Thursday, October 23, 2014

No politics in sight


Everyone you speak to at the moment seems to either be moaning about something or making it more into off-track politics than the racing out on the tarmac.  Racing for me has always been a hobby; something that my Dad and I can do together and have lots of enjoyment out of.  We meet great people and create lots of brilliant memories to look back on.  Yes, we have bad days and there have been times I question our sanity doing it, but it’s our way of life and we love it.  Regardless of who got a black flag or what car you can race it is still a hobby.  We all have work on Monday and I am under no illusion that I will ever make a penny from it.  I think if more people took this approach and actually enjoyed each race the formula would be better off!

Since I started racing again I’ve spent more time than ever in the car and it has been a pretty up and down ride the entire way.  Going into the third qualifying round at Mendips I’d scored the grand total of one point!  It would be easy to get carried away with the aforementioned politics about this meeting but I think everything that needs saying has already been said - so I’ll leave it at that.  The car was hateful in practice but after several adjustments for the first race it was better.  The race went pretty well on the unusual track and I managed to pick up a third at the flag.  This was unfortunately going to be the only points for the day with me ending the other two races on the centre green having been spun out on both occasions.  Still, the car was straight and we were heading home with a few points.  I actually don’t mind the track.  It’s different from anywhere else we race and makes a bit of a change from the usual places we go. 

Back in the garage we decided to make a few big changes and see if we could improve the car a little bit and with the Slick Cars running at Birmingham we headed off to give the car a run round.  The atmosphere at a Slick Car meeting is the exact opposite to Nationals - no one rushes around or takes things too seriously . . . they arrive, race and go home again!  There is a mixture of cars and some pretty handy drivers too.  I was starting a lap behind which gave me a chance to play with the car and make changes.  The car got better each race and we left feeling positive progress had been made.

However, feeling there were still more things we could do to improve the car.  We went back up to the Wednesday practice night at Birmingham a couple of days later and after lots of runs and many changes I felt the car was actually better than it was before we decided to take a little break from racing.

So on Saturday we headed back for the third time in a week with thoughts set firmly on racing.  I love Birmingham at the best of times and always look forward to a meeting there.  It turned into a good evening with the car going well and I managed to finish each race in the top ten, collecting some much needed points - and I had a straight car!  The only downside to so many trips to Birmingham is that I am starting to get bored of Big John’s - sad but true!

Back in the garage we had the car in bits again and made yet more changes - sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the only way to find out is to try.  Ipswich had turned into a bit of a problem track for me so we felt we had nothing to lose.  Even from the first lap in practice I knew we’d done the right thing and the car actually felt okay.

Even though it was a pretty intense and action packed night I managed to survive all the chaos and once again get top tens in each race, with a fifth, fourth and eighth respectively.  I felt I could have done better in the final but compared to lots of others I have nothing to moan about.  Even though it’s not my favourite track there is something special about Hot Rods under the lights on a Saturday night at Foxhall.  It was a shame to see the numbers down though, and hopefully they will pick up again after the winter break.

We’re not able to make Tipperary for the Irish Open so that just leaves us with one meeting to go before the winter break.  Then it will be time to get the car sorted ready for my favourite weekend of the year, the NEC.  There’s no telling how the car will go at Hednesford or what will happen, but I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time

Mikey

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ten days, four meetings, three countries and a very long walk.


So much has happened since you last heard from me that I don’t know where to start.  One thing for sure though, I’ve been really busy!

After a terrible first meeting we decided to go back to the drawing board and make some more changes to the car.  With these all done we headed off to Birmingham to do some testing and see if we’d managed to make any improvements.  After lots of fiddling around and changes we got the car to a point where I felt happy with it and we came home feeling pleased with ourselves.

I was really looking forward to racing at Hednesford the following Monday but the only thing the rain brought for us was more trouble!  No matter what we did to the car, on the wet track it just wanted to spin the wheels.  This, mixed with the fact I kept breaking my goggles leaving me unable to see, made for another pretty disastrous day.

This left me with a big decision to make on the Saturday because I was heading up to Scotland to walk the West Highland Way with my friends - a 96 mile walk from the edges of Glasgow to Fort William spread over 5 days.  The big decision being the British Championship over in Northern Ireland the day after we finished walking.  Any sensible person would have decided against it - but not me.  Not only did I decide to race in Ulster but thought it might be a good idea to go and tick off my dream of racing at Cowdenbeath as well.

So at 4am with the car loaded up with wheels and tyres, spares, clothes and several pairs of walking boots I headed off to Scotland.  I’ve wanted to race at Cowdie ever since I saw the place.  It has an atmosphere all of its own and in my eyes is the best track anywhere in the UK.  Although I was slow on the night it’s still up there with one of the best experiences I have ever had in a race car.  You have to forget everything you’ve ever learnt about racing lines and be very brave if you want to be fast round there.  When you’re going up the straight flat out and couldn’t get a sheet of paper between you and the infamous Wall, it’s exciting to say the least!  Robert McDonald was racing and completely in a class of his own.  Watching his speed out of the corners was scary and I can only imagine what it felt like in the car.

I definitely have the bug for Cowdenbeath and can’t wait to go back - hopefully with a bit more bravery next time so I can be quicker.  The only downside being the fact it’s 400 miles from my house.  I have always been a big fan of Hot Rods in Scotland and the welcome I got from everyone was great.  I know I keep saying it, but it has potential to be such a good series and it would be a shame to see it die off.

The next day was spent getting John’s and my car ready for the British before heading off into Edinburgh to see the fireworks in the evening.  I just want to say thanks to my mate Richard who gave up his entire day to help me get the car done, and also to John for letting me use his workshop and for storing the car all week.

I won’t bore you with lots of details about the walk but what a great experience and sense of achievement it was.  You really felt you’d earned every pint and at times the effort required just to put one foot in front of the other was huge.  It was worth it though as the scenery and the laughs along the way were second to none.  The highlight for me was spending a night in a converted train station and a train coming through and stopping in the middle of the night!  It was a brilliant few days with a great group of friends and I would do it again in a instant . . . regardless of what my feet think!

From here on in things got a little hectic.  Our train left Fort William at 5pm and we arrived back at John’s around 11pm.  By the time we’d sorted out and gone to bed it was midnight and we had to get up and leave for the ferry at 3am.  Luckily I managed to borrow our friend Kev to drive to the ferry so I could get a little sleep on the way.   The ferry itself was a good laugh and I was excited about my first time racing in Ulster.

Once off the ferry we did have some time to spare so headed off to Ronnie McMillan’s where John changed his diff.  Ronnie went on a fuel run for us all, so thank you big man!  From here we set off in a ten vehicle convoy to Aghadowey, the only track anywhere in the UK that Nationals race on and I haven’t been to.

Although it looked as if it was going to rain a few times it stayed dry all night and I drew a middle of the pack start in both my races.  I didn’t perform any miracles but finished both and managed to qualify for the British Championship the next day.  After the racing I had one pint (how times have changed) before heading back to the hotel . . . after a ten minute panic looking for the car keys.  Turned out I’d left them in the car all along!

The next day we set off to Tullyroan for the big race.  I was starting quite near the back and just wanted to finish so I could cross it off the list.  It wasn’t to be though with the prop-shaft coming loose after just a handful of laps.  Never mind, it’s just one of those things and it could have been a lot worse.  Although I wasn’t fast I really enjoyed the experience and want to thank everyone for all their help.   It’s tough going racing on your own and I really appreciate everyone helping me - Deane Wood was even filling the car up with fuel at one point!  I also want to thank Rodney from PC Paints & Components for the hotel and Big David for driving the jeep all weekend.

I don’t like it when holidays end and to add an extra day I was intending to head back to John’s from the ferry and go home Monday lunch time.  The plan quickly changed though when there was a road shut and the diversion took you the route I would use to head home.  With the help of Brendon Smith and James from team 174 we all drove back through the night and I arrived back at home completely knackered at 6am.

Overall it was an amazing ten days, getting to race at 4 tracks in 3 countries, an awesome walk in between and spending time with all my friends and seeing new places.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  I think it’s fair to say that I really do love to travel!

One last thing before I sign off: I want to congratulate George Macmillan Jr on winning the F2 world final at Cowdenbeath.  The one time I don’t go and that happens!  Still, it’s great to see T&B Motors down the side of a world champion’s car.  I’m so pleased for you mate and I’m gutted I missed it.

This is a pretty rubbish time of the year now with all the good summer stuff over with but we still have few meetings left so I’ll have plenty to tell you about, including the annual trip to Mendips.  I’ll leave that until next time though - don’t want you getting bored!

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time

Mikey

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A much-enjoyed break

Sorry you haven’t heard from me for a while.  What started out as a little break from the racing turned into a hectic few months of work and weekends away.  I think over the three months since I last drove a National Hot Rod, I’ve visited ten different tracks and attended five different weekend race meetings.

If I were to tell you about them all I’d be typing way into next year and you’d be bored to death of me.  They all followed a very similar structure though: great racing, great friends and usually plenty of beer!  I’ve always said I’m not a huge fan of watching racing but the BriSCA F1 and F2 Stock Cars have really got me hooked and I’ve had lots of enjoyment watching them, although it’s no substitute for racing myself.

This year’s Ipswich Spedeweekend was the first time for many years I’ve been there without a car, and although I helped John I couldn’t help but feel a bit lost.  Saying that though, when I saw the weather on Sunday I’ll admit I was quite glad I wasn’t out there for the big race.  It was still a very enjoyable weekend and a great time to catch up with people I only see once a year.

With lots going on at work the plan was for my friend Besty to come back from Ipswich with me and stay for a week to help us out while we got the new computer system set up and running.  Now, this plan was flawed from the start, with Besty spending most of Spedeweekend in hospital after a Red Bull drinking session went badly wrong.  Then everything veered off course even more when instead of flying home after Skegness he decided to stay a while longer . . . eventually heading home after the National Championship weekend at Hednesford a month later!

While he was here we went to a different track each weekend starting with Skegness, then Northampton, Mildenhall and ending up at Hednesford to see out the summer weekenders!  Racing or not, it’s impossible not to enjoy National Weekend, and although it wasn’t as mad as it has been on previous years, it was still a great weekend.

Once again I found myself helping out on the 629 car and just making a general nuisance of myself around the pits.  This was followed by the usual mad Friday night in the bar, and ended with me sleeping in John’s van with my boots and hat on and a bottle of Budweiser still in my hand.

Saturday was a different story altogether and as soon as the Hot Rods had finished racing it was off with big Les Waller to Coventry to watch the BriSCA F1s do some shale shifting!  It actually turned out to be a really good meeting and certainly worth staying off the beer for.  Not being one to miss a party though, Les dropped me off at the track afterwards so I could see what was happening - although I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t have a single beer all night.  I must be getting old!

With all this going on, my poor car found itself stripped out and neglected in the back of the workshop.  The week after Hednesford I headed up to John Toovey’s to pick the new engine up, only to find we had to make a few chassis adjustments for it to fit.  I’ll tell you now, the one thing you don’t want to see six days before your first meeting is a bare chassis having bits cut out of it with an angle grinder!  After a few late nights it was all in and ready to go.  I do remember saying last time that we were going to be organised and get everything sorted so we didn’t have a last minute rush.  I should have realised this was slightly ambitious and I found myself finishing it before I went to work on the day we raced, and Jay having to sticker it in the Foxhall pits between practice and the first race!

I would like to thank everyone who helped get us back on track, especially everyone at Toovey Race Engines for the great new engine, Brendon Smith for cutting bits out of the chassis, my Dad for some very late nights in the workshop and Kym Weaver for the endless texts and phone calls about set up and general Hot Rod stuff!

After such a long time without driving a Hot Rod I really couldn’t wait to get out on track at Ipswich, although as soon as I’d completed a lap I knew we’d made several very big mistakes in regard to setting up the car.  We’d cured one problem but in doing so created an even worse one.  The entire night was spent making changes and slowly improving it but I spent each race plodding around at the back, just making up the numbers and retiring half way through the final as I was rapidly going backwards.  Regardless of all this, I still absolutely loved being back racing again and it has really given me the bug for the rest of the year.   However, it’s back to the drawing board with regard to set up.

I have an exciting few weeks coming up with lots of racing planned and a little 100 mile walk across the Scottish Highlands slotted in between!  This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and I can’t wait to set out on what I know is going to be a great adventure with brilliant friends.

I just want to say thanks to everyone for making it such an excellent few months.  I’ve learnt a few valuable lessons - the main one being “don’t believe a man from Northern Ireland when he says he’s just staying for a week”!

Thanks as ever for reading.  I promise to be more frequent now I’m back in the racing seat again.

Until next time.

Mikey

Monday, June 9, 2014

A run of bad luck


Sitting down and having a think after the European we decided that there were a few things we wanted to try with the car.  Slick Cars were racing on the Saturday night at Birmingham so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out any changes.  The car didn’t need much work and bar any disaster we only had a diff change to be ready for the Bank Holiday meeting at Hednesford.  Quaife had recalled the new sequential box so we had the old standard box back in.

The Slick Cars were pretty hectic and the races were much shorter than a National race so with all sorts of cars on the track they were certainly action-packed.  I hadn’t gone with racing in mind and changed the car pretty radically each time I went out.  Starting last car for each race I never had any results to speak of but learnt a lot about the car and the limits we could go to with certain things.  John was also down racing a Stox Kart but they were on the race before me so unfortunately I didn’t get to watch him - but reports have told me he spent lots of time bouncing round the track!  My friends Stuart and Dianne had also come down from Scotland so their daughter Taylor could race her little Ninja Kart.  This is such a great formula for the youngsters, and teaches them so much about racing for when they are old enough to race Ministox.  She did very well, finishing every race before heading off to Aldershot to race at another meeting the following day.

We decided to change the car again for Hednesford and spent all the next day in the garage!  The changes worked, and even from the first lap the car felt the best it ever has on the super fast track.  The race was going well and I ended up in the front pack fighting for the lead.  I got a little carried away at this point though and executed a move which the stewards didn’t agree with, resulting in a black flag and retirement to the middle with only a handful of laps to go.  Although I think the decision was a bit tough who am I to argue - I go racing to enjoy myself so will leave the politics and drama to everyone else!

The second race was pretty uneventful really; I finished in the points with no damage and nothing exciting to report.  The final was much more intense though with Shaun Taylor and myself battling lap after lap for second place.  I was on the outside and really enjoying a great race with him.  We both gave each other plenty of respect and in my eyes it was just good close Hot Rod racing.  It ended in disaster though as the pack all came in together going into turn one, resulting in me parked in the Armco facing the wrong way!  Luckily the car was fine and the result was declared from the previous lap so I got the points and a nice trophy as well.

Once again there wasn’t much work to do after the meeting to get ready for the double header.  The new gearbox was fitted and the rest of the jobs went smoothly and we actually managed to load the car the night before the meeting rather than five minutes before we left.  Looking back now I should have known it was all too good to last. . .
The least I say about the following two days the better - in all my years of racing I have never felt so bad.  It started out with the gear ratios being completely to pot in practice but Robert McDonald quickly jumped in and changed them for me ready for the first heat.  I really struggled for the next two races but couldn’t pinpoint why.  Luckily Kym Weaver was on hand and figured it out before I headed out for the final.  Basically, someone had been round and adjusted all the shock absorbers on the car . . . not by a little amount either - 9 or 10 clicks on each corner!  Now I’ve never once pretended to be fast - let’s face it, I’m not really a threat to anyone, so for someone to go and do this is a really dirty trick.  I must admit it left me feeling pretty down and disheartened for a few days afterwards.

The car was back on peak for the final and I was really enjoying the race.  Luck just wasn’t on my side again though and as I crossed under the starters post to begin the last lap I had a mechanical failure once again relegating me to the infield from 5th position.

Unfortunately the car wasn’t going to be repaired for the next day but Danny Hunn very kindly offered to lend me his car so I could try and grab a few points and keep myself up in the qualifying places.  So it was a quick trip home to sort out some wheels and a few other bits before heading off to Suffolk the following morning.

The first problem was that Danny is much bigger than me so we used foam and cushions as padding so I could fit in the car with a certain degree of comfort.  A block of wood was added to the clutch pedal so I could reach that and then I was good to go - or so I thought . . .

Due to a slight technical hiccup the first race was a bit of a non-starter and some contact in the second race left me in the wall with a corner hanging off the car.  Not really what I wanted, two wrecked cars in less than a day!  Back in the pits we got Danny’s car rolling again but decided we’d had more than enough bad luck for one weekend and went to watch the final from the safe side of the fence.

I would like to thank Danny and the rest of the Hunn family for kindly lending me the car and for all their help on the day.  Sorry I made such a balls-up of it!  I would also like to thank everyone else for all their help over the two days.

Coming away from the meeting and letting my head settle overnight, Dad and I have made the pretty tough decision to take a short break from racing - until the first round at Ipswich in August.  I don’t feel happy about it but have lots going on at the moment and it’s the perfect chance to get the car sorted at our leisure and do a bit of testing before we come back refreshed and raring to go.  I love my racing but I know this is the right decision to make for now.  It will also give my wallet a chance to recover!

I would like to thank everyone for their continuing support.  I plan to keep blogging during my break and sharing any other adventures I have with you.  I’d like to wish all my friends “Good luck” for the end of the season and the Hot Rod World Final at Spedeweekend.  I’ll be helping on the 629 car or loitering in the bar.  Remember mine’s a Budweiser!

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time

Mikey

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A big number, a long trip and a very wet day!


According to my calculations this is my 100th blog.  It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing them that long but when I look back the first one was in November 2010 - so thank you to everyone who has read them for the best part of four years.  There have been plenty of good times, two World Finals, countless crashes, thousands of miles travelled, lots of new friends made and far too many hangovers along the way!

I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the 100th milestone than with a trip to Lochgelly for the European Championship.  Now, my last attempt at the European was Tipperary in 2011 when I took the journey over to Ireland with Gavin Murray.  It was a complete disaster of a weekend ending with me ripping a wheel off in the final and leaving us chasing our tails to make it back to the ferry on time!

Before I could even set off this time I had a problem though as Dad wasn’t coming and my pickup was for sale at a friend’s garage - so I had no way of actually getting there.  It was getting to the point where I was considering taking the work Transit!  Those of you ‘in the know’ will understand why I wasn’t exactly excited at this idea!  Luckily I had the call just in time to say the new car was ready so it was a quick trip to Exeter to collect it before quite literally folding the seats down and loading it with spares, and hitching the Hot Rod and trailer on the back.  Criminal I know, but all part of the things we do for Hot Rod racing!

My plan was to leave around lunch time on Thursday and take a slow trip up the road arriving around 7pm.  This wasn’t the case though after I was running late anyway and then found I had no lights on the trailer.  I finally managed to leave around 3pm causing me a very slow trip up because of the traffic, finally arriving around 10.30pm.  It’s a long trek at the best of times, but on your own - and with a trailer - it seemed never-ending and I have never been so glad to pull up outside John’s workshop as I was that night.

The next morning I was up early to go and pick up my friends Chris (Lehec) and Steve from the airport - they were flying up for the weekend to sample the Scottish beer and somehow got roped into helping me the entire time.  Thanks guys, it was much appreciated.  From the airport it was straight back to John’s to get sorted ready for practice.  My car was ready but John was as disorganised as ever and we still had a few things to do before we could go.

Although I have been to Lochgelly many times before it was actually the first time I had driven a car around the track.  It was a horrible day and the track couldn’t quite decide if it was wet or dry, and the car couldn’t quite decide which way it wanted to point, so after a few tense laps I decided a few changes were in order and pulled off into the middle.  We made these changes and I had a few more practices until the car started to feel a bit better.  John didn’t have a great afternoon either ending it with a half shaft snapped in the diff.

We’d arranged a trip to the Speedway on the Friday night with a bus picking everyone up from their hotels and the track, but just as they arrived the racing was cancelled due to the rain so the only option left was for everyone to go to the pub!  This was never going to end well and although I left feeling a little worse for wear I can guarantee I felt a lot better the next morning than Deane Wood!  It was a good night though and I enjoyed chatting and catching up with everyone.

The weather for the next day looked horrendous and everyone seemed to be waiting for the inevitable downpour.  Thankfully it never came and although it constantly threatened the track actually stayed dry for the entire weekend.  Now I’ll just add before I go any further just how good a track and venue Lochgelly actually is.  Mix this with what can only be described as the best drivers in National Hot Rods (plus me!) and you were always going to be left with a really great meeting . . . as Graham Brown said “Possibly the best of the decade.”

If I’m honest I was a little out of my depth and struggled all weekend.  I had a mid-pack draw and although I finished both heats I think they were both in around 14th place.  I was getting frustrated with myself though as I felt I was trying but just couldn’t get it to come together.  However, the two finishes were enough for me to qualify 15th for the European.  Now I must admit the buzz before any big race is amazing but the parade lap on Saturday under the lights was electrifying.  It was worth the drive up just for the atmosphere of driving round on the two rolling laps before the green flag dropped.  Although not an exciting race for me, the 45 laps seemed to fly by and I was just happy to get to the end in one piece and tick it off the list of championships I have finished.  Massive congratulations to John Christie on his win, and 10 out of 10 for commitment to Robert McDonald!

Saturday night was very tame really by Scottish standards, and although I didn’t go to sleep very early, very little beer was consumed.  In hindsight this was probably a good thing as I woke up feeling fresh and ready to go the next day.  Once again the weather was being kind but it was very quickly going to turn into the wettest race meeting of my life!  Looking back I wondered why I was getting so many funny looks as I went to sign on . . .  Just as I walked out of the office Deane pounced and emptied a large and freezing cold fire extinguisher over me.  It turns out I was the only person who didn’t know about this planned revenge attack dating back to South Africa, and now we’re square it looks like the race is on to see who can get the other first.  If you see either of us with water over the next few months it’s probably best to avoid us . . . and I must remember to take spare clothes racing with me for a while as I know this isn’t over yet!

After that incident I was going to be soggy all day so it was time to get unloaded and get back on with it.  Once again I had a mid-pack draw and had very similar results to the night before.  For some reason I just couldn’t get it to come together at all.  The car is brilliant at the moment so the only other option is down to driver error!  Once again two finishes saw me qualify 12th for the Scottish Open, and I think out of all the 6 races this was my best one.  I finished 11th and was happy knowing I had a complete car to take home with me.  Robert was totally in a league of his own and flew round on his way to victory.

I decided to stay the Sunday night, get some sleep, then head for home at 4am on Monday morning and go straight to work.  The drive home didn’t seem any quicker and I have huge respect for the guys and girls who come down week in, week out either racing or supporting - it’s a huge amount of commitment, let alone a gargantuan fuel bill!

Scotland is like a second home to me and although I didn’t do very well it was great to get up there and race.  I want to thank all my friends for their hospitality and help, especially John and Kylie who I’m sure will be changing the locks to keep me out soon!  Also thanks to Chris and Steve for travelling such a long way and helping me, especially when they had such a mammoth car re-building task on back at home.

I still enjoy my racing as much now as when I started writing these blogs and have no intention of packing in just yet.  A huge “Thank You” to everyone who takes the time to read them and share in my hectic little life.  Here’s to the next hundred!

Until next time

Mikey

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Plenty to report - part 2

So here I am back again, and this time I’m going to bring you bang up to date with what’s happening and how things have been going for me over the recent weeks.

After Birmingham there wasn’t a great deal to do to the car besides all the usual things, but there were a few tweaks we wanted to try on the suspension and spent quite a long time fiddling with it until we got it how we felt was right.  It’s amazing how long all these things take though and even what you think will be a simple job can end up taking the entire evening.

Seeing as I had no racing I decided to head up to Scotland for John (Sibbald)’s first meeting of the year.  Besty and Norden were heading over from Northern Ireland too so we made a road trip of it.  I picked them up from Birmingham Airport at 8pm on the Friday and we drove up through the night.  It was easily one of the funniest journeys of my life.  It took me ten minutes to get a sentence out at one point - I just couldn’t talk from laughing so much!

Saturday night saw my first trip to the Racewall at Cowdenbeath to watch the Stock Cars and Saloons.  I don’t know what it is about that place but I absolutely love it.  There isn’t an atmosphere to match it anywhere and the racing is first class as well.  It would have been rude not to go out after the racing so once the clothes had been changed it was back out the door and time to sample some of the legendary Scottish night life.  It’s a long story as to what happened but I ended up in the pub until 6am after everyone got split up!

Regardless of a pretty severe headache the next morning no doubt due to some bad ice or an iffy kebab eaten the night before, it was time to get down to the serious business of John’s first meeting of 2014 at Lochgelly.  After all the work from everyone over the winter it was great to see it all pay off with John not only winning a heat but the final too!  The car looked good all day and I gradually started feeling better too!  It was a great weekend and brilliant to see everyone.  It really left me buzzing to get back up for the European!  HRP have a great complex and I can’t wait to try both the track and the new bar out for myself!

It’s fair to say the trip home was more subdued than the one up and it seemed to go on and on but we got back safe and seeing as the lads didn’t go home until Tuesday evening I managed to get a couple of days work out of them driving the truck and picking up a few scrap cars.  Cheers guys - I’ll make sure I buy you a few beers!

Almost as soon as Besty had gone home it was time for him to come back.  My parents were heading away for the week and he flew over to give me a hand at work whilst they were away.  Before any work was done though, we had the small matter of a meeting at Ipswich to deal with.  After driving John’s car there a few weeks before it was great to get out in my own and do a few laps.  As soon as I did a lap in practice I knew all the changes we’d made to the set up had worked.

The first race was pretty uneventful.  After trying the outside for the lead I ended up getting rail-roaded back a few places and finishing somewhere mid-pack.  The second race was brilliant though, and after making a pass stick on the outside I managed to hold on to the lead and take the win - my first in over 18 months and my first with the Duratech under the bonnet.  I love my racing no matter what, but taking a win after so long felt good and made all the work we’ve put into the car worthwhile.  I have always had faith in John Toovey and the Duratech and it was nice when it all fell into place and worked.

The final was another good race and although I didn’t perform any miracles I really enjoyed it.  I scored points in every race, the car wasn’t damaged and I managed to take a trophy and some prize money home!  All in all it was a very good night out!

Besty bought us tickets for Brands Hatch to watch the first round of the Touring Cars the day after getting home from Foxhall at 3am, so the idea of getting up again at 7am and driving two hours to get there didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm…  But I’m glad we did, and I really enjoyed my first taste of circuit racing.  The facilities are great but the prices are frighteningly expensive!  I was also shocked at how many people we knew there - we even heard Dave Longhurst being interviewed at one point!  The racing was great and the sound of the Touring Cars is something else - it just doesn’t have the closeness and excitement of oval racing though so don’t panic, I won’t be jumping ship just yet.

With my parents being away I actually had to take some responsibility at work and it wasn’t the week long party you would expect from Besty and me. We did some long days and had a fair few problems to deal with so when Saturday evening arrived it was time to go wild and live up to our reputations!  Kym and Smiffy drove up to join us and we headed out into Oxford to see what we could get up to.  The random disorganised nights always turn into the best ones though and although we visited what seemed like every bar and club in the city, it turned into a great night out!

Once again after Ipswich we didn’t have much to do to the car.  The gearbox had to come out and go back for some changes and once again we decided to play with the suspension.  A slight delay with the gearbox left us rushing around trying to get finished though, and the now traditional late night before the meeting and loading up ten minutes before we leave didn’t fail to disappoint.

After a few practice laps the car didn’t feel as good as it had for the last few meetings but after a couple of ideas from my dad and Kym it was sorted and feeling good for the second race.   Due to a higher average I had been moved back to the yellow grade.   The first race got off badly with me having a terrible start but I got going ok after that and I managed to get the car home in one piece and score a few points.

The second race seemed just too good to be true.  The track was terrible where oil had been spilt and there was literally no grip.  Eventually it all seemed to come together though and I managed to sneak through and collect another win.  After waiting 18 months, to get two within three weeks felt amazing!

In truth after such a good second race I just wanted to survive the final and make it to the end with a straight car.  Luckily I got my wish and after one of the most chaotic races I have ever seen I managed to complete the 35 laps and pick up a fifth in the process.  I breathed a sigh of relief that I survived the carnage and got home in one piece.  I just want to say well done to my mate Shaun on a long overdue and much deserved win in the final and bad luck to my other mate Chris who had a huge accident in practice after his throttle jammed open.  I was just pleased to see you with a beer in hand afterwards!

All in all it has been two great meetings for me and I want to thank everyone for all their kind words.  Going back to racing purely for fun has been the best decision I ever made - I have no stress or worries and am going out and just enjoying every single lap.

It’s now time to get the car sorted for Lochgelly next weekend.  After countless trips to Scotland this will be my first time racing and I cannot wait.  Unfortunately I’ll be flying solo though as Dad has to stay home and work.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and I just know it will be a cracking weekend.

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time.

Mikey

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Plenty to report - part 1


There has been so much going on these past few months and I’m going to head back to before the epic trip to South Africa and bring you right up to date with what has been happening in the world of National Hot Rod 27.

The NEC seems like a distant memory now but it’s a good point to pick things up from.  John Sibbald’s car came home with us on my trailer and for the next 6 weeks or so we found ourselves operating a two-Hot Rod workshop.  Dad did lots of work on John’s car whilst I was away and we removed my engine and took it back to John Toovey so it could have a bit of a freshen up.

Literally the day before I was due to fly out on holiday it was the awards night being held at a hotel in Northampton.  After making a pretty disorganised last minute decision Besty flew over from Northern Ireland and the two of us headed off to check it out!  I really didn’t expect to win an award especially after the season I have been having, so to come away with ‘Most Improved Driver’ really was an added bonus.  Thank you very much to everyone who voted - it means a lot.  I can’t really go into much detail about the night as there was lots of beer consumed and I can’t remember too much.  I know about 15 of us ended up in a nightclub in Northampton though!  I think the social side of the racing is really good at the moment and there is a really good circle of friends - although it was a shame to see so few people turn up for the party, especially after so much effort had been made to organise it!

There was to be no rest after I returned from holiday and it was straight back into getting the cars ready for the start of the season.  My engine was still being finished so I couldn’t make the Ipswich practice night but it was all hands on deck getting John’s ready.  The plan was that he would come down on Friday morning, finish his car in the afternoon, practice Saturday and head home Sunday.  Now John is my best friend but he is not renowned for his organisation!  Friday morning turned into Friday 10pm and although the car was nearly finished it left both him and his cousin David rushing around getting finished whilst I was at work on Saturday morning.  Everything turned out okay though, and come lunch time we found ourselves in the pick-up and on the way a few minutes ahead of schedule!

Ipswich at night is always a great sight especially with the new lights around the stadium and the new stands towering up into the dark.  It was good to see some faces I hadn’t seen for a few months as well.  It was quite well supported with around eleven cars turning up to have a run prior to the season kicking off.  John went out and did a couple of runs with his car and came back in happy.  We made a couple of changes and he felt he got quicker each session.  Obviously Ipswich is a very long way for John and he normally only gets to run there at Spedeweekend, so it was a good opportunity for him to get a run round what is without doubt one of the best Hot Rod tracks in the UK.

Once he was happy he offered me a run in his car - an offer I gladly accepted.  His car was really great to drive and such a world away from the dirt I had been running on the weekend before at Tygerberg Raceway.  It’s always hard driving another person’s car and it took me a good few laps just to get used to the tarmac again which was so smooth and forgiving compared to the dirt . . . and the Tigra had so much grip!  I was really enjoying my run and starting to feel comfortable in the car when it started to misfire.  I pulled off into the middle but luckily it was nothing serious - the car had run out of petrol!

Once John had gone back home it was time to get my engine back and put my car back together.  We had a few repairs to do from the NEC and the new Quaife sequential gearbox to fit.  When all this was done it was time to head off to Birmingham for a practice and the first Big John’s of the year!   Straight out of the lorry my car felt better than it ever has before.  The engine seemed really strong and the new gearbox is impressive.  The sequential gives it real racing car-feel as well!  Jason was there with his car too, so we had a quick swap round and did a few laps in each other’s cars.  Now that is a weird feeling:  driving around a track and seeing your own car on the straight in front of you!

I was happy with everything and it was time to head home and get the car sorted for the Saturday night.  Now I’ve been very lucky so far this year to have already driven five different Hot Rods in various forms but I really couldn’t wait to get out and actually race my own.  I had already said to Dad that we would just go and enjoy this year and make the most of each race rather than get totally hung up on qualifying for the world final.  I have lots of things I’m trying to do at work at the moment too, and sometimes racing just can’t take priority . . . sad as that is!  But it’s not going to stop us from being there having as much fun as possible and trying our best in every race!

As it turns out Birmingham was actually a meeting to forget!  It has always been my favourite track and the car once again felt good.  The first race started well with me and Shaun having a great race for the lead.  It didn’t work out though with us both coming together in the pit turn and ending up spinning off it all directions.  The second race wasn’t any better either.  I’d got into the lead and started to make a bit of a gap only to pick up a puncture!  Try as I might I was fighting a losing battle and had to once again watch from the infield.  I enjoyed the final though...  It was a good race and again I found myself leading but it just wasn’t to be my night - and as to not break my 100% non-finish record I found myself on the centre again with about 7 laps to go.  But never mind, that’s racing.  You need to take the good with the bad, suck it up and move on!  The car was flying though so that’s something positive to take from the night.  I had a really nasty headache come on as we were loading the car so I didn’t eat anything at Big John’s - certainly the low point of the evening for me!

I think I’ll leave it there for this week, then pick it up and bring you right up to date after Friday’s meeting at Northampton.  Next part will include the year’s first road trip, a couple of nights out, and the long awaited first win for the Duratech.

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time

Mikey