Volunteering is more than just something high school kids do to try and get into fancy colleges.
Track events take a lot of work to go smoothly. They need people at registration, tech inspections, group leaders, staging officials, etc. If an event also has both HPDE AND racing it requires significantly more people (race director(s), timing and scoring, more staging, impound workers, pace car drivers, etc etc). Most officials you will come into contact with at track events are volunteers… They aren’t there to make money, but many of them may be getting free or discounted track time. If you’re like me and have more time than money, this can be an great way to earn time.
While HPDE days aren’t incredibly expensive, most of us don’t have an account with a few thousand dollars ready to burn on a season’s entry fees. To sign up for a full season of track days takes a big financial sacrifice. In my humble opinion track day entry fees are absolutely worth EVERY PENNY, but sometimes you simply DON’T have those pennies to spare.
Various clubs offer differing level of volunteer “compensation”. Some give volunteers a hearty thank you, catered lunch, and a beer or two at the end of the day. That’s not terrible… you get to be around awesome people and awesome cars… but if you are anything like me, you can’t just watch.
There are other clubs that offer track time as compensation for your work time. Deals vary, but they may run along the lines of A: Work for two days, get a free day on track. Or B: Do a specific job for part of the day to get on track at some other points during the day. These programs are the primary foundation for my writing of this entire blog. Without this type of program, I wouldn’t be anywhere near my current position. I have worked off most of my track time.
*I have worked off most of my track time.
Volunteering can get competitive. You probably will not be the only one trying to get these deals, so it helps to stand out as a competent worker. If you don’t do a good job, there are plenty of people who can (And will) take over for you. The same common sense guidelines apply to volunteering as your first job, or your career….
1: Have a Mantra:
Whenever I’m working, I often ask myself “Did I EARN my credit today?” I’ve calculated that a day of work is worth about $200 (half an entry fee+lunch and sometimes dinner) That’s not an inconsequential amount of money. Simply standing around in a bright event shirt staring into the distance does not earn you a thing. Your job goes beyond the specific task given, you become an official, and officials should always try to set a good example, be be proactive, and be helpful.
2: Show up ON TIME:
Seems simple right? When you sign up to volunteer, find out WHEN you should show up. Volunteers will most likely have a morning meeting where tasks are assigned and a tone is set for the day, so arriving on time is especially important. Tasks such as morning setup and tech inspection start very early (Think 6:30 am early). Another common issue here is showing up on time, then disappearing to unpack, prep your car, or get second breakfast. Make sure you are where you need to be when you are supposed to be there.
The same goes for leaving, if you have to leave early for an emergency, family party, etc that’s fine, you are volunteering afterall.. But if you become the person who leaves at noon every Sunday, there’s a good chance you may not be asked back.
3: Make yourself USEFUL:
Try to be more than a drone. Robot voice: “I was given this task, I will complete this task as directed then return to hive”. If your job is done, see if anyone else needs help. If you see someone (another worker, or even just another person at the track) struggling, offer them help. BE PROACTIVE, that’s the type of stuff that earns the respect of those running the event, and the other people attending. Help setup, help cleanup, etc.
4: Keep the event attendees Safe and Happy:
Sometimes people are jerks, every interaction you have may not be the chippiest. Try to remember they paid a lot of money to have a good time, and if you’re working, it’s your responsibility to help them out and keep them out of harm’s way. Be helpful. If someone is riled up, try to help and first of all, try to de-escalate any situation.. Don’t shout back.
I once saw a volunteer start shouting and talking down to a driver because he didn’t park his car in the exact place he was assigned. Remember, if the paying customer doesn’t feel like they’re being treated fairly they can A) tell management, and you’re out. B) Go to a different club and take business away from the club you’re “helping”. C) Punch you in the face.
That doesn’t mean as a volunteer you are there to be a punching bag or servant, just keep repeating that mantra “I’m getting this deal for free/discounted time because I’m HELPING the club and earning it”.
*Note, truly negative interactions are RARE. Don’t think you’re going to be putting out fires all day. In many years of events I can count on one finger when someone was absolutely and truly out of line without any provocation. As a worker I’ve done some dumb things, and have almost always been met with patience, and kindness from the driver. We’re all out here to have fun.
5: If you don’t know, FIND OUT.
My first track day experience was as a worker. It was VERY intimidating, I was immediately thrust into several roles. Coming from a background of car shows and autocross I had some knowledge, but there was a lot that was completely to me, and this was Racing, stakes were HIGH. Thankfully with a mix of helpful management, other workers, and drivers I did just fine.
When you’re working, you will inevitably get a lot of questions. “Where is registration?” “Where is tech?” “Is it okay if I go out on track with my dog in the back seat?” “How much time until our session goes on track?”. You should never reply with “I don’t know” and walk away with no explanation or attempt to find out (That has happened to me as a driver and is infuriating). If you don’t know, tell them you will find out and let them know. Know who to ask, if it’s something you should know, know it for next time.
6: Get to know the bosses.
With any organization, the people putting on the event are doing a TON of work. Your work begins when you get to the gate, but theirs began months before with booking venues, advertising, getting contracts, making schedules, booking food, etc. Make sure you know who the bosses are, find out if they need help. This is their event, you’re just working it. If you can’t get a question answered elsewhere, they’ll be sure to know or direct you where to find out.
Final Notes: Sometimes a club may need more volunteers, sometimes they need less, so if you want to try working make sure you register early. You can’t always bank on a generous policy lasting forever, they only last as long as it works out for the club. If you want to volunteer: register early and work hard enough to stand out!