24h Le Mans
12/01/2018 18:01

Steve Tarrant, a Le Mans track marshal: passion that overrides a handicap…

His Twitter account reads "legless marshal." It is a presumptive handicap, the result of an accident at Goodwood in 2000. Yet, with his passion for motorsport and the 24 Hours of Le Mans intact, Steve Tarrant continued to volunteer every year to ensure the safety of others up until his well-deserved retirement in 2017.

Steve Tarrant, a Le Mans track marshal: passion that overrides a handicap…

Filled with a passion for motorsport since childhood, back when he went to British stock car circuits with his parents (the discipline in which debuted Nick Tandy, winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015), Steve Tarrant first satisfied his passion as a spectator, in Formula 1 then at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: "I went to Le Mans for the very first time in 1983, and it was the beginning of a long love story that endures today! In the early 1990s, I started to get involved in karting. At the time, I had two jobs: computer engineer by day, and an official on the karting tracks in the evenings and on weekends. Slowly but surely, karting led me to auto races, from super touring to historical gatherings like Goodwood."

Sadly, on June 24, 2000 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a competitor lost control of his car on the finish line and brutally struck two marshals. Andy Carpenter was killed and Steve Tarrant lost a leg. So began a long process of recovery, including hospital stays, surgical operations and rehabilitation. Nonetheless, the desire to return to motorsport circuits never left Tarrant, despite the fact some considered it ill-advised. Lord March, the owner of Goodwood, invited him to the Goodwood Revival in September of 2000: "I think he wanted to test my mettle. I had seen images of the accident, but had no idea how I would react on site. In fact, my love for motorsport had not waned and I wanted but one thing, to become a marshal again."

From left to right: Steve Tarrant at the 2017 Goodwood Revival with Tom Kristensen and Derek Bell (Copyright Louis Monnier / ACO) and Steve Tarrant at 2013 Petit Le Mans, at Road Atlanta (Georgia).

To the chagrin of certain individuals who frowned at the prospect of a wheelchair-bound marshal, Steve Tarrant passed the test: returning to Goodwood stirred up no negative memories and he knew he could still be useful at the edge of the track despite having to wait to be physically able. In 2002, the news of Tarrant's return made it to Bernard Nirrengarten. The head of post 106, located between the Arnage corner and the Porsche curves at the 24 Hours circuit, sent him an email inviting him to become part of his team. The Brit's first wife was also a marshal, so both decided to go to Le Mans in 2003 to observe the marshals at work. And so, 20 years after his first visit, Steve Tarrant was back in the fray! "I have only missed one edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans since, in 2005, for medical reasons. I remained loyal as a 'commissaire de piste' to post 106 where no fewer than nine nationalities speaking five languages coexisted in joy and good humour."

Despite his wheelchair, Steve Tarrant required no preferential treatment and in the early years slept in a tent during the eight days of race week. Though eventually he gladly traded the tent for a motorhome, he does not regret the good-natured spirit that reigned within the small group who gathered in the barn of a friendly local resident: "What I loved most about serving as a marshal is the camaraderie...among the volunteers of course, but over the years I've also fraternized with drivers, teams, officials. Le Mans is really one big family!"

It is a family that Steve Tarrant decided to leave this past June, two years after transferring to serve in the pits as a 'commissaire de stands', for well-deserved retirement, finishing at the Goodwood Revival in September of last year. The resident of southern England intends to take some time for himself after so many years watching over others. But that's not all! He is very active in associations helping people with reduced mobility, and would like to continue to pass on his passion for motorsport to young people and get them to volunteer as marshals: "Young people spend a great deal of time on their computers and phones, but I try to show them that nothing can compare to human interaction. While it's great to be paid to do a job, volunteering instils a spirit of camaraderie that cannot be found elsewhere."

Steve Tarrant's experiences in that vein span the globe! From Silverstone to Road Atlanta (three editions of Petit Le Mans to his credit) by way of South Africa, Laguna Seca in California and Le Mans. "To work at different circuits in various countries fosters the exchange of ideas and methods, though it is clear the evolution is the same everywhere. New technologies have guided the function of the marshals, just like the professionalization of motorsport has changed the mentality of drivers and teams. There was a time when crossing the finish line at Le Mans was epic. Today, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has become a 24-hour sprint. But my passion is still just as strong."

The "legless marshal" will be able to indulge his passion once again at the 86th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16th and 17th, with new adventures he will undoubtedly share with you…

Photo (Louis Monnier / ACO) : Steve Tarrant at the Goodwood Revival in 2017.

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