Race officials are an important facet of motorsports.
They enforce safety regulations and make sure that everyone is playing by the rules. One vital duty is that of chief technical inspector.
Bob Jones of Union Mills holds that job Saturday nights at the Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa. and Sunday nights at the Susquehanna Speedway in Newberrytown, Pa.
From March through November, Jones spends every weekend working at the two speedways.
The hours are long. The pay is secondary. He normally is one of the first employees toarrive and one of the last to leave.
"I just enjoy being at the race track," Jones said. "I enjoy helping everyone, especially the little guy.
"I like the people; they are great to be with. You can talk to the driver, whether he is a winner or not. It isn't like other sports. Everyone is real people."
The tech inspector is a crucial function at any track, especially when open wheel sprints cars are involved. The cars go the distance of a football field in about one second.
It's important that their cars are safe. It is not unusual for a sprint to go tumbling through the air, only to have the driver walk away unhurt.
"Safety is the first thing on our mind," Jones emphasized.
He constantly checks the cars to make sure they are in safe operating condition. He makes sure that the seat belts and helmetsare not more that 5 years old; if they are, the driver can't race until he replaces them.
On sprint cars, Jones makes sure the seats are securely fastened to the frame. If the tech inspector doesn't perform his job, drivers could get hurt.
After the safety inspections,Jones checks the cars to make sure their wings aren't too large and they are carrying the required added weight if the car has a light-weight aluminum engine block.
After the races, he will check the motors to make sure they are not larger than the 410-cubic-inch limit.
For the full-bodied cars, he inspects the spoilers, the tires and the body dimensions.
Failure to comply with the rules normally results in forfeit of the winnings for the night.
Many people believe a tech inspector's job is simply to keep the drivers from cheating, but there's more to it than that. Officials like Jones are there to protect the drivers.
Drivers are always trying to find ways to get the edge on their competitors. Sometimes they are able to do it within the rules and at times they bend the rules. Jones must detect any violations.
"I keep watching," said Jones. "It's like a head game. Some of the drivers will try anything. Sometimes the driver will makea change that is legal, but takes the eye of the inspector away fromthe real change."
The beginning of the season is the busiest timefor the tech inspector. But Jones keeps his eye on the cars throughout the year, making an occasional check to keep drivers within the rules.
The 48-year-old Jones has been around racing since he was 11.His father, Bob Sr., has owned race cars most of his life and it wasonly natural for his son to become involved. The elder Jones, who owns East End Tavern in Westminster, still sponsors and owns race cars.
The younger Jones worked on his father's cars until 1983, when hebecame the tech inspector at Trail-Way Speedway in Hanover. Two years later, he was asked to do the same job at Lincoln.
This year, Jones will have another Union Mills man, Bob Dempsey, as his assistant.Jones will be concentrating on the super sprint cars while Dempsey keeps tabs on the other divisions that run weekly at Lincoln.
During the week, Jones operates the vehicle shop at Congoleum Corp. in Finksburg, where he has worked for 25 years.
His four children -- Randy, Wanda, Tammy and Kathy -- all are involved in racing. But his wife Betty has only attended one race.
"She went once to Trail-Way,"recalled Bob. "Just as she was pulling into the track she saw Don (Zechman, of Westminster) flip five times. She pulled back out and has never been back since."
Bob hasn't given any thought to slowing down. Racing is his life.
"It gets in your blood," he explained. "I think about it all the time. I think about ways to improve the rules,how to make it safer. I just think about it all the time."
Auto racing can be a dangerous sport. Yet the accident rates are lower thanfor many other sports.
It has achieved such a level of safety because of men like Bob Jones.