Charity begins close to home
Barking, December 7: Johnny Herbert celebrates 20 years of raising money for worthwhile causes
Several miles east of London’s hub, just beyond a crest, the posted limit on the A13 drops from 50mph to 40… and there are two sets of average speed cameras just metres apart. Mistime your braking by a second or so and you might well get a ticket. I’m all for reducing road accidents, but such set-ups owe little to safety and everything to attempted extortion.
On this particular Sunday morning, a superior manifestation of the human spirit could be found just a few minutes away, at Capital Karts in Barking. Here, about six miles from his native Romford, Johnny Herbert was hosting his annual charity kart challenge for the 20th time. In 2014 the chief beneficiary was the Halow Project, which specialises in creating opportunities for those with learning disabilities. When I arrived, Herbert was ferreting through his kit bag. “I’m just checking to see whether my overalls have been washed in the past 12 months,” he said. “Also, I’m hoping I haven’t repeated last year’s trick of bringing two left-handed gloves…”
This is the longest indoor circuit in the UK, at 1050 metres, and a quickish lap takes about 70 seconds.
Compacting such a track into a relatively small space involves a degree of compromise, so the circuit is inevitably narrow – in places barely two karts wide – and also very bumpy. A little persuasive nudging was unavoidable, but race officials accepted as much and the three-hour enduro was sensibly administered.
I was assigned to the Halow Flyers, a team comprising sports car racers Duncan Tappy and Alex Brundle, Cris Pirro (son of serial Le Mans winner Emanuele), stunt driver Salvo Cachia and, supposedly, Damon Hill. The latter had aggravated a back injury, however, which was his own stupid fault for playing golf: he was thus assigned to other duties, such as hanging out the pit board and drinking endless cups of tea.
“Damon and I started in cars at about the same time,” Herbert said, “and we came through the sport together and achieved what we achieved – although he of course won a world championship. Bastard…”
Victory went to BT Motorsport (Bobby Thompson, Danny Wood, Reece Wade, Tom Jackson, Laura Tillett and Connor Wade), with solo racer Howard Kayman taking second. Herbert and Johnny Mowlem finished third, abetted by Tiffany Chittenden, Tamsin Germain, Will Shaw and Connor Mills.
“The event has come a long way in 20 years,” Herbert said, “and [organiser] Roy Craig has played a significant part in that. It began as a nice relaxing day out, but has evolved into one of the most competitive things I’ve ever done. It has raised a lot of money, though, which is the main thing.”
In this instance, the tally was more than £36,000.
We finished somewhere in the middle, along with two Kartforce teams featuring injured service troops – double amputees, in some instances – who have used motor sport as part of their rehabilitation. Karting provides a level playing field and the project’s ultimate goal is to build towards an entry for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
A fruitful day, then, but also a source of significant inspiration.
A mantra for all seasons
Mallory Park, December 26: a popular tradition revived… in the inevitable slipstream of a fried breakfast
Daylight was some way distant, but radio reports already confirmed queues of shoppers outside department stores on London’s Oxford Street. Boxing Day traditions have changed in recent decades: there was a time when you’d have to wait until about December 29 before shops would re-open and you could venture out to spend the record tokens accumulated as Christmas gifts. You had time to plan your acquisition strategy and the anticipation was delicious, a vastly superior alternative to mindless spending.
There are many acceptable things to do on Boxing Day – but rushing out to buy a dishwasher is not among them: settling down to watch a Bond movie with family, friends and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is fine, ditto attending a football match (preferably non-league)… or setting co-ordinates for Mallory Park.
It is 60 years since Brands Hatch pioneered the concept of Christmas race meetings – and Mallory has upheld the tradition in recent times. Its annual Plum Pudding fixture (something of a modern rarity, in that it combines four wheels with two) slipped from the schedule in 2013 while a new management team was in the process of adopting a temporarily closed circuit, but it was rapidly reprieved – and represented only the second time all year that cars had raced at the 1.3-mile track (although a full calendar is in place for 2015).
It was still quite dark when I arrived, although the paddock was ripe with chat (bikers discussing sets of racing wheels they’d just acquired from eBay) and the café cast a narrow, welcoming shaft of light through the gloom. Its fried breakfasts would arguably be a match for any fare served in the UK over the Christmas period. Only later did I learn this was to be the final meeting for the wonderful catering team, which has retired as a collective after being a staple for as long as I can remember. Had I known at the time, I’d have popped back to pay due tribute: the end of an era and a very tough act to follow.
The planned sidecar events had to be canned due to a shortage of entries, but eight races survived: four for bikes and two apiece for sports cars and saloons. And compared with the contemporary club racing norm, the crowd was substantial.
Given the meeting’s nature (the circuit layout had to be altered from time to time to accommodate the bikes, with two chicanes implemented) and the shortage of daylight (practice wasn’t scheduled to start until 9.30am), smooth operations are ever essential. There was plenty of scope for chaos, with significant speed differentials (everything from a Radical SR3 to a Riley Brooklands in the sports car race) and grids determined by random methodology, but the whole thing was a paragon of slick efficiency. Andy Thompson (Seat Toledo) won both saloon races, while Rob Spencer (Locost) and Ray Rowan (Porsche 911 GT3) took one victory apiece in the sports car events.
There was even time for a lunch break – unusual in this day and age, as many a weary marshal will testify – but by then necessity dictated contemplation of an early departure. During the morning I’d noticed some strange spots and swirls in my camera’s viewfinder and it took several minutes to establish that the problem had more to do with Arron than Pentax. I stayed as long as I could, but with left-side vision deteriorating it seemed wise to head to London’s Moorfields for analysis (some kind of haemorrhaged blood vessel, apparently, but it should repair of its own free will).
Even through one eye, though, the Plum Pudding meeting had been a constant delight – a throwback to a time before rigid structures, when taking part was all that mattered.