INDYCAR.com is celebrating Black History Month by honoring men and women who make significant contributions to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Moments into the first practice of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, a car bounced off the Turn 1 wall at Texas Motor Speedway.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team charged with assisting drivers in such moments was quickly on the move and first on the scene, per usual. Ron Marks was riding in the back seat of what’s known as “Safety 1” as a firefighter and EMT. A rookie on the team, this was his first moment in action.
Before opening the door, Marks remembered what he had been instructed to do first: Secure everything, including yourself.
“You’ve got to remember that as you jump out of the truck the track is banked (at 20 degrees) and even though cars are slowing down they’re still flying under you at more than 100 miles per hour,” he said. “You don’t dare drop anything because it will slide down the track and we don’t want (another car) to hit it.
“So, I remember thinking, ‘Grab your tools and hang on.’”
Although Marks has been a member of the Indianapolis Fire Department for 17 years, little compared for this moment. Most of the work in his day job centers on helping citizens in relatively routine situations, such as being on the scene of a traffic accident. Even in the busiest of those runs, cars around him have slowed to about 10-15 mph.
“This,” he said of being on track with INDYCAR, “is exciting, a very surreal experience.”
Marks worked six INDYCAR events last year, including practice for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In addition to Texas, he was on the job for races at Road America, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the Harvest GP on the IMS road course and the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
In St. Petersburg, Marks was in the truck stationed at Turn 4, a busy place to be on race day as NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers tried to strong-arm each other in an important passing zone.
“I think I got out of the truck six or seven times (in the 100-lap race),” he said. “Amazing!”
Marks has tried to explain the sensation to friends who have attended INDYCAR races and those who have only seen it on television. He could not do it justice to either group.
“It’s one of the most exciting things in sport because you can actually feel this sport – you can feel INDYCAR, you can feel the horsepower,” he said. “There’s a pulse as the cars come by that goes through your body. It’s an amazing thing, and that’s what makes this sport unique.”
Marks’ love of horsepower can be traced to his high school days in Dayton, Ohio. The town is a muscle-car town, he said, and he had to have a machine that roared. He bought a 1971 Pontiac possessing plenty under the hood.
“I’m sure my mother didn’t appreciate my fondness for the right pedal because I got her insurance canceled,” he said, laughing.
Marks never grew out of a love for speed. In 2016, he purchased a C7 Chevrolet Corvette, which came with an opportunity to attend the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School in Las Vegas.
For years, Marks worked across the hall from Tim Baughman, a member of the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team since 1996 who today is INDYCAR’s senior director of track safety and medical services. When Baughman invited Marks to consider a role with the team, Marks similarly wasted no time in accepting.
“It didn’t take much convincing, for sure,” he said.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team is comprised of approximately 40 members representing various parts of the emergency rescue system.
Four people occupy each of the three Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab safety trucks, plus a Honda Pilot SUV safety response vehicle, while cars are on track. Other team members are stationed on pit road, bringing the race weekend staff to about 18 members per event.
The trucks carry a 360-degree camera in the windshield and a rear-facing camera, hydraulic rescue tools, reciprocating saws, firefighting equipment, basic life-support supplies, material for fluid cleanup and 35 gallons of water and FireAde. The workers in each safety vehicle have specific assignments.
Marks is scheduled to work a half-dozen races in the upcoming NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, beginning with the opener April 16-18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
As a Black man, Marks is proud to show that INDYCAR is a sport for everyone. He is believed to be the first Black person on the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.
“Kids need to see someone who looks like them in motorsports and in INDYCAR, and this is something they can achieve,” he said. “That’s no different than firefighters. Kids need to see people respond to their needs that look like them, and I’m proud to do that.
“We all look alike once we get the uniform on, which is kind of the beautiful part of it. Like the fire service, none of us want to step out (individually) because we’re a part of the team. We certainly don’t do this alone.”