Far out east otherwise known as Vintage Snetterton

Snetterton is miles from anywhere. Except Norfolk. That’s what people tell me anyway, I think they may be the same people that tell me Oulton and Pembrey are too far to travel to. They are all between two and three hours from me although if you live in the south of England, Snetterton is considerably easier to get to than the others mentioned.

I was not the only person to travel to get to Snetterton. We are lucky that we have such great support from the local marshals but we are also lucky that so many people travel so far to watch, work and play with vintage cars. Further down I’ll talk a bit more about marshals, officials and volunteers, but we were all there for a race meeting.

IMG_20150927_230509

I must confess I never get to see much racing as I’m normally fairly busy on race days, but I did watch what I could from the Race Control window. The first race was the well supported Set 3, otherwise known as Owner Driver Mechanic where points are weighted towards those who fettle and drive their own cars, although it is by no means mandatory. The set is such a success due to the hard work of John and Lesley Guyatt so it was lovely to see him on the podium at the last VSCC event of the year. Andrew Mitchell started from the pit lane in his HRG due to a mechanical issue and it was a shame to see him retire just before the race ended, especially after be had carved his way through the field and also looked likely to take a podium space.

In the Vintage Seaman (Race 2), the Club’s resident tyre expert, Longstone’s Dougal Cawley managed to stave off Patrick Blakeney-Edwards for the win. I missed the race, but Dougal was sweaty but happy in the pit lane after the race. He muttered something about head gaskets and mechanical problems, scratching from a later race to save himself for the Donington Mug Trophy Race, which he won, beating Alex Peacop and Mark Groves. One of the most fun moments of the day was seeing the three of them parodying a F1 podium and spraying the champagne.
image

It’s often recited that motorsport cannot happen without marshals, this is entirely true but there are a couple of points I want to pick up on. Firstly, we would look bloody silly stood round in orange baby grows if it was not for all the drivers that also drag themselves out of bed at stupid o’clock so they can compete. Secondly, marshals and volunteers are not limited to that mass of people in orange overalls, affectionately called the Orange Army.
The Orange Army take a break inbetween races at Snetterton

For example, at Snetterton the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s Chief Timekeeper retired after 50 years. Yes he is one of the few officials that receive expenses but they are often one of the first there and last to go home. Drivers, officials and marshals alike would soon be complaining if we didn’t have race results, time screens and all the other paraphernalia that helps us know who is on pole, whether the leader is on their last lap or even if the race is due to finish.
image

image

Many people think marshals must be paid, even some marshals assume all officials are paid. Scrutineers and the MSA Steward can claim expenses, most other officials including the Clerk of the Course are unpaid, certainly in club motorsport. Officials are basically the people named at the front of your programme and the ones who’s necks are on the line if everything goes wrong. Marshals sometimes look at us like we are a bit different, we are not, I am still first and foremost a marshal, I just happen to wear an MSA badge occasionally – on the plus side I do get to stay indoors most the time if the weather is inclement.
Race Control at Snetterton

There are another band of people often forgotten, who don’t usually wear orange and are not officials. These are the admin girls and boys who organise signing on, collect transponders at the end of the day, sort out licenses to come to the Clerk for upgrade signatures. The volunteers who staff the meeting point at the Club van. The boys and girls in Race Control, the ones who have to stay calm when there are several conversations going on at once, often when the proverbial hits the fan. The people that spectators never see or hear about. The silent volunteers, unseen by many but just as vital as the Clerk of the Course, the Chief Timekeeper or that slightly mad driver who is spending their afternoon driving an 80 year old car round in circles, just as vital as the pork pie eating Flag marshal, the assembly and start line marshals. I salute you all.

Shelsley and the Autumn Speed Finale

It’s been a busy few days, two of which were spent officiating at my final hillclimb of the season. I’ll still be kept busy over the next few months with another race meeting, a handful of trials and driving tests and hopefully a kart meeting or two.

Shelsley is a wonderful venue, it is the only place that gives me goosebumps even without any cars there. It is the oldest motor sport venue that has been in continuous use on its original course. The view from top paddock is breathtaking, the view in the bottom paddock has remained largely unchanged. Vintage cars have a natural home here but this weekend, with one or two exceptions, is all about far more modern machinery.
image

It was a slow start though. Over the years it has not been unusual for fog to descend on the finish straight, rendering marshals unable to see each other and compromising safety. For a change, the fog was drifting in and out of the full length of the hill, making the middle section by far the worse. Eventually both days were started by a cavalcade of competitors behind the course car, partly in the hope that movement would stir and clear the fog, but also to give drivers, marshals and spectators something to do or watch rather than freezing their proverbials off in the crisp Autumn weather.

image

I’m not about to write a full commentary of the whole weekend but I will pick out a couple of highlights and lowlights.

Firstly, one of my favourite cars is called Spider (well Spider II to be precise) which is a rather unusual looking car in modern terms but is a lovely creation. You can see it slightly less under control than usual (at the Chateau Impney Hillclimb) here. If you look carefully you can see me taking the mick out of driver Martin Spencer about the car being a little noisy. This is one of the few cars who’s times I follow, not least of all because the car has been through a long rebuild and I know Martin would really like a sub 34 second time. A 34.71 was the closest this weekend but is a step in the right direction.

Another highlight is always the motoring fraternity, I really enjoy the fact my 7 year old tags along and is happy to talk to everyone, whether they are 2 or 102 and they are also happy to chat to her. Despite there being a lot of cars around, it’s also a fairly safe environment for her to explore. Most people knows who she belongs to and if she does get separated from us, she always turns up at the bar ordering herself a blackcurrent squash. One of the local photographers, Rob Macdonald, took an excellent photo of Ellie and kindly gave me permission to use it here.
image

I don’t often get to watch the action as I’m usually at either the top or bottom of the hill but I ended spending 10 or so minutes with the marshals (and photographers) at the Bottom Ess corner. During that time I saw what was probably one of the best ‘saves’ of the year. A Ferrari driver carried a little bit too much speed into the corner and ended up with the back end of his car swinging side to side between the two sharp bends. Somehow he managed to get it under control and slow the car down to prevent himself stuffing it into the baskets in the top corner. All I can I say is well done that man!

The lowlights. Fortunately these are few but yet again we had a reminder that motorsport is dangerous. Thanks to a fairly narrow escape, the driver walked away unscathed having exited Bottom Ess, turning left (not of his own volition) and riding the bank before parking in the shrubbery. Most people prefer to stick to the grey stuff and turn right at Top Ess.

Another driver taking an unorthodox line was Nigel Elliott in his powerful Triumph TR7 V8. Most people don’t climb the small bank in the breaking area after the finish line but Nigel likes to be different. You can see a video of his run (including his finish paddock excursion) here.

As a final note, the British Hillclimb Championship had a round at Doune and young Alex Summers has managed to win the overall Championship. I did say at the start of the season I thought he’d do well this year and I’m very pleased to have been proved right! Congratulations Alex.

One Club, two different days

Over the weekend the Vintage Sports-Car Club organised two very different events, a race meeting at Mallory Park on Saturday and then driving tests on Sunday at Madresfield Court. I was on both sides of the fence if you like, as I was an official of the meeting on Saturday and competing on Sunday.

First of all the race meeting. Mallory Park is a lovely venue that has a short track in picturesque surroundings, a taste of which can be seen below in the photo taken by John Hallet Photography. In recent years, it was nearly lost as a motorsport venue thanks to complaints about noise. Normally I’d be the first to say don’t buy a house next to a circuit and then complain, but the situation at Mallory was a little more complicated with the old circuit operators pushing the boundary rather more than was fair, especially as the locals had generally been supportive of the venue in the past.

image

The circuit now has new operators who stick to the noise limits put in place. Luckily they are allowed one unsilenced meeting for cars and so the VSCC was a ‘noisy’ meeting, albeit with an hour of absolute silence over the lunch break. One of the races that generated a buzz ahead of the weekend was the Edwardian Handicap race. A handicap race is where the slowest cars start at the front, the quickest at the back and they leave the grid in groups with a short delay (normally a maximum of 20 seconds) between each group. If the handicappers have got the groups and delays right, then the idea is every one should more or less cross the line together. In this case, roughly 2 seconds separated the first 5 cars, with the winner staying ahead of two much faster cars by just 0.19 seconds.

image

There’s a great mix of cars at these meeting from the behemoth Edwardians, to standard vintage cars, to little 500s and Formula Juniors in our invited grids. As an official I don’t actually see that much of the racing as you are listening to reports coming into race control of what’s happening on track, talking to drivers who may have infringed some kind of rule when they’ve been out on track, signing and organising paperwork and all sorts of other things. One of the nice things about Mallory is you can see a lot of the track from race control so I did see more racing than normal even though I still didn’t see much.

image

Sunday was an entirely more relaxed affair. Driving tests can vary in their difficulty but Madresfield consisted of 5 tests that were relatively simple. A sample of the instructions would be:

Start with your front wheels on line A. Go forward to stop astride DD, reverse to straddle lines bb and BB, forward to stop astride line CC and reverse to straddle bbBB. Then forward to cross DD but stop before EE.

image

Madresfield usually has a bit of a garden party atmosphere. This year started cloudy but dry and warm, unfortunately it soon started to rain and competitors and marshals soon ended up looking a bit soggy. Fortunately our marshals are a hardy bunch and we carried on regardless. Certainly everyone still seemed to be smiling at the end of the day, not least of all another lady driving in my class who was very very pleased to receive a third class award when the results were announced.

image

Again this event, whilst a smaller entry that normal, provided a great mix of cars, from the humble Austin 7s to the large Mercedes below. All in all a fun if damp day and it was nice to be competing rather than officiating for a change.

image

Cars not cooking

This weekend was the annual Prescott meeting for the Vintage Sports-Car Club. Explaining the draw of this meeting is easy enough but people rarely understand just how good it is until they have experienced it, especially the combination of the motorsport side with the social side in the campsite opposite.

image

First of all a confession of sorts, I did not cook for 3 days and we were so tired last night that we only managed cheesy chips. Prescott campsite is land of the BBQ and, partly as I’d been working as a volunteer marshal all day, I left my mother and the Other Half to deal with that hence no cooking.

So why is VSCC Prescott such a draw? To start with there is a huge range of cars entered, from a lowly Austin 7 (we have one of those) through Bentley, Vauxhall, Riley and others until you get more exotic cars like Mark Walker’s Darraq and the fast things like the Topliss owned ERA, driven at the weekend by a very satisfied James Baxter, his final run having been the first ever pre-war car to break the 40 second barrier. Conditions must have been good as at least 4 class records tumbled as well as that outright record. Then there is the garden party feel to the spectator side of it, the pre war car park would make a lot of proper car shows jealous but these are just people out to have a picnic and watch the action. Yes there are some hooray Henry types but most people are down to earth and lovely, even more so in the active parts of the Club.

image

image

The real draw of Prescott, for some people at least, is the social side in the campsite opposite. Three fields get turned over to the Club each year so families, friends and sometimes even strangers who have become new friends, can get together for food and drink. The BBQ is pretty much mandatory, as is the consumption of plenty of alcohol. On Saturday night, I introduced 2 friends and their 2 friends to another friend and next thing you know everyone is in one big group, sharing wine, BBQ food, crisps, pasta salad and God knows what else. The five children that we had between four couples were running round like old friends within about 30 seconds. This is a story repeated time and time again. Every VSCC person I know has a Prescott story, this is a place of beauty where memories are made and lifelong friendships are forged. I’m already counting down to next year.

image