Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The action begins again

Sorry it’s been so long since you last heard from me.  So far this year things haven’t really been going to plan.  It’s with great sadness that I must say my grandfather passed away at the beginning of March.  It was unexpected and came as a complete shock to us.  Obviously losing someone who I saw everyday and have worked closely with my entire adult life has had a big impact on me and left a huge hole in the entire family’s lives.

Although he never raced a Hot Rod himself he used to watch the likes of Barry Lee and George Polley at Wimbledon back when it was shale.  He also raced Stock Cars back in the ‘50s when they were big V8 American cars ironed up.  Although never particularly successful he had plenty of stories from the old Stock Car days - long before things like health and safety were thought of!

His real love in life was rallying though and he enjoyed success both driving himself and building cars for other people.  Through the ‘70s and ‘80s they had a successful business running alongside the scrap yard building and maintaining customers’ cars.  When the mark 3 Escort first came out they converted them to rear wheel drive and built them into rally cars, selling them all over the UK and Ireland.  The first one they ever built was driven by my Dad and still sits under a sheet locked away in the yard.  One day, when time allows, we are going to get it out and restore it back to its former glory.

Although he never managed to get to watch me in a National, a meeting never passed without a phone call to see how I was getting on, and back when I raced Minis it would be very rare for both him and my Nan to miss a meeting.  Looking back I’m probably glad he didn’t watch me in the Hot Rod as there would have been many times that I’d have been on the receiving end of a stern word!

I’m going to miss him but he would be the first person to tell us to get on with it . . . so it’s business as usual at work and racing.  For the first meeting we decided - as a tribute to him - to sticker the car up like the rally cars he used to build; although it didn’t appear to bring me any extra luck!

We are disorganised at the best of times and with all this going on it looked very unlikely we would make the first meeting but thanks to ‘Team Kew’ and Mork (a family friend for as long as I can remember) we all got stuck in on a Sunday and got the car back together.  I can’t thank you guys enough because without you we certainly wouldn’t have made the first meeting.  I also want to thank Brendon from Smith Race Fabrications for all his work and ideas on the car over the winter.  I’m looking forward to working closely with Brendon over the next few months but more on that another time.

With just enough time to spare I borrowed a car off my aunt, then Lee and I running two hours late as usual, headed off to Birmingham to put a few laps under it.  Straight out of the box the car felt brilliant so it was worth all the effort getting it put back together again.

The Friday night after the funeral turned into a pretty drunken affair (something my gramp would have insisted on) with myself, John Sibbald, Jason Kew and his wife Kerry, and several other friends heading from the pub to sample the delights Witney had to offer.  This however led to a very hung-over Saturday morning at work and an even worse Saturday afternoon getting John’s and my own car ready for Hednesford the next day.

I must admit it felt great to be back racing again.  I haven’t missed the politics and the moaning at all but let’s face it, National Hot Rods on a dry day at Hednesford are pretty amazing!  The first race could easily have turned into a disaster as I exited turn two to find a parked car looking at me.  I managed to avoid it but some others weren’t so lucky.  Just a racing incident and I think everyone managed to get sorted and back out again.  I was allowed to restart the race from the back and although I finished outside the points the car was feeling pretty good.

The second heat got off to a better start but due to several silly mistakes on my part I fell back down the grid a fair way and just managed to scrape into the points with a 14th place.  Once again the car felt really good.

The final was a much better race and although I didn’t perform any miracles I managed to stay pointing the right way, avoid any damage and cross the line after 35 laps in 7th place, not as high up as I’d have liked but with a straight car and some points I can’t moan too much.  I must just say a big well done to Kym for his win in the final - a cracking drive and most deserved!

Going off topic a bit I would like to mention the truly epic night we had up in Scotland for George Macmillan’s gold roof party.  It was a couple of days’ hard work getting everything set up but what a brilliant night.  George is a great friend, a great racer and a great F2 world champion.  I would like to wish him all the best for this year, both in retaining the gold and in his chase for the national points title.  After a great start to the year he is currently leading so hopefully come the end of the year he can add the silver roof to his already impressive list of titles!

I would just like to thank everyone for their help and support the last few weeks, not just with the car but in life generally - it’s great to know I’m lucky enough to have such good friends.  I think in honour of my gramp I should hit this season hard and see what happens . . .  so Tony, this year is for you!

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time


Friday, February 6, 2015

NEC 2015

I’m sure time is going faster the older I get.  Not only has the NEC been and gone but we are now well into February and the first meeting suddenly seems a lot closer.  Sorry it’s been such a long time since you heard from me but life has been pretty hectic and I’ve been struggling to find time for anything non-work related.

Many of you will have already seen my car and I’m really pleased with the new colour scheme.  I want to say thanks to TPR Signs for all the hours they put into getting it finished.  The colours worked so well and it’s certainly different from anything we’ve ever had before.

After Christmas I headed north to spend New Year with everyone in Scotland and as expected it was a party filled affair.  We did find time to spend a few days working on John’s Hot Rod too - albeit without any electricity in his workshop.  Painting a panel kit with a generator and a few LED lamps is something of an experience.

Back home and it was time to get the few finishing touches done to my car.  Lee had originally come over for a week and ended up staying for a month (something that’s becoming quite a habit!) but we were pretty organised by my standards and everything was finished and loaded up ready for us to leave on the Wednesday night.

Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan though and my dad had an accident on his way home from taking the lorry up to the NEC.  A car pulled out of a side road without looking and hit my Discovery in the driver’s side door, resulting in a very poorly Land Rover on its side in a field and my father not in the best of moods about it!  Thankfully he wasn’t hurt and very lucky to walk away from the car without any injuries.  We see smashed vehicles every day and just take it for granted but it’s not till it happens to someone close that the dangers of driving actually hit home.

Obviously after my initial panic and realising that he was fine, we decided to stay at the show.  So many hours had gone into the car it seemed a shame not to use it.  Dad reassured me everything was spot on so we set about making the most of my favourite weekend of the year.

I think the Live Action Show was really good this year and having the legend that is Petter Solberg there really upped the attraction of it.  I will just add that Petter is a seriously cool guy.  He only has one setting in the car and it doesn’t matter if he’s on the track or in the pits, he’s going flat out.  Over the course of the weekend his car had a new clutch, a turbo and a gearbox - and on one occasion a tip into the wall backwards!

The Thursday consists of a few practice sessions then one show at 2pm.  After this there’s chance to wander round the show for an hour before rushing back to the hotel for some food, a shower and then off into town!  It’s very rare to get this many of my friends in the same place at the same time and chaos always follows.  Everyone is full of enthusiasm too and a great night is always guaranteed.

Again, Friday is only one show at 2pm so you get the rare treat of a lie in.   Everyone has found their feet with the strange surface of the arena by this point so confidence and speed are starting to grow.  It’s a pretty unforgiving place if things go wrong though with concrete barriers around the outside and big concrete pillars in the middle that have the ability to do lots of damage to a Hot Rod - something poor John very nearly learnt when I accidentally leaned him up against one!

Friday night was another messy night, this time with the addition of a few more people.  We took over O’Neal’s on Broad Street before heading off into the various clubs of Birmingham.  There’s lots of stories that aren’t really printable here but one thing I did learn is that apparently two cubes of ice isn’t classed as a mixer for vodka!

The racing steps up a gear on the Saturday with six shows throughout the day.  These shows are always packed out and the atmosphere is absolutely incredible.  The noise and smell of the cars under the lights is second to none and every year it just keeps me going back for more.  The racing is always good too with everyone having a bit of a run out front.  Unfortunately we lost a few cars with mechanical problems but there were still enough of us to put on a good show.

The plan was for a chilled out night on the Saturday.  We headed off into Solihull for some food before heading back to the hotel for an early night.  These things never work out though and I soon found myself in a taxi on my own heading to meet Chris Lehec and a few of the boys in Pop World (the world’s cheesiest night club) for one last party before it was time to go home again.  I must admit I’m starting to get old and just can’t hack the pace of it like I used to, and three nights out in row certainly took it out of me!

The Sunday always produces the best racing but has a tinge of sadness to it.   Everyone is getting ready to head home and living the dream of being a racing driver for a few days is coming to an end. Luckily I managed to survive right up until the last lap of the last show before getting any damage, but unfortunately I banged wheels with Dave Longhurst, bent the only new wheel on the car and cracked the wing!

What had potential to be such a bad weekend turned into one of the best ever thanks to all my amazing friends and the frankly brilliant Live Action Arena.  Thank you to everyone involved with making the car look so good and everyone for their comments.  It’s great to hear such positive feedback.  Thanks to everyone for all the amazing memories and to my dad - even now at 25 I would never be able to live my dream of racing a National Hot Rod without his help, support and countless hours in the garage!

Since we’ve been back from the show the car is in bits again and is undergoing a few changes.  There’s also been a truly epic trip to Northern Ireland for Besty’s birthday, which involved drinking from kettles and digging big holes . . . more on that next time.

Thanks as ever for reading.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Festive greetings

Well here we are, Christmas again.  Another year older and wiser but I’m certainly no richer or any more sensible than I was 12 months ago - although I certainly have plenty more stories to tell!

The spare panels for the car are repaired and painted in a nice shiny white and have been put back onto the car.  After seeing it blue for so long it looks strange painted a different colour.  The ‘Ghostly Hot Rod’ as my Mum called it!  The white is only the beginning though and the rest is down to Jay at TPR Signs.  It will be interesting to see what his creative genius can come up with.  I have no idea what it will be yet but I have complete faith in him and I can’t wait to see the end result.

As it was my birthday, it seemed rude to go to Ipswich and not sample the night life.  So, complete with the international traveler Lee Best, we headed off with the car to drop it off at TPR Signs and then see what the evening would bring.  It turned into quite the racer’s night out . . . current drivers being represented by Kym Weaver, Shaun Taylor, Danny Fiske, myself, ex-Hot Rod racer Jay and some circuit racing fella by the name of Gavin Murray - but I doubt anyone really remembers him?  Lots of our other friends and regular faces from racing came along to celebrate, including Mr Ipswich himself Andrew Bigmore (I hope this little mention means he’ll forgive me for uploading a very festive picture of him on to Facebook earlier this week?).

It was a good night and a great way to celebrate my birthday.  A few too many beers were drunk and a bottle of champagne was involved somewhere along the line, something to do with Mr Weaver I’m sure!  It’s always great to see everyone away from the track and the pressures of racing and to just sit back and have a laugh.  The social side will always be a big part of it for me, and the day when it gets to the point I have no-one to enjoy a pint with or a midweek chat is the day I will hang my helmet up for good and head off with my fishing rods in search of a new challenge!

Besty had never been to Wimbledon so the next day we headed off into the city to see what Plough Lane had to offer on a cold December evening.  Not being a huge fan of spectating I wasn’t expecting too much, but after seeing so many familiar faces and catching up with so many people I had a great night.  Will I be going in November for the Best in Britain?  Well, the wire scares me but I’m never one to miss out on an opportunity to do something different, so yes, you can expect to see the #27 make the trip into the capital just once!

Believe it or not, once the car is back we have very little to do for the show; the biggest job is also my least favourite - sorting out the wheels.  If all goes to plan we should have three evenings to do it when it’s back after New Year but judging by our usual standards of disorganised chaos we will be loading it five minutes before we need to leave for the show!

I’m planning on a nice chilled out Christmas at home before heading up to Scotland to celebrate New Year.  I want to extend a massive congratulations to John and Kylie on the exciting news that they are expecting a baby next year!    This might be our last chance to party for a while, and I know it won’t go to waste!

I don’t really have any sort of plan for racing next year, I’m going to keep going as I am and enjoy it.  We want to change a few things with the car and see what they do.  I plan to get up to Scotland and do as many meetings as I can, and I really fancy a trip out to Tipperary if time and budget allow.

I’d like to wish you Happy Christmas and all the best for 2015 - I’m hoping good old Santa will bring something to help me find an extra two tenths of a second a lap!   I’ll be back after the NEC to let you know how that goes for me.  If every other year has been anything to go by there will be lots of memories made and great stories to tell.

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time


Friday, December 5, 2014

One Last Road Trip

It’s a cold, dark Saturday evening and there isn’t any racing on or a beer in sight.  Another year has flown past and it seems like only a few months since we stepped off the plane in South Africa to kick off this year’s racing.  Now the season has finished and the car is looking very naked in the garage as preparations for the Autosport Show get under way.

The English season didn’t really finish the way I would have hoped, and after another meeting seemingly dominated by politics rather than racing, we left Hednesford with a straight car but not many points.  The first race started disastrously with a crash after the first lap leaving me stuck up against the inside kerb with no damage but unable to move due to being boxed in by cars.  A yellow flag eventually saw me able to get going again but by now I was right at the back of the grid.  This is where I stayed for the remainder of the race.  The second heat and final were pretty uneventful too but I finished both without incident and scraped a handful of points.  I’ve enjoyed racing at Hednesford recently and had hoped for a good meeting - but never mind, that’s racing!

A few weeks earlier during a trip to Scotland I’d said that as long as the car was in one piece I’d head up and race the last meeting of the season at Lochgelly.  Not one to go back on my word the car was loaded onto the trailer and I began the long, yet very familiar trip up the M6.  What started as a lovely Saturday morning quickly turned into a very wet and miserable Saturday afternoon, so after a quick change of tow vehicle - to John’s trusty old Sprinter (to ensure we had somewhere dry to sit) - we set off to do some racing.  Recently I have really struggled in the wet both with the car and confidence so it’s fair to say I was pretty nervous.

I decided to make several changes to the car and want to thank all my friends who worked in the rain and helped me.  I always struggle at meetings without my Dad and I really appreciated all the help!  As soon as it was ready I headed out to practice and instantly knew I’d made the right decision as the car felt better than it has in the wet for a very long time - so already the trip had proved worthwhile.

Despite the truly horrible weather it turned into one of the best night’s racing I have had for a long time.  Thirteen cars were present for the meeting and along with Tam Rutherford, and Robert McDonald who was out giving John’s car a run, I started at the back of the grid.  It didn’t start very well though with me getting a little carried away on the first warm-up lap and spinning off into the infield!

The car was good in the race though and I managed to stay on pace for the whole race.  The weather hadn’t improved for the next heat but Terry Hunn had made a couple of changes to my car which improved it again and I found myself getting round a few cars and finishing seventh.  As we lined up for the final I was really looking forward to my last race of 2014 and it didn’t disappoint.  I will actually go all out and put it up there as one of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever had.  It was pretty hectic from the off and luck just seemed to be on my side as I managed to miss all the action, even finding myself up into third place with four laps to go.  Robert, and Ian Donaldson had other ideas about me getting a trophy though and had quickly relegated me back to fifth by the time the chequered flag came out.  I am absolutely determined to beat Robert one day.   I don’t care what it’s in; I just want to beat him!

I would like to thank HRP for making me feel so welcome and putting on such a good firework display (I mean the one in the sky, not during the stoppage in the Hot Rod final, for anyone that was there!).  Also thanks to all my friends for turning out and supporting me, and to John and Kylie for the accommodation!  Scotland really is my second home and I like the Scottish Hot Rod series.  Hopefully fixtures and work will allow me to come back and do some more in 2015.

So that was it, racing for 2014 was done . . . the car was wet and dirty but such an enjoyable night made the trip back to John’s seem much quicker.  An unplanned night out after the racing was a good way to finish the season too.

Once home it was straight back to business and the car was stripped down and the chassis cleaned in readiness for the N.E.C.  We plucked up courage and ventured deep into the garage looking for spare panels, only to find a complete spare kit.  After much fibre-glassing they resemble something usable and have now been dropped off to get a fresh coat of paint.  It’s going to be something a bit different, but we have no idea what yet!

With the car to finish, Christmas rapidly approaching and a weekend in Dublin for my birthday, I think the rest of the year is going to fly by!  I know I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the 27 machine for what is going to be the car’s sixth season.

I’ll be sure to keep you all updated…

Thanks as ever for reading.

Until next time


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