24h Le Mans
24 Hours of Le Mans – Scout support at the circuit
For over 70 years, French scouts and guides have played an important role at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to help ensure that the event runs smoothly off the track. On the world scout movement’s Founders’ Day, we spotlight the many missions performed over the years by this group of volunteers.
Throughout living memory, scouts have always been present at the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans. While we know that the inaugural edition of the famous race was held in 1923, it is unclear exactly when scouts began helping out at the racetrack. The Livre d’Or of the Guynemer scout group of Le Mans indicates that they were a fixture by the time World War II broke out: “Following the attendance of five Rovers from the Guynemer troop at the XIIth National Eucharistic Congress held in Algiers from 3 to 7 May 1939, their fezes made a great impression at the 24 Hours where the Rovers conducted religious services.”
In the 1950s, future ACO president Michel Cosson and his fellow scouts were responsible for the huge display board that overlooked the North pits. They busily updated the standings and identified the retired cars with a red cross while perched on steel gantries some 20 metres above the ground. A head for heights was an essential requirement for the job!
In 1955, the scouts accomplished the vital task of attending to the injured in the aftermath of the tragic accident. In an official letter addressed to Pierre Savin, architect of the City of Le Mans and local leader of the scout movement, the then-Prefect of Sarthe thanked the young scouts for their courage in a very difficult environment.
In 1970, the French scout movement was contacted by the producers of the motion picture Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen, to provide extras for the movie. Chief marshal Jean-Claude Thiébaut agreed that Explorers could take up the role during their summer holiday. McQueen paid regular visits to their post at the site of their usual camp at the circuit and treated them to motorcycle demonstrations.
For around fifty years, scouts carried the national flags of the various teams and drivers during the start ceremony. In recent times, they have branched into the sphere of applied ecology by collecting discarded drinks cans to keep the public enclosure tidy. They also have other functions such as transmitting documents and assisting the priest during the traditional Sunday morning Mass during the race.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans offers an opportunity for scouts to show that the movement continues to apply its notion of service and support while incorporating an ecological dimension. It also gives them the chance to experience and gain awareness of life around the racetrack through aspects of spectator behaviour.