ON GETTING INTO THE GAME
If you were born a motoring enthusiast it is not your fault, and, indeed, I sometimes wonder if we are not to be pitied. Because, while enthusiasts for most of the other sports have only to go out and buy a pair of shorts or white flannels and a vest and some quite simple bats and balls or rods and lines and so forth, you cannot very well motor-race until you have a racing-car, the cost of which is out of all proportion to that of the equipment needed for active participation in so many other pastimes. I suppose we have only ourselves to blame, however, for Grand Prix racing certainly wasn’t taught on the playing-fields of Eton. And at the other end of the scale, how many middle class and working class men and women care who has won the Donington Grand Prix, or, for that matter, the T.T., by means of which they are supposed to access the merits of the cars which they will buy or on which the first instalment will be staked ?
Yet, if motor-racing is in your blood nothing can be done about it, not even by Dr. Benjafield (who should understand the symptoms), especially as you will probably have surreptitiously read “The Lure of Speed” and “Motor Racing” and “Full Throttle” and “Ten Years” and ” Road Racing, 1936″ and all the other matter on which the germ feeds, during our youth. You may get some satisfaction out of associating yourself with the sport by wielding a Watermans or a Contax, but that will give only partial satisfaction, and all the time the burning question is how to drive a racing-car in a reasonably important rare—a question that must be
discussed every day of the year in every one of our schools and colleges. Yet, I rather feel that the humane thing to do is to advise young enthusiasts to forget real racing unless they, or their parents, have bags of money to forfeit. It seems to me that the chances of driving professionally for a firm are very slight to-day—with only Austin and Riley competing officially and their teams already well served. It was difficult enough when Segrave and Davis began, when Sunbeam, A.C., and Bentley, with others, spent every summer week-end courting publicity and learning
lessons, for drivers who could claim some experience in other spheres when interviewed by the Great White Chief. And there are so many more experienced drivers about nowadays.
Certainly a man may be especially good at some aspect of the raring game, such as chart-control or wheel changing and then, if he is noticed by someone who is inclined to pull strings and has really good strings to pull, he may get where he wishes to get without uptold expense. But, taking it generally, the chances of
driving other persons’ cars in races, or even in rallies or trials, is not a thing to count on when deciding on one’s career. You will remember that when Segrave begged Coatalen to give him a place in
the Sunbeam team he had no sort of reception until he bought the Opel and raced it for a season or so on his own. Even to do that to-day is beyond the means of most of those who would willingly back the sport with their lives, but who cannot do so with hard cash.
Indeed, even those optimistic plans to rim cars in minor speed trials and hillclimbs so very often fail from this reason.
A G.N. frame at 80/with a rather hot engine dropped in Sounds easy meat, but even modifications of this sort burn the brass, and invariably leave nothing with which to meet entry fees, insurance, transport and repair charges.
If you really haven’t thought about how expensive this pastime is, just jot down some items for, say, the Land’s End Trial—fuel, oil, hotels, entry fee, additional insurance, etc.And if you think that a syndicate of half-a-dozen enthusiasts is the watertight solution, I can only say that I have never known it to work satisfactorily yet—or not after the man who won the toss has blown every bit of the power-unit to atoms on the first trial run. Perhaps I am a super-pessimist, but to those who cannot back their ambitious with much money, I can only say—forget serious racing. There is a heap of fun to be had just driving as many different makes as you can, keeping a rough log of your mileage on each. There is a good deal of satisfaction to be had in visiting as many big fixtures as you can possibly attend and in following closely the technical and sporting aspects of the game, so that you make up in knowledge something of what you lack in practical experience. Surely we can all take heart from the young enthusiast who every day lifted a bar loaded to a
weight equivalent to that of his favourite racing-car, so that when his big chance came he might dispense with a jack during his pit-stops. Unfortunately he had apparently forgotten that the driver invariably remains in the cockpit during a quick wheel-change, but it was better than playing with Sehucos on the bathroom floor.
When you have made your fortune selling pigs or property, behind a desk or on the Stock Exchange, then you can follow your ambition and enter the sport, remembering that the better class of trial and sprint event is an excellent introduction to serious racing. Even L0/610 ‘spent on joining the B.A.R.C. and 120 on an Old 80 imp.h. chassis with which to commit lappery on non-race days, until Mr. Bradley tires of the noise or saves you from yourself, will not, in my opinion, be money wasted. An extremely keen enthusiast who once raced a Brooklands Riley in a small way, and who has temporarily given up racing for financial and other reasons, tells me that he never misses an opportunity to compete in any event, no matter how humble, or how normal the automobile he enters. In this he is following out advice given by one of our best known drivers, and the enthusiast in question left school quite a while ago. It is so very true that continual practice is invaluable. SP to those readers of this paper who are not racing drivers and who have not the sum of -(1,000 a year to spend on racing, I suggest a week composed of live and a half days hard labour and one and a half days spent in seriously driving any and every car you can lay your hands on, until you can afford to spend eight days a week in or under a racingcar of your own. Don’t retort that lots
of people who are not rich men drive every week-end in competition and appear to be making money by doing so— because how they do it is one of those major mysteries that you and I will never solve. Up to this point I might as well have called this outpouring ” On Banishing those Dreams” or ” On Dispelling an Illusion,” so we will now think about the difficulties that confront the young man or woman who really can afford to enter the game but who is doing so without any previous experience of racing. I do feel that in cases of this kind it is a thousand pities that there is no approved way of learning a few lessons. Of course, some folk, who have practically lived under a sump, will be able to drive anything well in any conditions and this plea for any easy means of gaining experience will naturally leave them cold-all they ask is the car and the chance to race it. But I do feel that there are numbers of persons who do not wish to become slaves of the motor-car, hut who drive on account of sporting, engineering and social interests, and who could do with some advice during their initial races. If a start is made at Lewes and
Shelsley and similar venues with a comparatively slow car th:s is not so necessary, but what of an enthusiast able to commence his racing career with a secondhand E.R.A., or Maserati, or Alfa, or a reasonably potent Brigatti or a new Alta, and desires to compete in events like the Donington Grand Prix, Manx G.P., Empire Coronation and Campbell Trophy Races, etc ? A good car can easily be ruined by lack of experience or temporary forgetfulness, so that a novice running a mono Alfa in a big race
is rather akin to Auntie or the ladyfriend taking their driving lessons on yohr 1937 Bentley or Lagon.da—not too pleasant to contemplate. Apart from which, young lives have been lost before now at Brooklands and on road-courses, purely on account of cars proving too fast for their inexperienced pilots. I am not suggesting for a moment that mere teaching will produce drivers of the calibre of Seaman, Straight, Segrave or Birkin, because obviously such men possess indefinable qualities that few other drivers possess. And I do not Particularly like the idea of a ” School of Motor-Racing ” because the fascination of the sport is largely bound up with its versatility, and it cannot be parrot-taught to perfection like mere games of bat and ball. But some preliminary instruction to safeguard lives and machinery is long overdue. However long you spend behind the wheels of sports-type cars, always will the frilly ” pur sang” racing automobile be a different, much sterner proposition. Moreover, up to the present there has been far too little opportunity for a beginner to practise over road-circuits or even to a suffi,Aent extent round the
Mountain at Brooklands. Perhaps all that will change with the opening of the Southern road courses, and I hope it will, for, disrespectful of the law as sports-car folk are alleged to be, few of us would attempt cornering practice on public roads, even with nice, sober motors in the most God-forsaken parts of this country. And even though a man May own a racing motor-car and possess the means wherewith to exercise it, that does not necessarily imply that he has the time or chance to serve a racing apprenticeship abroad with a recognised stable, or his own experienced helpers, as Straight, Seaman, Hamilton, and ” Bira ” did with MG. Magnettes, before they turned to the heavier metal.
Thus there is scope for a club whose primary aim would be to provide racing tuition. It was a great pity that the Junior Racing Drivers’ Club came to nothing, for definitely this was the right idea, though Klemantaski tells me there is no intention of reviving it.
Poor Tommy Hann attempted something of the same sort on a more humble scale when he formed the Amateur’s Car Racing Chib a few years back, but this, too, was unsuccessful, though ” Softly Catch Monkey II,” now in Scotland, would have made an excellent training mount, consisting as it did of a practically untuned 16./00 Merades with racing bodywork. Then, the year before last, Captain D. B. K. Shipwright., who raced an Armstrong-Siddeley at Brooklands in 1921, returned to Weybridge and opened premises with this tuitionidea in mind. He got as far as erecting a big map of the Track in his office, stuck all over with little flags to indicate where the bumps are. But he did not proceed with the idea. However, I believe that there is scope for an organisation on these lines, and I think it could successfully command quite substantial subscriptions if it could ensure genuine advice from recognised authorities. Standardised equipment
usually pays, se) if I were starting a club on these lines I should try to get hold of some racing MG. Magnettes and a few Grand Prix Bugattis, picked as much for reliability as for maximum speed abilities, which would call for sufficient skill in handling, would not be too costly to maintain and would have two-Seater bodywork. And I should endeavour to get the younger and more impecunious members going on wheel-changing, pingchanging and general pit-work. Run on the liner of our Flying Schools, I think a body of this sort might pay its way and even prosper, even without a subsidy. But r should draw the line at actually entering club cars for races, and would charge a small fee or any services rendered to Members while running their own cars. A possible profitable development is that of hiring racing-cars to beginners. Bellevue Garage appeared to work the scheme quite satisfactorily last year with an M.G. Magnette, and Almack does a certain amount of this sort of thing with his Austins, a Riley and the AbbottNash, while I believe John Roister had his first taste of competition motoring when he drove a hired Brooklands Riley in a Mountain Handicap.
As a means whereby someone who cannot afford to build, even a sprint special can enter racing, hiring is doubtless doomed to failure, but I think it might prove saiisfaetory in eases where a driver is anxious to go through a season’s racing before investing in a racing-car of his own, in which case he can afford to book a car for a series of events and come to some agreement that will cover “blowups “—though the latter is a matter in which the whimsical will at once see tremendous possibilities !
Incidentally, although it has no connection with tuition, one of the biggest annoyances that confronts anyone who is taking up racing at Brocklands, or even just running in club meetings at the Track, is that of getting hold of
a silencer that will satisfy the scrutineers. Consequently, I alai rather surprised that nowhere within the Weybridge estate can one find a firm specialising in silencers, doing nothing else but make up silencers at a few hours’ notice, repair burst silencers, ?tack Brooklands silencers for popular sportscars, and design Brooklands silencers in a few minutes from the time of receiving clients’ exhaust-port rubbings and pipe
diameters. I present the idea to anyone who loves living at the Track and must work there if he is to do so.
Reverting to tuition, it occurs to me that there are lots of first-rate mechanics about the country who in their day have served with wed known racing teams, as, for instance, with the Bentley boys at Le Mans, and that some of these men could earn sound money very pleasantly by forming a club of the sort I have visnalised, or by helping those racing enthusiasts who are fairly rich and very serious, but not rich enough to employ a Ramponi to manage their pits and service their cars.
In conclusion, is it too Much to hope that before another season is over we shall have such an organisation, to which newcomers to the game will go (if they are wise) and be taught how ? There are lots of ultra-fast racing ears in the market, the new road-circuits have come into being, enthusiasm looks like peaking these next few years, and young drivers are likely to run needless risks and burst much first-rate machinery unless a little valuable tuition is available. Motorracing is a complicated game and there remains the satisfaction of knowing that, however much you teach a would-be driver, it will never make the driving of a good racing-car anything like as simple as batting a ball out of a bunker . .