it's roughly the same at most road and street courses unless they are unusually long like 4-mile Road America in Wisconsin.
In Toronto, there are about 150 course and corner workers who are all members of the British Automobile Racing Club. Each worker must be trained and licensed to meet the requirements of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
“We can never be thankful enough for these guys for their efforts and hard work,” said Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet.
“All around the world in racing there couldn't be events without the volunteers, and we rarely talk about them but we should a little bit more because we wouldn't be racing without them.”
These unpaid course workers often run toward danger and put their personal security on the line to ensure drivers stay safe. Toronto knows the dangers that these volunteers face after volunteer marshal Gary Avrin lost his life during the 1996 race in Toronto when he was hit by debris in a violent crash involving rookie Jeff Krosnoff, who also died in the accident.
The second important group is the 300 event volunteers and 25 team leads who help with off-track with logistics, from managing car and foot traffic and helping fans find their seats to running the Honda Indy Toronto's social media feeds during race weekend.
Those who volunteered at Exhibition Place lined up weeks before the race and all the available spots were filled about a month before the green flag flew. Some are so dedicated that they spend their own money to travel to more than one event and serve as volunteers.
“We have volunteers from events that go to different ones,” said Savoree, whose group also promotes the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports at Course.
“We have some folks from St. Pete who come up to Toronto and vice-versa. They like to help the fans and help people and make their experience better. We are really blessed to have such great groups.”