If you download the Sports Car Club of America's manual
for Flagging and Communications
, among the authors are two names, Sam Warum and Bill Salmon. Sam Warum has been dead for years, Bill Salmon lived into his eighties and died in early 2002. Yet their influence on flagging continues to this day. They helped found Lake Erie Communications
. They helped write the book.
Lake Erie was founded in 1962 after some conversations with Les Griebling. Les had just built a new race track, Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. Designed by Les and famed club racer Jerry Hansen, Mid Ohio was intended to be a great course for driver and spectator alike. But Les also knew how dangerous racing was in those days, before fuel cells, roll cages and even nomex driving suits really existed. He wanted a safe course, that racers would feel safe pushing their cars to the limit.
He talked to Bill and Sam, who had been leaders in flagging a public road based race then run on South Bass Island. At the time, the Watkins Glen region had the best and most experienced flaggers in America. They arranged for Glen workers to come down and instruct them in the basic hand signals and techniques of race safety. Hand signals are an important part of flagging. A road racing circuit usually covers several miles, and cars can go off anywhere on the course. A worker responding to an incident needed to tell race control what they needed, and right now over a distance. Radios were primitive, generally of World War II surplus and of variable quality.
Sam and Bill quickly realized that the techniques and signals used by Glen region, while useful as far as they went, didn't go far enough. A flagger in one location, can often see things another in a different location could not. Problems might be spotted before a crash, or an oil spill. Getting that flag up early, might make the difference between a close race and a fatality.
given the balky radios of the day they saw that communications between a corner station and race control needed to be streamlined, so the essentials got to control, and quickly. Communicators needed to be taught proper techniques so that time would not be wasted in an emergency.
Finally, they looked at the haphazard way in which incidents were responded to. Drivers were being hurt unnecessarily and workers putting themselves at risk unnecessarily.
Sam and Bill went back to the drawing board and creating a new manual for flagging and communications. They expanded the hand signals until they became a specialized sign language for car racing, capable of describing almost anything a flagger mignt need. They refined and developed first response proceedures that made life safer for both worker and driver. They helped install land lines and Mid Ohio, and developed race control proceedures. And they trained their workers to that standard. Lake Erie workers were among the first to fight actual car fires in practice, and to train off track as well as on. and pretty soon the word got around that Mid Ohio was a safe place to play, and Lake Erie might have been the best.
The names of Sam Warum and Bill Salmon remain on today's flagging and communications manual for a simple reason, their Lake Erie manual become the core of the new SCCA manual, and a standard throughout North America. In many ways, Lake Erie wrote the book on flagging. There are other outstanding flagging organizations, and we steal from them all we can, but if you find yourself hanging upside down at Mid Ohio the man or woman running your way knows what to do.
Noders wishing to find out more about Lake Erie would want to visit http://www.lakeeriecommunications.com