July 5 – 7, 2019: Townsville, QLD
I’ve been following the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship since when it was still called the Australian Touring Car Championship back in the 1990s. I try and combine my holidays and Supercars events each year – and for this winter’s ‘Holiday in the Sunshine’ I decided to return to the Townsville 400.
I’d attended this event in 2016 and liked it very much: the warm weather, friendly people and great racing… I just loved the whole vibe and atmosphere of the event, and it was an easy decision for me to make a return trip there.
But the difference this time was that I was going to work as a volunteer photographer for the Supercars organization. And my role was to take photos of fellow volunteers and officials who were giving up their time to contribute to the success of the event.
I’ve long been involved in motorsport either as a member of the media or simply as a keen racegoer, but this was my first volunteering experience, and I had no idea what to expect or what sort of accreditation I needed to have. As for the latter, I was instructed to complete a couple of online training courses, so I crash-tackled the ‘Supercars Volunteer Race & Event Officials eLearning Module’ and ‘An Introduction to CAMS* Officiating’ leading up to the race weekend.
* CAMS = Confederation of Australian Motorsport
What many people may not realize is that those involved in any major motorsport events need to start early in the morning. All the volunteers and officials, racing team crews, and even the star drivers themselves – get up nice and early to prepare for the day’s activities. After all, the volunteers tending the gates and grandstands must be ready before the patrons arrive. The same goes for the track marshals, who must take their assigned posts before the first on-track session can go ahead.
We volunteers were required to sign on for duty at 6:30am on Friday and 6:00am on Saturday and Sunday, before attending the briefing for the day. As a first-time volunteer, I got out of bed at 4:30 each morning, just to be extra sure that I wasn’t late for work…!
One of the ‘eye-openers’ for me over the weekend was that people in wheelchairs or on crutches were also volunteering as ushers and guides and doing a darn fine job at that. My favorite was this wheelchair-bound gentleman looking after one of the accessible platforms and enjoying the action together with the attending patrons in wheelchairs!
If you have some physical disadvantage and are thinking that you wouldn’t be able to work at a Supercars event because of that… well, think again. You would be surprised to learn that there are so many roles to be filled at each event and, if you think you can commit to a weekend’s work, the least you could do is try and apply for a role.
Wet & Wild Weekend in Tropical North Queensland
As for my planned ‘Holiday in the Sunshine’… well, it didn’t go too well there because, unseasonably, this year’s Townsville 400 turned out to be a wet one – for the first time in the event’s 11-year history.
We had sprinkles of rain and passing showers throughout the weekend and, as if on cue, it started raining in earnest just as the main Supercars race got underway on the Sunday afternoon. And it got worse… and worse… as the race progressed. In the end, I just had to stop shooting midway through the race and return to the media center – otherwise my photographic equipment would have been damaged by water.
At least the rain made the race very interesting and unpredictable, but it also threw a spanner into my plans. I’d been looking forward to attending the post-race volunteer party but had to give it a miss because I was wet and shivering… in Tropical North Queensland!! (Well, who would have thought!?) I just needed to get back to my accommodation in a hurry and change into dry clothes… ☹
Wet weather aside, if there’s one regrettable aspect to my otherwise enjoyable weekend, I was so busy taking lots of photos that I missed out on quite a bit of racing action itself. The whole weekend went past so quickly that everything was a massive blur to me, and I needed to watch the recorded replay of the races at home to know what really happened on the racetrack.
Through my volunteering I’ve learned a lot about the operational side of things and had a glimpse of how these Supercars events are run. There’s so much work done by so many people that goes on behind the scenes. And they all contribute their time and effort because of their love of motorsport. I’m sure this experience will prove invaluable for me in the future.
My special thanks go to all the Supercars staff and my fellow photographers for their guidance and support for me throughout the weekend. My big thanks also go to all the officials and volunteers who smiled (or played up) to my camera around the racetrack. It was a great pleasure meeting you all, and I hope to see you again!
Main image at top: Shell V-Power drivers Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard pose for photos with young fans.