Roger Grimshaw - ''A Muppet in a Race Car''
Following on from the last excerpt of my memoirs. I promised you that I would come down with a bump. But we are not getting to the punchline that quickly, you have got to put up with some more of my rose-coloured recollections before then.
After the season at Jim Russell Racing, where, despite not winning more than 1 trophy and being old enough to be some of the young racer’s dad, I had decided in my own mind that I was destined for the very top (Top of the Christmas tree more like, Ed). I then went off looking for the race series that would allow this to happen……and once I had found out how much it would cost, the money to do it. Coming back to something I said in the last blog, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and wow did I learn quick how expensive real motor racing is.
A single seater series like Formula Ford was going to cost me three years gross salary and my sponsorship strapline of “Beaten into second place by the UK’s hottest newcomer” didn’t seem to have the ££ and offers rolling in. A rethink was necessary.
Until this point I was a purist – Formula cars were the only way to go; the combination of open air, really direct steering, tiny gear sticks and feeling everything through the seat of your pants was the ultimate buzz. However, it was a buzz that I couldn’t afford. I decided that until I had got teams climbing over each other to sign me (I had to read that twice! Ed) that I would grace a lidded race car with my presence. Remember that bit about coming down with a bump? Hmm, I did the JRR series in Vauxhall Astra’s; to save money and get experience. However, I did neither, as I managed to visit the gravel in both of the first two races. I had NO idea of how a saloon car handles on the limit and no idea about the difference between front and rear wheel drive race cars at that point.
To make matters worse I was offered a “pay as you go” opportunity in a formula car. OK, it wasn’t the most modern of Formula Ford’s…in truth, I was later told it was used by some bloke called Noah who raced it round some Ark that he had built. But it was a race car, and it was cheap……ish.
The car was based at Mallory Park in Leicestershire. In those days it was a thoroughbred racing circuit; now it has probably one meeting a month and the rest is track days, all because of new movers on the housing estate nearby complaining about the noise.
Will someone please explain how a person can move into a house 200 yards from a racing circuit, at the end of their road as well, and can somehow then complain about noise. The other version, a nice new house in Nigel Mansell Close, Fawkham, Kent and then complain they didn’t know there was a race circuit there. SUE YOUR SOLICITOR; NOT KILL THE RACING.
Anyway, I have taken a couple of chill pills and just returned from the darkened room I was taken to, so I am alright to continue now as long as the blood pressure doesn’t rise too much.
I did my ARDS test at Donington, got my piece of thickened paper with my photo and spaces for the signatures and legends were ready to be made. I was going grown up racing.
The FF was a Van Diemen RF78, a fine example of the breed. It was finished in BRG and stood out on the grid… mostly because it was 12 years older than everything else out there. I was oblivious to the smirks in the paddock and the comments that maybe I was early for the Historic meeting next week.
I didn’t have to do a thing except pay my pennies and drive – the car owner, whom I had met at an indoor kart circuit championship, was going to “engineer”. I use the word “engineer” in the loosest version of the definition now, but I didn’t know that at the time.
My first drive was qualifying. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t driven it before, I was a driving god. A driving god with a yellow and black square on the back of the car.
Qualifying was proper hard work. At Jim Russell Racing we were let out in twos and threes, so we didn’t mash into anyone else under braking or dive up the inside in search for the last 10th of a second. Here the flag waved at the end of the pitlane and a horde, no, a swarm, of angry buzzy FF leapt onto the track and we were away. The whole thing was a blur; my brain bandwidth was all used up keeping away from everyone doing sillies at the chicane; keeping the thing in the right gear as I daren’t take my eyes of the track, even to look at the vibrating rev counter (no digital dash in those days, these things were struggling to even be analogue!). I went round and round and round again and all of a sudden, I remember this feeling of calm control coming over me as my brain dialled into the all-encompassing assault on my senses.
Then qualifying was all over; I hadn’t stuck it in the weeds or the lake in the centre of the circuit; I hadn’t come into the pits for any changes as I wouldn’t know what I wanted to change anyway; my eyes were on stalks and I was sweating like crazy and suddenly I felt sick…change that, suddenly I was sick… right in my new race helmet. I toured back to the pitlane and paddock with a skull splitting headache, climbed out, took my helmet off and sick dripped off my nose and chin.
I couldn’t understand why the car owner was hugging me even though I was depositing slightly digested toast and beans on his shirt as he did so. Despite staring at the track as I drove, I had singularly failed to look at my pit board to see my position on the grid rising lap by lap to SEVENTH.
I spent the rest of the morning getting ever more disappointed that the Autosport Club Editor had not made a beeline straight to our tented piece of the paddock in order to interview me. I assumed that he was saving it for the plainly obvious giant killing act that I was going to perform later in the day.
Remember the “coming down to earth with a bump”? Here we go – strap yourself in.
In no time I was back in the car having consumed enough Nurofen and paracetamol to fail a drug test and weaving side to side (not because I knew why but because everyone else was doing it) on the way round the track to the grid. Seventh, did I mention that earlier?
I didn’t even know how many revs to give it at the start, so I went from car cloaking, wheel spinning tyre smoke to a bogged down car in 2 gears. I didn’t get collected but I did lose a few places. And the brain was not happy – bandwidth all used up again. By lap 3 or 4 I was back on this planet and ready to show myself to the hundreds of spectators including, I was certain, talent scouts from every real team out there. I started passing cars, in fact I was doing rather well, and I was back in the top half dozen and then it went pear shaped.
At the start of the back straight someone had grenaded their car against someone else. Luckily all the cars and debris had gone off the track, except for the big bit I ran over. Wow I thought, that was lucky, no damage. WRONG.
I didn’t know it until I got to the hairpin and stood on the brakes, but I had none. The debris I had hit had taken a brake line and I was fresh out of stopping power and watching the tyre barrier coming at me.
Why is it impossible to spin when you really need to?
I didn’t let go of the steering wheel so what happened? BANG into the tyres and my hands hurt. Ohhh did they hurt. I couldn’t get out of the car they hurt so much. The race was red flagged, and I was extracted and taken to the St John’s Ambulance, who diagnosed 2 broken thumbs even without X-Rays. They put on big metal splints to stabilise the blindingly obvious breaks and then bandaged round them to keep them still. I actually wasn’t offered a trip to hospital as there was no backup Ambulance and the meeting would have to be stopped if they took me. I refused anyway and said I was going home. I hadn’t quite thought this through as I lived 50 miles away and had two bandaged clubs at the end of my arms.
Imagine the scene; a bloke, still smelling of sick, with two bandaged hands, climbing the stairs to race control and asking to use the phone to call his parents for a lift (no mobiles then). I was not seeing the funny side and I looked like an industrial level idiot walking around with my hands in the air, so they didn’t throb.
Footnote: they were broken, they did get plastered and splinted properly and my stellar career had hit a speed bump in the road until I was well enough to get back in the car.