“It’s pretty hectic,” Michelle says. “When you’ve got a race like what’s going on right now, the turn workers will call it in, and if it’s, say, an impact in the wall, they’ll tell us to send out the trucks. You’ve got to figure out what trucks you’ve got to send and where to send them and what equipment has to go. They’ll call in what else they need. You communicate with the stewards and the marshalls and tell them, ‘These are the flags you need to help cover your safety personnel,’ etcetera. With the team that we have we can usually put our track back together within eight minutes for a minor impact. For a flat tow, we can do it in a couple of minutes.” A flat tow refers to hooking up to the car and dragging it off the track. More serious collisions might require a flat truck to physically carry the vehicle off.
Michelle has been working at the Sebring International Raceway for the past 35 years. Becoming Race Control was “kind of a fluke,” she says. Originally from Pahokee, she spent some time in Georgia, and eventually worked as dispatch for the Sebring Airport Authority fire department. One day there was a big fire during the 12 Hours race, and her fire chief had her dispatch fire trucks from the station to handle it. Following that incident, the race track made the decision to have trucks and dispatch onsite, and Michelle was brought on board part-time.
In a male-dominated sport like racing, many are surprised to find a woman at the helm of Race Control, but Michelle isn’t surprised. She explains that in this sport you often find women in safety roles. She loves her job partly because she loves the thrill of the races (she’s an Indy fan) and partly because she gets to meet so many people from all over the world.
“You get to watch the battle between the classes, the cars neck and neck, the excitement of the wrecks. I don’t like seeing anybody hurt, but it’s still exciting,” she says. Michelle doesn’t have a favorite driver. “I like them all,” she says. “To me, everybody’s got a place in the race. Even last place is a place.” She enjoys meeting race industry professionals and even the occasional celebrity. She got to meet Reba McIntyre recently, whom she described as “the sweetest lady I ever met, very Southern.” Unfortunately, the day Harrison Ford visited was her day off.