It’s been a while but NMA Tutor Roger Grimshaw’s blogs are back!
Roger has decades of motorsport industry experience and teaches the Mathematics for Motorsport module on the BSc Motorsport Engineering degree. An ex-amateur racing driver, Roger understands the industry from a petrol head perspective as well as a commercial and technical angle.
Speaking of racing… Roger’s first blog back is his early career in racing. Over to you Roger!
“I want to race..."
The four words that strike fear into every parental wallet but also allows a dad to puff out his chest and say “that’s my kid!”
I know when I said those words to my dad I got a look that indicated he thought that I had left a bad smell in the car. We had just been to Kings Lynn Speedway, it was back in the 70’s (you’ve aged better than I thought, Ed) and we were driving home in the forerunner of the Austin All Aggro, the Austin 1100.
Luckily for my parents, I had just won a scholarship to boarding school and so the racing fund never got started, let alone depleted. But the desire didn’t go away; many years later, after a visit to Silverstone for a birthday (for the nerds, a Group C race, Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever won, so what was the race car and what was the date of the race?) I got THAT feeling again.
It is now 13 years since the onset of epilepsy meant giving up my racing licence but I watched some old footage of the Britcar 24 hours in 2008 and there I was, pedaling rather well it has to be said. (“the older you get, the faster you were”, Ed). It got me thinking about how I got into racing, what I did, where I got it right, and where I didn’t. I thought that a few blogs on a few topics including some of the ways to race, getting a licence and progressing further into your career might make a bit of good reading (and the chance to take the mickey, Ed). I hope you all agree.
Where to start? That is a bit of a string measuring exercise but we all have to start somewhere. For me, it was the world famous Jim Russell Racing School at Donington. Back then we didn’t have the interweb thingy, but now you can see where your local ARDS (Association of Racing Driver Schools, ards.co.uk ) circuit is; although there is one at pretty much every circuit in the country. Use them to book your first “have a go” session. It is what I did and I didn’t regret a moment. For those that don’t want to start with cars, check the Autocycle Union, acu.org.uk, or karting, abkc.org.uk amongst so many early access motorsport routes.
Kelvin Burt in action – Copyright: Motorsport Images
That is not to say it went well at the start – my instructors, Kelvin Burt (TWR Volvo) and Richard Dean (he of United Autosports fame), did make some choice comments (not all of them polite) about my skill, or lack thereof. Lapping behind a school car in a new at the time, Formula Junior, absolutely blew my brains as we got faster and faster through the Craner Curves and Old Hairpin. I went home after these sessions as a complete dribbly – nothing working inside my head, no brainpower left, all my brain bandwidth used up. The feeling of the car moving around with such direct steering, every heartbeat booming inside my head as I almost popped my eyes out with such concentration. I could go on but my poetry is finite.
What went wrong?………Plenty.
I think at that early stage, I knew the names of most of the marshals as we conversed when they pulled me out of the gravel. Heck, I even knew most of the pieces of gravel by name as well. I was trying too hard – I had thought it would be easy and frankly, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
What I did know was that I loved it; hugely expensive or not, this was my sport. I was never a rugby or football player at school, I wasn’t a team sport boy, I played squash. This meant I had learnt nothing during PE about working as a team, getting your head right, trying too hard. In fact everything that the PE and Sports coaches had taught the school teams passed me by as I was a lone sports player. I didn’t get the same wisdom because there is no “I in team”.
Richard Dean at the 2010 Spa 24Hrs. Image courtesy of United Autosports
I spent all my spare time at Donington racetrack trying to learn. It didn’t matter whether I was booked on the Jim Russell Driving Days at a race meeting or a test day, i was watching, asking and learning. There is no substitute for having your bum in a racing seat so I joined the Jim Russell Racing Series. You didn’t need a race licence as it was a closed club event but it was run just like the real thing, because it was the real thing; the air was thick with anticipation, like any paddock on race day, I can tell you.
That season there was a really young, unfeasibly tall chap in the series; future BTCC and WTCC legend James Thompson. Despite me learning plenty and getting a better handle on keeping it on the black stuff, he ran off, literally. It didn’t matter which school car he was in, it didn’t matter where he started on the grid, come the end of the race he was at the sharp end. I led a race, just one, during the season and I believe he had started from the pit lane, stone last. On that day I was the best I had ever been up to that point, I really was. I was fast enough to have a good gap to second and slow enough not to take any shortcuts across gravel traps……………….and then at the start of lap 9 of 10, along the pit straight, a blur came past at what seemed like warp speed, touched the brakes for Redgate and was nearly 10 seconds ahead of me at the flag
A Formula Junior Car
Afterwards, clutching my second place trophy like my life depended on it, I sat down with another legend, John Kirkpatrick, then MD of Jim Russell Racing, now The Big Cheese in the MIA.
“Don’t be disappointed Roger, you did great. That lad will win championships, he is very special”. How prescient of John. We still laugh about it now on the MIA stand at the Autosport show.
Next time, I will relay how I became a legend in my own mind (which actually meant I started to believe my own hype) and came down with a nasty bump.