Tragedy and the triumphs

Snetterton, September 29: a veil of sadness cloaks the VSCC’s season swansong

“There’s not much point loitering here,” the marshal said, addressing a small media posse gathered close to the left-hand flick known as Chapman Corner. “We’ve been told it might be some time before things restart.”

I’ve developed a tendency to be blasé about red flags. Once a symbol of serious disruption, they nowadays tend to be brandished for relative trifles. The mood around the paddock’s fringe offered few clues, either – apparently oblivious to the symbolism of a prolonged, unscheduled silence, people chatted cheerfully in Norfolk’s Indian summer. Brows became more furrowed, however, as you edged closer to the pit garages and fragments of whispered conversation painted a bleak picture.

During practice for the day’s fifth scheduled event, for Pre-1941 Racing Cars, Bugatti T35B driver Stephen Jewell had collided with Mac Hulbert’s passing ERA on the pit straight. The Bugatti subsequently veered left into the barriers and Jewell was thrown from his car. He was treated at the scene and transferred by ambulance to hospital, but later succumbed.

Every tier of our sport generates significant forces – and it’s impossible to legislate for the consequences when these are unleashed unexpectedly. You know it might happen, but we’ve become accustomed to seeing drivers step away unharmed from complete wrecks. I’ve been a regular fixture at racing events for more than 40 years and have lost count of the number of meetings and test sessions I’ve attended, but it must be nudging four figures (if, indeed, that tally hasn’t already been passed). In all that time, I’d been present – prior to this season – at only 11 events during which fatalities had occurred. Snetterton, however, marked the third such occasion during a summer that has been among the bleakest of recent times.

With the consent of Jewell’s family, the meeting eventually resumed and showcased many of the reasons that lead us to forgive the sport its cruelties.

Snetterton 200 is closest in spirit to the 1974-2010 circuit, which preceded the present configuration, and suits club events well. The lap is long enough to be interesting, but not to the extent that fields become too thinly spread.

We’re used to seeing 500cc F3 racers taking an arm from the steering wheel so that they can clasp their car’s underbelly to improve weight distribution while cornering, almost in the manner of a sidecar passenger, but during practice many were raising a palm simply to shield the sun from their eyes along the Bentley (formerly Revett) Straight. In the race the leading group had both hands full with each other as the lead changed constantly. On the final lap George Shackleton (Cooper) teetered around the outside of Coram to grab the lead into Murrays (Russell, to those of an older stripe). His advantage was brief, however, as Martin drivers Simon Frost and Roy Hunt outdragged him to the line. Just two tenths covered the trio at the flag – the kind of finish that tends not to occur in contemporary F3.

Calum Lockie showed great flamboyance at the wheel of the Danaher family’s Maserati 6CM, as he stroked to victory in the Pre-1941 race, although even that paled alongside the exuberance of serial VSCC front-runner Justin Maeers in his GN Parker.

Having watched Maeers hustle the 1926 chassis to victory in the Vintage Seaman Trophy, I later saw him pull up to refuel the winning car at a BP station on the A11, an approach to racing that long pre-dates Ford Transits and trailers.

It was a day on which motor racing’s darkest side contrasted with the joyous simplicity of its essence.

Simon Arron