Get in car, drive car to venue, put foot down, drive car home. What could be simpler? The grass roots level at any form of sport is vital – you will often hear politicians wittering on about it when talking about rugby, cricket or (if they want to look ‘of the people’) football. Motorsport is no different.
I am not talking about trying to find the next generation of superstars either, that is something that kids are basically devoting a life time to from the time they are old enough to sit in a kart these days. There are a few exceptions to the rule (Andy Priaulx for one), but not many.
I am talking about the amateur scene: the guys and girls who invest a huge amount of time, money and devotion into their passion. I’m talking about people like Andy and Debbie Dunbar (for example), who dragged themselves to Loton Park in Shropshire over a bank holiday weekend and spent their Saturday evening outside, in the pouring rain, replacing a drive sprocket on their motorcycle engined Force. What this is, ladies and gentlemen, is the sport for the sport’s sake. It is love.
This passion is never typified better than in a National B meeting, especially at somewhere as exquisitely English as the aforementioned Hagley and District Light Car Club venue.
This is a subject I spoke on at great length from my commentary box there this Sunday gone. From competitors like the Dunbars in their single seater, the Newells in the MX5 and Andrew Rollason in the lowly but keenly driven Ford Ka, to the marshals and officials of the meetings (who all volunteer their time) – amateurism (in its most positive sense) is the pounding heart beat of the sport in this country.
The meeting drew all manner of the automotive life under the sun ranging from road cars of under 1.4 litres – including that Ford Ka and an electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV – to the veterans of Formula 3 driven by Jonathan Varley and Simon Keen, which enjoyed a battle for Fastest Time of the Day.
Most importantly and fundamentally, what the meeting generated was fantastic sport. Sunday especially produced some remarkable competition with the battle for victory governed by less than a tenth of a second in several classes.
Phil and Dave Newell enjoyed an entertaining tussle sharing the road going MX5 (is there a purer, more ‘everything you need nothing you don’t’ route into competition?) with both drivers posting an identical 67.68 seconds on their first runs (having also tied it up on one practice run), with Phil only breaking the deadlock on the cars last run of the day when he got his head down and pulled an entire second out of the hat.
The class for cars over 2 litres was equally exciting, as the Meeks in their classic Subaru Impreza and Hutchinson’s in their wonderful BMW 1M did battle for honours over the afternoon. The Hutchinson’s held a fairly comfortable advantage on the Saturday of over a second. However in the first runs on the Sunday Geraint Meek fought back, going under 60 seconds (his first time doing so at Loton) with a time of 59.97. Simon Hutchinson was second after the first runs only three tenths in arrears on a 60.28.
The second runs then produced a flurry of intense competition as this time, Simon Hutchinson produced a time of 60.27 to go second. In response to this Mike produced the same time as Meek’s first run, a 59.97 to retake the place, but only after the Subaru had posted a 59.96 to take the class by one one hundredth of a second. Gripping competition in every sense of the word.
There were class records in both the Downton Mini’s Championship with Martin Watts taking the benchmark to 57.17 seconds and the Westfield Sportscar Club Championship as Adrian Clinton Watkins went on a remarkable streak, continually lowering the class record he already held on three consecutive runs over the weekend.
In the single seaters, the Dunbars found themselves separated by only four hundredths of a second on the Sunday, with Andy taking family honours on both days and the overall win in their class. The battle for fastest time of day between Varley and Keen was covered by nine hundredths of a second, with both men dipping under 50 seconds on their first run. The competition came to a halt with the second runs however as Varley lost it on the outside of Fletcher’s Dellow, sending his March nestling in the undergrowth, and Simon Keen going off on the inside of the same corner before coming to rest harmlessly in the shade of an oak tree on the very next run. At least both drivers and marshals got a work out extracting the cars from the garden and pushing them to the paddock from the escape road at the next corner.
If nothing else, meeting such as this one show the vitality of the sport at all levels in the United Kingdom – especially with hill climbs becoming increasingly over-subscribed with competitors. So long as this streak of amateurism remains in the British spirit and the love of being involved in motor sport continues to lure the marshals and officials into giving up their time free of charge – the grass roots of our sport will keep going and keep growing. So at least I will have plenty to talk and write about.