Taking Control of the Pack as Safety Car
The role of the safety car is to slow and compress the field in the event of an incident. Once the field is slowed, the various emergency vehicles will dispatch to the scene of the incident to safely remove the disabled car(s) and clean up the course. But mostly I patiently sit, not knowing when and if the poop is going to hit the fan, all the while monitoring both the Flagger and Control nets.
While monitoring the Flagger Net I’ll listen for an excited call. When I hear something like “we gotta’ get this car outta’ here” it’s time to anticipate the call “Pace Car stand-up.” Then it’s “lights on” and reposition to pit-out.
Meanwhile the Flagger Net is busy picking up on the leader’s location so that control can release me in front of the leader.
Sometimes, I’ll get released early and have to wave a few cars by. On rare occasions I get released late and the call comes in “Pace Car, the leader just passed you – go catch ‘em” – that’s a bona fide challenge if the leader doesn’t look in their mirrors, which I suspect the leader isn’t prone to do – until they figure out what all those waving yellow flags mean.
Once the leader is picked up I’ll slow down and compress the field.
When passing by the incident I’ll update control about the progress of the clean-up and try to gauge when they might be clear – that way I may choose to slow down some to avoid an extra safety lap or pick up the pace in anticipation of the restart.
Once the incident is cleared and we’re ready to restart, it’s lights-out at nine, pick up the pace and hightail it into the pits for the green.
It’s important to keep in mind special considerations for different classes. For example, the Formula Vees and Formula 500s are air-cooled, so they need to keep up their speeds to prevent overheating. Some classes like GT1 and Wings & Things can’t go too slow due to their gearing and minimum engine speeds. My favorite group to pace is the “Wings & Things” – my flat-out is their coasting and it’s always a small group; so, giddyap!
Some groups will request a split grid – common with the IT7 and F500 competitors. They’ll leave the grid at the tail end and self-pace; starting themselves honor system style at a predetermined spot. Then there’s the split start, where we’ll use two pace cars – it’s always tricky to position and start the second group without getting overtaken prematurely by the first. It can be nerve wracking for the second group because they know there’s a freight train roaring up from behind.
At the end of the race the pace car repositions back to grid-out. This offers an opportunity to pick up corner reports and to check the course for (as mariners call it) flotsam and jetsam.
It’s always fun (in non-pandemic times) giving members with no track experience a ride in the pace car; you can gauge their anxiety by the severity of the death grip on the car’s grab handle.