“I looked down at my leg,” explains former paratrooper Andy Jones, “and saw an exhaust manifold sticking out of it. Around it were some other wounds. Four pieces of shrapnel, nuts and bolts, had gone through my leg. Thing is, they were so hot they cauterised the wound on the way through so I didn’t really feel them. They missed all the important arteries and nerves and stuff. I was lucky, I s’pose.”
I hadn’t really thought much about improvised explosive devices before I met Andy – and certainly never considered just how improvised they really are until I shared a car, and a beer or two, with race debutants Jones and Paul Vice MC at the Race of Remembrance (‘they’ll put sheep’s teeth in, and other stuff’ says ‘Vicey’). But then I hadn’t really given much thought to the daily horrors suffered in warfare. Like many, I guess, I would switch off the TV or turn the page when faced with the uncomfortable truths of conflict. Far away battles, at a distance I was all too happy to maintain. Well, never again. Not after watching Andy return to a battlefield of sorts during the Race of Remembrance.
Following the injuries he sustained in the IED explosion, Andy was medically discharged from the parachute regiment. Haunted and lost, Andy’s life went into a tailspin. His marriage failed and he became homeless – the roof over his head provided by a Vauxhall Corsa. By his own admission, he explored the darkest of darkest moments during this horrible time.
Andy’s road to recovery is a racetrack – a passion for cars identified by the Mission Motorsport charity soon after Andy joined the Veteran Employment Transition Support (VETS) programme. Mission Motorsport helped Andy train for his ARDS racing licence, and assist him in finding a new focus and direction. Part of that direction was the carrot of the Race of Remembrance – and a promise of a race debut.
However, in qualifying Andy had a spin. A ‘harmless’ spin to anyone watching. Not to Andy. The spin meant failure. It meant a return to the darkest moments. Worse, Andy was forced to sit out the session in the stranded car. Stuck beside the circuit, Andy’s torment returned. Claustrophobic and suffering a tumult of panic, pain, fear and guilt as the other cars raced by, Andy decided there and then that he would abandon the race meeting rather than risk letting down his team-mates. Of fight or flight, this tank of a man decided on flight.
That’s when I saw the Race of Remembrance and Mission Motorsport in action. Jim Cameron, CEO of Mission Motorsport, told us of Andy’s decision to leave but that the team was rallying around him. Eventually Andy emerged. It was proposed that he spend a few more laps in the car, with a team-mate beside him, literally trying to drive out those demons. And that’s what he did. Andy got in the car and rediscovered a courage that he thought had abandoned him. Before long, he was back in the groove – enjoying the car, the track, the conditions.
“I would happily charge at insurgents,” said Andy afterwards, “but I was going to walk away after that spin. I couldn’t face it. I thought I’d let everyone down, and I thought that the one thing that gave me some peace – driving – was gone forever. And with that gone, I just knew I’d be on the slide again.”
With confidence rediscovered, Andy drove faultlessly in the race – his debut, remember. Indeed, at the end of the 12 hours, in changeable conditions, on worn tyres and with a faster car hunting him down, Andy drove like seasoned pro and resisted the pressure to take the flag. I’m in no position to comment on bravery – I haven’t witnessed it like Andy or Vicey – but the courage, passion and compassion shown by the Mission Motorsport 2 drivers and team (and that includes you Kes, Ralph, Jeff, Aston, Ben) and the wider team involved in the Race of Remembrance has left an indelible imprint.
For more on the 2017 Race of Remembrance, and a video, check out the feature or visit www.motorsportmagazine.com
THIS IS THE last Motor Sport magazine before Christmas, so I would like to wish all of you the very best during this holiday period and into 2018.
2017 has been a fascinating time for motor racing – rich in contrasts with everything from an F1 eRacing champion being crowned to a Motor Sportcontributor taking the top step on the podium in a 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti at the Goodwood Revival. Somewhere in between, a chap called Hamilton won the F1 World Championship…
I maintain that now is the greatest era for our sport, and Motor Sport’s editorial team look forward to representing it with unrelenting depth and quality in our 95th year and beyond.