VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- For most people, the thunderous setting of a NASCAR track on race day would not be considered a tranquil environment.
However, that's not the case with Tech. Sgt. Erin L.Tallman, non commissioned officer in charge of knowledge operations in the 14th Air Force Knowledge Management office at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. "It may seem weird, but being on the track with 35 cars going 200 miles per hour, while I can't hear anything, is actually calming and very relaxing to me," said Tallman.
In addition to her full time Air Force career, Tallman has been serving as a member of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway pit fire crew for more than seven years. "Back in 2005 I went to a race as a volunteer to work security," said the Rhinelander, Wis., native. "I happened to meet the fire chief and he said I had a good eye for safety. He invited me to come back in January for training. So that's what I did, and I started working my first race in March 2006."
Tallman's training included hands-on lessons on how to maneuver fire extinguishers over the track's safety wall, as well as instructions on how to use the extinguisher if a driver is still in the car. Crew members are also trained on other aspects of their counterparts' roles. These duties include retrieving debris from the track, removing a driver from a wrecked car and proper procedures for calling in tow trucks. "It's very intense training," said Tallman. "But then again, racing is very intense and so are the crashes and fires. You have to be ready to react at a moment's notice."
Fast forward to 2013, and Tallman now has 16 races under her belt with number 17 coming up this weekend during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race set for Sept. 28, in Las Vegas, Nev. As part of the track's pit fire crew, fire safety is the chief concern for Tallman and her teammates. During races the crew is responsible for maintaining the fire extinguishers next to the wall on pit road. When the cars come in for pit stops, they stand ready to act if a fire breaks out from sparks that may ignite overflow gasoline during refueling. There are also teams that work in the track's garage area to manage fuel stations that need assistance.
In addition to fire safety, traffic control is also another area where crew members operate. After a promotion, Tallman now spends most her time on race day working in this capacity.
"I manage all the cars that come on and off the track," she said. "I stand at the entrance/exit of pit road, and if there is an accident the cars will come through me for direction on which way they need to go."
Tallman said one of her more memorable experiences working with the crew happened just after the LVMS track had been redone with new higher banks. "It was the first truck race and we were all excited about it," she said. "The trucks had gone out on the track, and I had just been moved up to traffic control. I was standing by the wall waiting for them to come down pit road when two trucks struck the inner wall and came sliding right at me. I had to jump back over the wall or I would have been hit. No one expected the trucks to actually come flying down pit road, but they did and they were sideways."
There are more than 100 members that come from Utah, Texas, California and Oregon on Tallman's team.
"I would have never thought I would be working on a NASCAR track so close to the action," said Tallman. "It's an amazing feeling, and a once in a life time dream." However, there may be one thing that could possibly make the experience even better. "If they would just let me drive," she said.