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.


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


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


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.


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


Friday, March 14, 2014

A Great Adventure - Part 2

The second week of our Cape Town trip was just as wild as the first and by the time we’d dried out from our antics on Saturday night it was time to head back to the track and draw our grids for the second meeting, where this time we would be competing in the faster Hot Rod class.  The car I’d been using had to go back to its owner for him to use so I had to swap cars for this one.  I was very lucky though as my new friend and drinking buddy Carlo offered to let me race his brand new car!  Once again I drew a mid-pack starting position for the races . . . unfortunately I didn’t seem to have taken the luck I have for grid draws in the UK with me!

Once again Monday was a pretty wild night and in their wisdom a lot of the guys found themselves agreeing to play netball for the Tygerberg Raceway netball team.  Somehow I managed to remain sensible and avoid getting myself roped into this . . .  something I’m glad about as it was much more fun watching them run around without a clue what the rules were!  Deane and I also managed to fill the time between games by going upstairs and pouring water over them to help them cool down.

Wednesday saw us heading out to practice and I couldn’t wait to give Carlo’s car a run.  It had a 2.0 litre 16v under the bonnet and felt a lot more like our cars here.  Instantly I felt much more at home and headed off to the bar afterwards feeling much happier.  Kym had carried out some pretty big changes to his car, Trevor’s car had been repaired, Deane had bagged himself another one, Paul and Stu kept the same ones and Hughie had managed to secure a car as well so we now had a team of seven.

It would have been rude to go halfway round the world and not go night clubbing so Thursday night saw Leone (the promoter’s daughter) take Stu, Kym, Smiffy and me to a club in Cape Town.  Everything in South Africa is really cheap and it’s easy to get carried away - something we seemed to do most nights!  Another good thing is that due to it being so hot at night you sweat all the drink out - leaving you hangover free in the morning!

Saturday saw us head off for our last meeting and it was also the hottest day of the trip with the heat rising to around 39 degrees in the middle of the day!  Carlo picked me up early and we headed off to get the car ready.  The bodies on the cars are held on with ten bolts and literally just come off in one piece.  My body had to be fitted onto his car and I went mad and bought a new set of tyres for us to use.

Because it was so hot they had to really water the track to make sure it would be ok to race on.  This was fine but it made the parade laps very hard work!  We managed to make a bit of a mess of it with all of us pointing in various directions and stuck at one point!

Carlo was also racing in the 2.1 class so the car had plenty of work to do on the night.  This, mixed with the fact that the track was wet, meant we were kept busy scraping mud off from underneath the car so it didn’t jam the wheels up and stop them from turning, and keeping the radiator clear so the car didn’t overheat.  I’ve never seen so much mud - it was piled up in great heaps everywhere.  Although I was much quicker than the first week I didn’t have any results to speak of.  Apart from Deane who was again unfortunate with engine problems we all managed to finish the races.  Kym drove a blinder in the final and came third, so collecting the third overall trophy and the international driver award.  Carlo also flew in his car collecting first place in the 2.1 class.  He’s won two more finals at different tracks since we have been home, showing that he really is the man to beat at the moment!

The night that followed for me was the best night of the holiday.  It was great seeing Kym get some silverware to bring home and the drink was flowing freely all night.  Everyone signed my overalls and they are something I will treasure forever.  When we arrived everyone said that we would watch the sun come up at the track and sure enough after partying all night I stood in the stands and watched the sunrise.  It was amazing.

I can honestly say that it was one of the best times of my life.  It was a fantastic holiday with a brilliant group of guys.  The racing was incredible and a fabulous experience . . . going sideways flat out is such a good feeling.  We met so many great people and have forged some lasting friendships.  The weather was brilliant and some of the nights will go down in history.  SAF Motorsport really went on tour!

I would like to say thank you to a few people – firstly to Leone and her dad Chris for everything they did for us and making the trip happen.  I know we must have been very hard work!  A special thank you to Carlo and Hilda for letting me use the car and for your hospitality; I just hope you can come to the UK and race my car now!  To everyone at Tygerberg Raceway for making us feel so welcome, Chris at Hyundai for the minibus and Herman for letting us cause complete chaos in your bar every night!  Also to Neville Loosemore and his family for flying down to support us both weekends.  Finally thanks to all the new friends we have made - you guys are awesome.  The only question now is “When will we be back?”

After pouring a bottle of wine over Deane one night I now have to spend the next year living in fear as I have no doubt there will be a very cold bucket of water heading my way at some point when I least expect it!

Thanks as ever for reading.

“Tot n volgende keer”


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Great Adventure

Trying to condense what was arguably the best two weeks of my life into an acceptable size blog is going to be a hard task so excuse me if this turns into a bit of an epic.   Even finding a place to start is proving difficult!

Obviously going somewhere new and so far from home was a little daunting but as soon as I stepped off the plane in Cape Town and felt the heat I knew my decision to leave a wet and dark UK behind for a couple of weeks was the right one!  Due to being the most disorganised bunch of people in the world we couldn’t all manage to get on the same flight so the first two hours was spent doing several runs to the airport to collect everyone.  Altogether there were eight of us on the trip; the man himself Deane Wood, Paul Frost, Stuart McLaird, Kym Weaver, his father Hughie, his mechanic and friend Smiffy , Trevor Dibnah from the 2-litre Stock Cars and myself.

Our first port of call was to collect our transport for the week, a brand new minibus lent to us by the local Hyundai garage.  It had been sign-written with our names and UK racing team down the side.  From here it was straight to the track offices to meet everyone and let them see exactly what they’d let themselves in for!

The racing in South Africa is run very differently to here and the Monday before every race meeting all the drivers have to go to a meeting at the track to draw grid positions and just have a general briefing about how the race will be run.  After getting lost a few times we finally managed to arrive pretty late!  It was a good chance to get to meet all the other drivers and find out a bit about what we would be doing.  What anyone failed to tell us was that after the meeting finishes the bar stays open and everyone stays and gets drunk, something that surprisingly enough suited us all down to the ground.

The next day it was time to have a look at the cars we would be racing.  Now the principle of the cars is similar to ours but obviously as they are racing on dirt they have lots of differences too, the biggest of these is the tyres.  Although there are no rules on tyres everyone chooses to run a 15-inch Dunlop road tyre.  The cars had Corsa shells which had all been painted and sign-written to look like our cars from home.  The car I was going to race had a Mazda rotary engine under the bonnet but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Practice was arranged for the Thursday evening so we could get a bit of seat time in the cars.  The track isn’t dissimilar to something you would see Sprint Cars racing on in America - it is much bigger than any track we drive on in the UK and is made up of clay.  As the meeting goes on and it dries out it packs down like tarmac giving more and more grip each race.  Due to the heat they spend all week watering the track so it doesn’t just rip up into one giant dust cloud as soon as a car puts a wheel onto it!

Now as soon as I pulled onto the track I scared the absolute life out of myself!  The noise and speed from a rotary is incredible, it sounds like there are twenty engines revving as soon as you touch the throttle!  This coupled with the fact they don’t slow down when you lift off the throttle makes it an altogether very scary experience!  I’ll be honest with you all and say that in truth I was pretty rubbish at the whole racing thing and struggled a bit to adapt to the flat-out sideways driving style of the dirt racing . . . but what an amazing experience it was to drive round that track.  I will just say that Deane was on a mission and having only done a few laps he was throwing his car around the track as fast as any of the South African guys!  We do all forget that he was actually a world champion on shale - albeit before most of us were even born!

After the practice it was straight into the bar for another night of chaos.  Unfortunately we had made a reputation for ourselves on the first night so we could hardly let it slip now!  The way of life is so different there and although everyone takes the racing very seriously they always meet in the bar afterwards for a chat and everyone gets along without any of the nastiness we seem to get here.

Saturday arrived and it was time for race day.  I know we have some keen fans at home but these guys were mad for it and the stadium was packed out by 1pm.  Lots of the spectators were keen to chat so we spent a long time talking to folk before it all got started at 6pm.  In the international race there were twelve South Africans, three Namibians and the six of us.  After the grand parade we all headed out on our parade laps before stopping at race control for the national anthems to be played and to meet the South African Minister for Sport.  Looking around the stadium you could see it was packed and the atmosphere was like the World Final at Ipswich.

You line up for the race in the pits, then pull out onto the track and do one rolling lap before the green flag drops.  Now one thing I will say is the drivers have so much more respect for each other than we do back at home and there is very little contact because they give each other enough room to pass cleanly.  It’s also the only time I have ever felt old at racing as some of the guys out there racing us were just 14 and 15 years old.   Watching them throw the cars sideways through the corners was pretty impressive.   The car control they will have when they get older will be something amazing.

I kept myself out of trouble and finished all the races but like I said I didn’t perform any miracles.  Deane was flying only to be hampered with an engine failure, Kym was on a mission as well but also suffered a few car problems, Paul was flying and ended up fifth overall at the end of the night.  Stu was having a good night as well but unfortunately Trevor had to retire due to a snapped steering arm.  One thing I did have to show for my night though was a very burnt leg! The exhaust of the rotary runs right up the tunnel and I have never felt heat like it in my life!

After the meeting there is a big trophy presentation in the bar and I’m sure you don’t need to be a genius to figure out where this is all going!  It turned into a very epic night that ended up with lots of water and ice being thrown around and a very wet ride back to the hotel in the minibus!

We didn’t just spend two weeks solid racing and drinking - we went out and did the tourist stuff too.  We took a trip up Table Mountain (something I would recommend to anyone), visited Robben Island and went on boats trips and spent quite a bit of time at the Cape Town Waterfront.  We had a great time but if I was to go into detail about everything we did we would be here all week and I‘d miss the first meeting at Birmingham!

That in a nutshell was our first week.  Instead of making this too long I’m going to split it into two parts and come back next week and tell you all about the second week of our trip and more exciting racing.

One thing I would like to say before I go is “Thank you so much” to everyone who voted for me to win Most Improved Driver at our awards night recently.  It really means a lot to me.  That was another very eventful night and I will no doubt get round to putting that into a blog soon!

Thank as ever for reading.

Until next time