I started driving aged 11 in a 1963 Mini that was destined for the scrapyard. The fields around home providing the experience that would be useful when tarmac was available. My brother, David and I shared this and an old twin-shock motocross bike, a Bultaco Pursang 370cc two-stroke single that would prove fast and furious after kicking it over and running up and down the farmyard bumping it until there was no energy left to hang on to it when it did eventually start.
But four wheels was where I felt at home. In 1986 Dad and Barry Sidery-Smith organised a track day at Goodwood. What a place for my first (under-age) experience of driving on tarmac. We pounded around for lap after lap in Dad’s 1971 MGB Roadster. Only once spinning into the cabbages (Goodwood still had working fields then before Lord March resurrected its glory days 12 years later when the Revival started. We went to that too but that’s another story.)
My first competitive event was the 1998 VSCC Pomeroy Trophy again in Dad’s MGB (now powered by a 2L Fast Road engine with a straight-cut gearbox and the soon to be familiar yellow paint with blue stripes). It’s a handicap event with driving tests as well as a high-speed trial. I started 48th and finished 48th so I guess I did what I was supposed to.
Later that Spring we entered the MGCC MG Metro Cup in a yellow and blue Class B car. It had won the championship in 1997 and Dad’s ethos was change nothing about the car, I just had to get as good as the car was. He was right of course.
Tiff Needell joined us at the annual MGCC Silverstone race meeting in 1998. His standard Class A car "overheated" and he got a DNF which us regular drivers were rather pleased about as we expected to get a thrashing from the former F1 driver. The overheating later proved to be a piece of TV ‘fake news’ as the event was filmed for an episode of Top Gear aired later that year. It all added to the show.
After three full years with a greatest bunch of racing friends you could wish to meet I won the championship outright in 2000 with 11 class wins from 12 races and 5 new lap records at 5 different circuits. I was really at home but fatherhood had loomed and our daughter, Isabelle, and later Harry were more important than racing every other weekend and racing paused for over a decade.
In 1999, I borrowed the late Doug Bukin’s A7 special for at the VSCC New Year’s Day Driving Tests at Brooklands and got a third in class in my first and last driving test event. Doug was standing at the side of the test-hill as his little 7 thrashed passed. He later said with his characteristic smile “you were giving that some stick!” but I didn’t drive it again.
I am lucky to know Simon Merriott, first as a customer then becoming a friend. He owns a beautifully restored 1963 MGB Works style FIA race car which he has allowed me to race at various MGCC meetings. I’ve run it in the Equipe GTS series. They are a friendly crowd of historic racers (cars and gentlemen!) with a grid of superbly prepared cars. Unfortunately, as Historic racing has mushroomed in the last 10 years or so the costs have escalated too. From £99 entry fees in the late ‘90’s and a race weekend is now more than I can justify with children at college and wanting their own driving lessons.
On that point, we’ve come full circle and it is Isabelle and Harry’s turn to learn to drive. Izzie has been around Goodwood and Thruxton on young driver courses and loved it! Harry is sure he will design McLaren road cars when he leaves University, I have a feeling he might just do it too.