Most people that have raced have been greeted by the smiling face of Brendan Ferrari, or, if you are naughty, a frowning face! The bloke is a legend. Here is his story...
For Brendan Ferrari, what started as a fill-in flag marshall role at Calder Park to ensure racing could start one weekend in 1982, turned into a life-long passion for officiating across all motorcycle disciplines, from club events to international races.
In November 2019, Brendan was celebrated as Motorcycling Australia’s inaugural winner of the Graham “Checkers” Stewart Official of Year Award.
A highly respected official within the Australian racing scene, Graham Stewart was also known to racing fans for his energetic and flamboyant flag waving over decades at MA National Championships and Australian MotoGP, FIM World Superbikes and Australian Speedway Grand Prix.
Such was Graham’s impact on the sport, to honour his commitment to officiating, Motorcycling Australia created the Graham “Checkers” Stewart Official of Year Award to honour not only Graham, but also outstanding officials and their invaluable work.
“I’m privileged and proud to be the inaugural winner of this award named after Graham “Checkers” Stewart, who I’d been a friend, acquaintance and a peer for more than 20 years,” said Brendan, “I’m very honoured to have received the award, it was a surprise and I was very moved by it”.
Brendan stumbled into the sport accidentally. Having been schooled in inner Melbourne, he applied for a job where he told the interviewer at the time that he was happy to work anywhere. “The guy made a phone call and said you start on Monday, at Springvale. My only question was, is that in Victoria?”
After five weeks of catching a tram, train and bus to and from work, Brendan had had enough and got his motorcycle learners licence and a Yamaha DT175 – or affectionately known as a chook chaser.
“On weekends I’d go away and attend races as a spectator and I remember the Clerk of Course doing the standard thing back then of ‘We need some people to stand on corners to help and make the event run’. I said to myself I was interested in that, so I started standing on corners!” Brendan laughed.
“My first memory was Calder Park and a Victorian Road Racing title run by the Sandringham club in about 1982-83. In 1984 Race Marshalls Victoria was formed and I joined as one of the founding members and have been ever since.”
Brendan is a member of the Hartwell, Preston and Harley Motorcycle Clubs and well known throughout the sport for his roles as Clerk of Course, Race Secretary, Race Starter at club, state and MA National championship level competitions and has also waved the chequered flag at some of Australia’s biggest motorcycle race meetings.
But at least once a year he will stand on a corner as a flag marshal, a role which he still has a significant passion for. “I still enjoy doing that, a corner where I can see the skill of a rider,” said Brendan. “A corner where you see the skill of someone diving up the inside of a corner or the outside of the corner because they have to pass someone”.
Today, Brendan is a member of Series Officials of the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK), and the buzz he gets is from ensuring these events run efficiently and professionally.
“For example, making sure we are set up for the day, do we have enough gear to do the job for the day, are we organised? I enjoy working with volunteer marshals from across Australia and giving something back to new marshals by sharing my experience and expertise”.
“ASBK operates at a very professional level so as ASBK Series Officials we need to be at our best. Due to MA development and training, we are getting more people running through training courses and we are getting more skilled people, so the return to the riders is a real improvement, the rider has more confidence in the marshals.
“Years ago at MotoGP we had a guy at pit exit doing the blue flag and the international riders would look at him but also check over their shoulder to make sure it was safe to enter the track, but after two sessions they stopped looking over their shoulder as they had trust in him. This guy was quite proud, he didn’t preen about it, and that’s what it is about, giving riders confidence”.
Brendan joined Race Marshals Victoria (RMV) 36 years ago, before the first Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and as RMV president, that’s how he became sector leader at the first Grand Prix.
Brendan said he gets a kick out of encouraging and directing people at race meetings and implores them to have fun and enjoy the front row seats to the spectacular racing.
What is it about the sport that enthrals Brendan?
“The biggest buzz I get is seeing a guy or girl that comes through the juniors and you see them develop as a senior rider and showing their skill. Superbike riders like Mike Jones and Daniel Falzon are two really good riders who have come through to the top level. Both are willing to talk to fans, talk to the media, and it wasn’t like that in the earlier days.
“Today in MotoGP there are people like Valentino Rossi who has changed the way riders interact, he is happy to talk to the media, sign autographs and he’s made an art of it. Go behind the pits when riders are signing autographs and the last one signing them is Valentino, whereas a number of the guys will only be sited at the track, he’s happy to spend a lot of time with fans.
“But for me it is also about watching riders grow and develop. It’s about seeing riders improve their times, not necessarily winning. I don’t care if you have come last, I’ll ask a rider who may seem down how did you go and they respond with I finished in a certain position. But then I’ll ask how their lap times were, and they say I beat it by, say, 10 seconds, with a big smile.
“I’ll respond – isn’t that brilliant you beat your personal best time! You can see in their face when they realise they are improving, and that is just brilliant, that’s what it is about making improvements, it’s not always about winning.”
Has officiating over the years changed?
“There have been significant changes over the years,” said Brendan, “In the early days of marshalling there were no radios, so everything was done by hand signal. I remember one time I was marshalling on the grass at Winton and my only protection was my backpack. We now have shelters and protection on corners for flag marshals, which makes it comfortable for them. We want to keep our officials happy, so they come back again, because at the end of the day without officials there is no racing.”
What advice does Brendan have for anyone looking at starting out as an official?
“Join a state based marshalling group, every state has one, you will get training and direction on what sort of events you can do whether that’s motocross, speedway, road racing or other disciplines. New volunteers are always welcome at rounds of the ASBK and it is easy to get in contact for those that want to be involved through the ASBK website.
“I’ve flagged at motocross, classic motocross, speedway, trials, road racing, enduro, club, state and Motorcycling Australia Championship events. One of the things that is good about MotoGP is we have lots of marshals, but a lot of them are doing it to just tick off a bucket list item and we would like them to do more events through the year and get deeply involved in the sport”.
Brendan also has some strong beliefs on why it is important to wave the chequered flag with enthusiasm no matter if the competitor finishes first or last.
“The rule says the chequered flag is displayed to the winner and everyone else who subsequently crosses the finish line, and I’m a fan of you do it enthusiastically for the whole field,” he said.
“I remember two or three years back doing the chequered flag at Broadford for motocross and gave each rider the same enthusiasm, and a voice came over the radio saying ‘You are not going to be doing that the whole day’, and I said, ‘Want a be?’ Riders are entitled to it, they are doing their best and no matter where they finish I try and give the same enthusiasm with the chequered flag for those that finish first right through to the last rider”.
Who drove the professionalism in officiating?
“My first few meetings I ever did I was just an extra body and there was no obvious person there. The ones who made it more professional were people like Paul Bennett, who helped create Race Marshals Victoria in the early 1980s.
“We are there to help the competitors and that was something he drove. All officials play a critical role in helping rider safety. From urgent radio communication, to flag waving or assisting riders after a crash. The riders rely on the marshals every time they go out on track”.
For Brendan, there have been many highlights throughout his many years of officiating.
“One of the great things about racing is when it is close and when you get the final round like you did at Sydney Motorsport Park last year for the Australian Superbike Championship, it was fantastic.
“There were four or five riders fighting for the championship, it was brilliant racing, and that’s why you go to see the racing. They are the things that people want to go and watch and that’s what officials want to go and see”.
But for Brendan, one shining historical moment stands out above them all.
“Waving the chequered flag to Mick Doohan when he won his fifth MotoGP title at Phillip Island, that was very special, and definitely my number one highlight. Another would be attending every one of the Australian Grand Prix’s at Phillip Island and at Eastern Creek and also being only one of seven officials who attended every Grand Prix race.
“Having Phillip Island in our backyard and being our track, that’s something very special. It’s a flowing track, and the riders love it, and anyone can win as it is down to skill, not necessarily top speed”.
Where does Brendan see Australia sits in the world of motorcycling racing?
“Australia bats well above average in terms of motorcycle racing and across all disciplines. If you had asked me in the middle of the year 2000, Mick Doohan head and shoulders above everyone else, he is just stunningly impressive. But for Doohan to win back to back, his pole position times were consistently perfect, the style that suited him didn’t suit others, and to win five in a row, just amazing”.
Is there anything left on Brendan’s bucket list?
“I’d like to step back from doing my other roles, and one day go back onto a corner at World Superbikes or MotoGP, I have never done that and it is something I’d love to do. I enjoy flagging and don’t care what corner they give me”.
Is there a world sporting event he would love to officiate at?
“Mugello Grand Prix has a lot going for it, working as flag marshal at an International MotoGP would be wonderful. You need your Italian passport for MotoGP and I’m in the process of doing that and also improving my Italian”.
Does Brendan have a retirement plan?
“My version of retirement would be happily standing on a corner and waving a flag,” he said laughing, “I would simply be able to sit back from the stress of running a meeting to flagging on a corner”.
So, the next time you are at the track you may see Brendan still riding his trusty BMW or his updated chook chaser, now a Suzuki DRZ400, or buzzing around on an electric bicycle around inner city Melbourne – say hi!
And next time you are at any track around the country, whether it is your local club race, an MA National Championship or FIM World Championship, take a moment to say thanks to the volunteers who make our sport possible and in many cases, just like Brendan, give up many weekends to help keep the riders safe.