Biggles Riddle (Racesafe Marshal) - Q&A

"You're surrounded by biking enthusiasts from all walks of life. I've marshaled with doctors, lorry drivers and nuclear physicists"
Biggles Riddle (Racesafe Marshal) - Q&A

Marshals are the unsung heroes of motorsport. Racing couldn't take place without them, they are first on the scene of an accident to help and protect any fallen riders - and they usually do it all for free.

This year, Racesafe provided marshals for the MCE British Superbike Championship, the Silverstone and Donington Park World Superbike events, and the British MotoGP - where their work was praised by home star Cal Crutchlow after a frightening incident in warm-up.

Moments after Crutchlow fell on Sunday morning, title leader Marc Marquez lost control in exactly the same place. Marquez's Honda was sent skipping across the gravel, straight towards Crutchlow and the marshals about to retrieve his Yamaha.

"A lot of marshals around the world could learn from that example, because they had one guy watching the track while the others were picking the bike up," said Crutchlow. "If it wasn't for that four guys would have been hammered, possibly including me. They did a great job." spoke to Racesafe marshal 'Biggles' Riddle during the BSB season finale at Brands Hatch...
How and why did you become a marshal?

I became a marshal after standing at Druids for many years and wanting to be involved in the event, I really wish I'd done it years ago. Marshaling is a way of becoming closer to racing in all ways.

There's no fence between you and the bikes. Money simply cannot buy that close-up view and believe me there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a snarling pack of Superstock 600s come towards you on the first lap with only a tyre wall between you and them.

There's a flag post at Thruxton where the riders come past at the best part of 200mph and you could reach out and touch them, there are times when your jaw drops at how spectacular the action is, something that television just can't convey.

It can be very hard work but there's nothing like the satisfaction you get after a good days marshaling. The variety is amazing; some things are trivial and some spectacular. The feeling you get as a team after successfully managing a critical situation is fantastic.

In the relatively short time I have been marshaling I have helped deal with several serious back injuries - all those riders recovered well and that's very rewarding. Although it was not my incident, I remember the immense pride and joy when we heard back from Cat Green that because of the textbook treatment she received trackside, she was making a good recovery from a potentially paralysing accident.
If you want to become a marshal, who do you apply to?

That's simple, you just go to and you can apply online or even contact Racesafe through Facebook.

You fill in a form and if you're accepted you'll do a training programme. The training will take you through theory and practical points of marshaling. Simple yet vital safety points such as never crossing a live track, are emphasised.

You'll also do things like putting out a fire and be taken through casualty and bike handling as well as flagging. Flagging's vital because that's the only interface between marshals and riders.

It's a good fun day out too.
How long have you been doing it?

I'm at the end of my third season so I'm just a 'newbie'. There are some who've done it for 40 years.

You're surrounded by biking enthusiasts from all walks of life. I've marshaled with doctors, lorry drivers and nuclear physicists. As a marshal you often put your life in your flaggers and spotters hands, so that makes a great bond. I've made several lifelong friends in a short time.

We have doctors or paramedics on every track section, backed up by multiple rapid response vehicles so a BSB event is probably the safest place to fall ill! Medics integrate with marshals and are fascinating to talk to.
How often do you do it?

I've been to every BSB except Assen and Knockhill, plus some club meetings, so about every two weeks between March and October. You can choose how many days of the meeting you do, but you're required do race day and one other. I usually like to do the whole weekend, so I rock up on the Thursday and then sign on for the corner I'd like to cover.

Personally, I prefer to be on interesting/incident prone corners. My favourites are Druids and Clearways (Brands Hatch), Craner Curves and the Melbourne Loop (Donington) and the Club Chicane (Thruxton).

It's not voyeuristic, it's really a desire to be actively involved in the race. The best days are when there is close racing, where you see stuff that nearly happens but doesn't. As a marshal though, if it's going to kick off, I want to be there. Bike racing is quite a gladiatorial contest and things can and do go wrong and I just want to be there to help when they do.
Is your family OK with the fact that you're often away?

...err, for the most part yes, but there's a lot of DIY that doesn't get done and since marshaling I haven't biked as much because I usually ride at the weekends.
So how much are you paid?

We're not paid anything.
Really, nothing?

No. When you become a Racesafe marshal you're given a flame retardant overall, a waterproof jacket, a complimentary ticket and a meal voucher for breakfasts or dinners and sometimes there's something like a free hog roast or other social events.

At club meetings you may get a small amount of petrol money too.
So do you feel more appreciated at club events?

Clubs have a slightly more family atmosphere as the racers, officials and marshals are part of the same club, however the intensity, glamour professionalism and excitement of the national events make them a bit more exciting to take part in.

I feel pretty integrated in the paddock, you can have a race without a particular rider but you can't have a race without marshals. I certainly feel part of the BSB family and you always feel welcome.
Do you do any WSBK or MotoGP?

Yup, I do them all as Racesafe are the organsiation that manages the marshals for the UK rounds of the World Championships as well. I have to say that I prefer BSB though because when you truck up on a Thursday you can quite simply wander round and enjoy the atmosphere, chat to team owners, riders or mechanics, you can say hello to anyone.

The BSB paddock is full of great characters. You have people who have just emerged from club racing, right up to household names.

It's also down to the racing, some of the racing I see in BSB is quite simply extraordinary.

The MotoGP paddock is far more restricted and everyone's locked away. In the paddock you may have queues outside motor homes like those you might see at a stage door.
How are marshals organised?

Well, it's a very shallow pyramid. At the top you have Stuart Higgs, Race Director who was one of the founders of Racesafe back in 1995, and below him you have the Chief Marshal. Below them you have IOs - Incident Officers (the marshaling equivalent of a sergeant), Racesafe depends on its IOs. There will be at least one IO per section and they organise the resources in their respective sections. They are the 'eyes and ears' of the Race Director.

All IOs and those on flags are on a single track/emergency services radio network so that all personnel can hear any interaction - radio discipline is vital and that is orchestrated by Stuart.

There are two main duties as marshals, pick up (as in picking up the bikes/riders) and flagging. We rotate duties, you'll be expected to do both, but some marshals specialise in flagging - it's tough, you really have to concentrate. I do pick up and flags but I've also done taxi bike and pitlane duties.
How long is your working day?

It's quite a long day, you'll be out on post at say 8:20am and you might not leave until 6:30pm after you've finished packing up. There's a break built in but if there's been some track contamination then you might find yourself doing that instead.

Being on post is an absolute duty and you can't wander off or slack because lives can be at risk.
Have any riders stood out as being 'gentlemen in extremis'?

She's certainly not a gentleman, but Jenny Tinmouth is always very polite when she comes to visit.

It really varies because when I see a rider they're not at their best, particularly now that they aren't allowed to get back on their bike. Sometimes they will be having difficulty dealing with their situation, but you have to persuade them to get behind the barrier quickly as our trackside presence neutralises the corner with yellow flags.

There have been times where two riders come off together, start arguing and you firmly have to tell them to continue their 'discussion' behind the barrier.

Initially there were some problems enforcing the 'don't get back on your bike' rule and that meant we had to politely restrain riders. Now it's accepted, although you often see the old hands run to get on their bike by instinct.

Tommy Bridewell must have got pretty sick and tired of seeing me and I'm glad he's doing really well now.

Concussion is another thing that can make dealing with a rider difficult and they can be in a state where they don't know where they are. You have to stay calm and persuasive to avoid them aggravating a potential neck or spinal injury.

If the rider's hurt, you signal by raising your arm and the corner medic will come to you. There's a hierarchy: rider - bike - track and that would be the order in which they're dealt with. That is taught in training.

As a marshal when you see a bike come off there's a huge instinct to immediately go out and help with it, but you have keep your own and others safety in mind. So one of the first things you look for is further trouble like another bike following in.

At the beginning of the race you let the pack go past before wading in. I've seen times where the training to look out for further crashing bikes [spotting] has saved marshal's lives. There are injuries amongst marshals but fortunately these are very rare.
Have you got a 'hierarchy' of spectacular crashes you have attended this year?

First prize must go to Keith Farmer at Oulton Park. He was perfectly okay, but his bike looked like it exploded - components spread all over Cascades. Crashes like that are frightening but they are quite a sight to see.

Next would be Bridewell and Harris's 169mph off at Thruxton, a huge impact into the Recticell foam barriers. Tommy was hurt, but thankfully not badly.

Third place goes to Yonny Hernandez's bike bouncing bomb impersonation over the barrier at Brooklands during the British Grand Prix, the bike was totalled, Yonny was unhurt.
Have there been any emotional moments?

Tommy Hill at Druids at Brands in 2011 after the last race. That was an absolutely extraordinary meeting and when Tommy got up to Druids he was still not certain if he'd won. It wasn't me that told him but it was great to be part of the group around him when it dawned on him that he was champion. I got some idea of how he was feeling; I almost felt part of the win.

Last year with Shakey was also a beautiful moment on track after the race. Shakey is a man who absolutely loves winning and spreads that feeling around. When you are so close to the action you do feel really involved.

To hear the rolling roar before Scott Redding came round at Silverstone this year was special and you could hear that roar follow him round the track. That sent tingles down my spine. There are too many moments to mention.
Do you ever feel frightened or at a loss?

I feel nerves before a big race, also the times when you're next to a stricken rider and there are bikes going past with the slipstream vacuum pulling at your overalls certainly concentrates the mind. Luckily you do get a real adrenalin rush when something kicks off but the training and team work helps to keep you steady.

Craner Curves somehow yields abstract violence and bikes can ping in any direction. We'd scooped one rider and I then looked back to see that another bike had just ploughed through the exact place we'd been seconds before.

I think it's fair to say that a thrill seeker might find marshaling addictive!
I couldn't help noticing that a spoof Gatso had been erected at Druids on the morning of race day [pictured] and Stuart Higgs pulled over for speeding during the track inspection, you didn't have anything to do with that by any chance did you?

One of my marshaling mentors Stef, who's an IO, said to me 'Take the serious stuff seriously and have fun with the rest.' And I'm only doing what my IO told me to do!

Track side inspection is a serious part of racing but my colleagues and I thought that it'd be fun to do that during inspection when it wasn't critical, just to enjoy ourselves a bit but we were careful not to let it interfere with safety.

To his credit Stuart was well up for the joke and allowed himself to be frisked and arrested after he'd been stopped at the Gatso, I'll be sending him his speeding fine in the post!
Do riders or teams ever express their gratitude to you?

Yes, that's one of the lovely parts of the role. At the end of the season when we were clapping the riders, some pointed at us and clapped in return. My heart felt wide at that moment.

After racing there's also quite a social life and I've been bought drinks many times by teams and riders because they genuinely appreciate what you do and that makes you feel wonderful.

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