Fun in the Welsh mud

When I explain my hobbies to people, they always look at me strangely when I start to talk about trialling. You can read a little about it in that link but it boils down to us taking old cars to muddy, hilly places and trying to drive them to score as many points as possible. This video shows the idea in practise.

During the summer I volunteer at various race and speed events but the winter months are given over to trialling and the Welsh Trial, based around Presteigne, is time for the Other Half to have some fun. Saturday morning was chilly but clear so he set off with his bouncer to go to a filter point and have the car checked over by a scrutineer before setting off to Presteigne to sign on.

Signing on is at the Radnorshire Arms on Presteigne High Street. Drivers and bouncers sign to say they are fit to take part, collect their score cards which records how they have done over the various sections and head off to their start hill, usually after having one of the excellent bacon baps that are available. The start hills are split between competitors so everyone heads off to different places, the idea being to stop everyone going to the same place and queuing for hours! There were 5 hills on the Saturday, two of which are designated as Spectator Hills.
Fun in the welsh mud

It would be lovely to welcome all and sundry to all the hills, but the land we use combined with new safety requirements mean we have to limit public access. For Saturday there was the perennial woodland favourite called Smatcher and a new hill based at Ralph’s Cider and Perry which was named after the farm, Badlands. They actually hosted a cider festival over the weekend and the trial section was an intergral part of this. The welcome they put on was excellent with tractor rides  to the start of the section, vintage engines and tractors greeting guests as they arrived at the farmyard below. Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity to stop and purchase cider but those (non-drivers) who did assures me it was excellent. Fingers crossed the Club will be visiting these top notch hosts again next year.
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Once the hills are completed, the cars return to the Radnorshire Arms to hand in the Saturday scorecards and collect the ones for Sunday morning, which comprises of 7 hills. Back at Presteigne there is a great atmosphere as the High Street is taken over by vintage cars, all of which are made very welcome by the locals, not surprising as its been estimated the Club generates around £100,000 additional revenue in the area. As discussed here the social side of the Club is hugely important and Presteigne, one of the spiritual homes of the VSCC, is no exception. Children all flock together in the pub garden whilst the adults discuss the day’s progress over a well deserved pint. Of course, as shown in the picture below, it can all get a bit much for some people!
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Often there is fettling of the cars in the street as any mechanical issues of the day are sorted out along with plenty of healthy banter and a party atmosphere. You can see more shots of the trial and the High Street on my friend Rob’s twitter feed.

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Sunday morning and the Other Half headed off to collect his bouncer before travelling on to his start hill for the day. Unfortunately disaster struck when engine problems hit meaning a nice hole in the crank case, I still have my fingers crossed it will be repaired in time to for me to have my turn at the Cotswold Trial in November – spectator hills being based around Prescott Hill Climb near Cheltenham. Prior to that our A7, nicknamed Gizmo, will also be making an appearance at the NEC Classic Motor Show on the VSCC stand, one of his stable mates will be the fabulous Beast of Turin.

Whilst Gizmo was being returned home so the damage could be assessed I headed out to visit a section called Railway, this has been manned for the last two years by a number of the Club’s younger generation so I dropped in to soak up some of the wonderful enthusiasm they show as they cheer cars up the hill. Many people bemoan the lack of youngsters in sport so we are lucky to have a crowd who both compete and marshal.

From there it was off to Cwm Whitton for the afternoon hills, all spectator friendly this time as evidenced by the huge number of people who turn up each year, providing a donation to the local Rotary Club who kindly organise the parking and enjoy the tea and caked provided on site.

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To be fair the day had a bit of a damper on it after Gizmo’s problems but the Other Half joined me and again we soaked up the atmosphere and watched some friends, including a Morris called Borris, try their best. We left before the results were announced but really the fun is in taking part so who wins is slightly immaterial!
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

A very vintage day out at Loton Park

The rest of the car world seemed to be at Goodwood, basking in dressing up and playing at being vintage. In a small corner of the Shropshire countryside the Vintage Sports Car Club put on a truly vintage event at Loton Park.

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Goodwood is, of course, highly successful and rightly so, but my heart is in grassroots motorsport and Loton Park is a wonderful example of this. I have blogged about VSCC hillclimbing here and some of the Club’s other activities here but Loton Park always holds a very special place for me.

It is one of the most picturesque courses I have been too and, whilst Prescott is ‘the’ event everyone wants to go to and has a wonderful garden party atmosphere, Loton is relaxed, has the clubbie feel and feels more like events used to be. I’m not one for unnecessary nostalgia (says she who is heavily involved with vintage cars!!)  but the old motto of the Club was ‘the right crowd and no crowding’. Everyone at Loton was there for the love of cars, the competitors all muck in to look after each other and the whole thing has a lovely relaxed atmosphere.
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Saturday started off wet with a few heavyish downpours for the unlucky early runners but once the grey sky had passed, the drivers were rewarded with a dry track for the rest of the weekend and even some sunshine on occasion. Practice was relatively event free and the time sheet revealed that the fastest pre-war car was some way ahead of his rivals.

Really everyone was waiting for the Saturday night hog roast. Kindly organised by brothers Robin and David Baker who are affectionately known as the Baker Boys, this is a real chance for marshals, competitors and guests to stand round the bar, enjoy some real ale and banter and follow it up with some rather lovey pig rolls. The real highlight of my night was being awarded the annual Baker Boys Trophy, originally awarded for Best Performance in an Aero-Engined Car, it has now grown into a ‘good egg’ trophy. I was absolutely astounded to receive it, especially as there are so many ‘good eggs’ in the Club, as demonstrated by Sunday’s events.
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Talking of which, it all started ok, the first car on the hill was an Austin 7 driven by the Club’s new Treasurer and he managed to bag himself a 2nd Handicap award. In fact the day in general went fairly smoothly with people taking a much tidier line around Triangle.
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Lunchtime provided an opportunity for competitors to give a cadet a run up the hill as a reward for the cadets undertaking car parking duties.
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After lunch, things got a little more difficult. Just out of my sight, Richard Scaldwell had a rather large off in his rather large De Dietrich, however having been checked over by the Doc, he was transferred to hospital in a friend’s camper van so that a cut could be properly cleaned and stitched. Slightly battered and bruised, the biggest dent seems to have been to his wallet for the repairs. A wonderful camaraderie was shown when one competitor towed home the stricken car with another competitor taking home the car of Richard’s wife, who had also been competing. They were by no means the only people to offer to help.

Once the incident had been tidied up, we were back under way, a slightly subdued Mark Walker in his Darraq being the first to tackle the hill, with a class win already in his pocket he had no need to do anything other than drive steady , which he did, even if it didn’t necessarily look like that to the untrained eye. The meeting finished with the very last car (although not vintage) taking Fastest Time of the Day.
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Just to prove that the Club is one of equal opportunities, that FTD was by a female driver, Phoebe Rolt, as were a number of other awards, including Jo Blakeney-Edwards (probably more competitive than all the men put together) winning Class 3 and the ever popular Sue Derbyshire (still one of my most respected drivers) taken a 2nd in her class.

Fastest Time of the Day by a Pre-War car was a three way fight and an all-male affair. Favourite before and during the meeting was Julian Grimwade (Frazer Nash Norris Special) who had set the fastest time of the three contenders in practise. Vying to deprive him of the top spot were Tony Lees in his Cognac and Tim Greenhill in his Wolsley. When it came to the final runs, Tony and Tim were in the class before and finished with just 0.2 second difference between them. However they didn’t do quite enough to beat Julian’s morning time of 65.14s, just 0.63s ahead of Phoebe’s morning time. Could he improve and beat the post-war car? He did his bit and improved to 64.85s. As you already know, Phoebe went just that little bit faster to take overall FTD.

Drivers waiting at Loton Park

Loton Park, as organised by Hagley and District Light Car Club organise a number of events throughout the year, including a round of the British HillClimb Championship. To read more about one of their more modern meetings you can read this piece

So will I be at Loton or Goodwood next year? One has excellent on track action, vintage machinery you can get up close to and is a great day out, the other is in West Sussex . I’ll stick to Loton Park.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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