Monday, August 8, 2011

National Weekend

It’s a fact that National Weekend is my favourite weekend of the year.   The car could literally fall to bits around me and it wouldn’t stop me smiling - I love it, the atmosphere is great, and staying at the track just makes it a brilliant weekend.
It began for me on the Thursday afternoon when I finished work early to go home and load everything up.   It’s amazing how much stuff you need to take and I actually thought we were going to run out of space in the lorry!   Once it was all loaded it was a trip round London’s biggest oval, the M25 to pick Steph up then back home to sort out the last few bits.   Everything always turns into a laugh with Steph and I and the second she got into the car it was obvious that it was going to be a funny weekend!
It was up early Friday morning to get on the road, Dad wanted to get to the track and drop the truck off so that he could get back to work.   Him and Mum came up Saturday afternoon and stayed Saturday night in the hotel.  On Friday he left Ross, Steph and me at the gate with the truck and headed for home.   The truck has a really nasty habit of playing up on the way into National Weekend though and I spent the next couple of hours on tenterhooks just waiting for it to play up.  It didn’t however, and after what seemed like an age we were finally in.  The weekend could begin!
We parked in our usual Hednesford spot down in the corner with the Caseys and Coopers.   We park here every year and it’s always a good laugh, like I said before the good company makes the weekend for me.  As soon as we got there we had the first hint of disaster with the generator not wanting to start.   Coopers came to the rescue though and we were soon up and running.
There’s not that much to say about the Friday practice really.   We went out there and did what we wanted to do - the lap times were slow but this was mainly down to me running a very strange line, I was hugging the car in down the straight and not letting it run out wide and flow.   It was scrubbing so much speed off although the car felt strong it was just being let down by pilot error.   Either way we tried what we wanted to try and the car was definitely up to the job so we were happy as it went back into the trailer.
My plan was just to have a good time and I was never going to drink much as I wanted to keep a clear head.   I just wanted to have a laugh but Ross and Steph had a slightly different agenda . . .  as did John when he joined us later on Friday night.   We had enough alcohol in the truck to start a bar of our own and it wasn’t long before the drink started flowing for them, it was Ross’s 21st so I suppose we can forgive them for having a few beverages!   
The Friday night is always wild and this year really didn’t disappoint - you can’t go to National Weekend and expect to have an early night!    Over the course of the weekend I think the entire pits passed through my truck at some point, it was more like a social club than a race transporter at times.    After some dinner it was over to the bar for a few drinks and a chat.   The atmosphere at the bar is great and everyone is just there to have a good time.   There are so many people you only see once or twice a year and it’s brilliant to see them all.
After a few hours at the bar Ross, Steph, myself and Glenn Bell ended up sitting in the lorry eating some “damn good pasta” and listening to some iPod when the peace was broken by pretty much everyone who was still standing banging on the door of the truck.    After a few hectic minutes with about 20 people crammed in my truck everyone left and the peace and quiet was restored.   Time for some much needed sleep ready for racing the next day.
I woke up on Saturday morning to find Glenn had disappeared and the other two still sound asleep.   I got myself sorted and started to get the car ready.   In truth I was really focused and ready to get stuck in and have a good days racing.  As it turned out “…that wasn’t to be but never mind…”
The draw for the grid was at the drivers meeting and I waited until most other people had drawn and then managed to pull A9 out of the box.   In truth there’s probably no worse combination to draw and it would see me starting pretty much in the middle for all three races.
The first race was my one nearest to the back and after a pretty dull race I got the car across the line in one piece.  I had been running a stupid line again and although I finished, it was near the back and I wasn’t overly impressed with the result.   The next race was my closest to the front and after a much better race managed to cross the line in twelfth place.   I ran a better line through the race and managed to take half a second out of my lap time in the process.
My parents arrived halfway through the race and unfortunately it would turn out to be the only racing they saw me do.    The third race got off to a good start but after a few laps I got involved with the rough and tumble of being in the pack and ended up getting spun out going into the top bend, just one of those things really but I made the stupid mistake of pulling off into the infield and retiring from the race.
I obviously missed out on qualifying for the big race but if I had just kept going in the third race I would have been able to sneak in, schoolboy error to say the least, and certainly one I won’t be making again.    Still it was water under the bridge by this point and after racing was over for that day we went back to John’s hotel for a shower and then headed back to the track for a barbeque and another wild night!
Saturday night is usually more sedate than Friday but this year it seemed just as busy in the bar, I must admit that I headed back to the truck before the others to turn my generator off and after a good old chat with Tim Pullen in the pits never made it back across to the bar.   It was by no means the end of the night though with it all starting up again in the pits after the bar had closed!   The lorry ended up a bit cramped again with Rob and Carl (two of Gav’s mechanics) ending up sleeping in there too so as not to wake Gav’s new baby Imogen by returning to the truck at 3am.
Sunday began for us with the grand parade.   John has just had an operation on his thumb and currently has his right hand in plaster.   It wasn’t enough to stop him getting the car round though albeit with a couple of stalls along the way!
I must admit I’m not a huge fan of watching racing but I did enjoy watching the National Championship race - it was pretty exciting to say the least.   It was good to see Chris win it too - good one mate.
My Mum made the draw for the Grand National for me and she must have had her lucky pants on as she managed to pull outside front row from the hat!   I was well excited to get out there and enjoy the last race of the weekend.  The car felt good in the warm up laps and as I gridded up for the start everything felt fine.   As the green flag dropped however, everything wasn’t fine.   I floored the throttle and the car promptly stalled.   Now being stalled on the start line as 30 other cars come thundering towards you is a pretty scary feeling.   We were amazingly lucky really, and although Dickie did hit us and unfortunately put himself out of the race, we got away with very little damage but it was ‘game over’ with a puncture and my race ended before it had even begun.
Although the racing had been nothing short of a disaster and everything from the generator to the fridge had broken in the lorry it was still another absolutely brilliant weekend with the best people out there.    Hats off to the team for the amount of drink they consumed!    Thanks to everyone who helped, who laughed and who drank with us!   Thanks to my mum and dad for all the hours they put in, thanks to Coopers for putting up with us all weekend and spending half their weekend sorting out my problems, thanks to Ross, Steph and John for being the three best friends any one could ever want and finally thanks to David Casey for providing me with the best quote and my lasting memory from the weekend:
“Pressure?  Pressure is for tyres and blow-up dolls!”
On that note thanks as ever for reading.
I love National Weekend!

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