When big-money teams fill grids at a local club meeting, is it a chance for local drivers to pick up tips or does it ruin the spirit of the meeting?
It began 50 years ago this month with an exchange of letters in the “Smethwick Telephone”, a local Staffordshire newspaper that is now defunct. What followed was a series of racist leaflets and playground chants that led to a long serving MP losing his seat six months later. Smethwick is a small town near Birmingham but, to members of my generation, its name will be forever associated with arguably the most disgraceful campaign in British electoral history. Patrick Gordon-Walker had held the safe Labour seat for 19 years. His Conservative opponent, Peter Grffiths, accused him of being soft on immigration and leaflets were published with the slogan “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.” Patrick Gordon- Walker’s political career was destroyed but Griffiths remained a Tory MP until 1997.
None of today’s politicians would dare to use such intemperate language but quite a number have played the “race card”. I find all forms of racism repugnant, but I do have some sympathy with those communities who feel their lifestyles are threatened by a mass influx of people from different cultural backgrounds. Similarly, I felt sorry for a handful of local cadet drivers last month when they suddenly found themselves up against 20 top ranked stars as the big teams arrived at Rowrah. They were there to try out the circuit prior to forthcoming Super 1 and Little Green Man Rounds. In order to get through a heavy programme, entries in IAME cadet had been capped at 30 and two or three late applications were refused. I don’t know whether or not any of these were locals, but there would be some understandable resentment if that was the case. One of the attractions in staging a major championship round is that entries at preceding meetings will inevitably rise. That has always been the case, but such increases used to occur in manageable proportions. Top drivers were always welcomed at venues that normally didn’t attract such star quality and regulars relished an opportunity to test their skills against recognised opposition. However, the decision of where or when leading drivers race in club events has now become largely a corporate one.
Instead of several individuals deciding to take part in a particular meeting, we have large teams consulting with each other and virtually taking over a meeting. Imagine that you are operating as a lad and dad outfit, or even perhaps racing in a small local team. Your racing budget is, say £6,000 per year and doesn’t extend to more than a couple of meetings away from home. You could be enjoying regular podium positions with good prospects for the club championships. One or two top contenders arriving from far afield won’t overly disrupt your day’s racing and might well spice things up so that you actually benefit from the experience. Your attitude might change if, instead of contesting a top three place, you are fighting over 21st position. Members of Fusion, Next Gen, AIM, Eclipse and several other high ranking outfits might ostensibly be competing on the same make of equipment as you, but their budgets are at least ten times bigger. Money talks, but in motor racing circles it positively screams.
These days there’s a strong tendency for team members to remain cocooned in their own communities. In between races, they’ll play with their own team-mates and, on occasion, perhaps one or two from rival outfits will be included. Only rarely, however, will such invitations be extended to those outside the main teams. It’s good to talk and, in previous years, many locals have picked up some useful tips simply by chatting with drivers from afar It would be a nice gesture by the team managers if they could foster this kind of dialogue once more. As yet there are no tangible signs of a major rift developing, certainly not on Smethwick proportions anyway. However, the ingredients have been assembled and we should be aware, at least, that something is simmering in the pot