You probably take some of what they do for granted — that is if you even know the extent of what they do. The NHRA Safety Safari is known as one of the best trackside safety teams in all of motorsports.
You know about their rescue work, coming to the aid of crashed drivers, putting out fires, stabilizing injuries if needed and helping to get trapped or hurt drivers out of cars if they cannot get out on their own.
But did you know that the Safety Safari also shows up early in the week to get the track ready to race? And did you know that this team, serving this dual function, dates all the way back to the early 1950s?
The Safety Safari, originally called the Drag Safari, originated as four-man crew, traveling the country in a station wagon and visiting small dragstrips to educate competitors in how to put on an event. They pulled a single trailer with them that contained all the equipment they needed to have a drag race.
They’d arrive a few days before the event and connect with racers, car clubs and local officials to both promote the weekend’s race, as well as to set up the race course.
By the mid-1950s, with the sport firmly established, the Safety Safari no longer toured the country to stage local events, but they’ve continued traveling with an ever-bigger fleet of trucks and trailers to each and every national event, still arriving well in advance of the race and bringing all the equipment needed to prepare the track.
They’ve expanded from the four original crew members to about 15 full-time crew members now, and they spend the week sweeping, scraping and spraying the track surface to insure it’s perfect by the time the race starts. They are also supplemented at the track by part-time crew members, who help to re-prep the track each day, as well as local fire and emergency personnel to help them carry out their on-track rescue operations.
Both full-time and part-time members receive constant training in order to stay proactive on rescue and firefighting methods. The crew also understands the intricacies of the race vehicles they are dealing with and the best ways to get the driver out of the car as quickly and safely as possible. Because of this, drivers are always confident that they are in the best hands should disaster happen.