OFF TRACK – Costly motoring

About 40 years ago, a Jaguar saloon car bearing the number plate NAB 1 was observed swerving in and out of traffic forcing other vehicles to take evasive action. It then went the wrong way round a roundabout, narrowly avoiding an oncoming lorry and causing further chaos. This incident wouldn’t normally have made national headlines, but the vehicle’s owner happened to be a high profile MP. Sir Gerald Nabarro was well known for his outlandish right wing and overtly racist opinions that guaranteed lots of media interest The charge of dangerous driving was damaging to Nabarro who had previously argued that even minor lawbreakers should be publicly flogged. He vehemently denied being at the wheel, insisting his secretary had driven on that particular day. However, the main witness claimed that, unless his secretary sported a handlebar moustache and wore a trilby hat, this account couldn’t be true. After opting for trial by jury, Nabarro was fined £250 and banned from driving for two years. He took his case to the Court of Appeal where three judges reversed the original decision. Standing on the courthouse steps immediately afterwards, Sir Gerald claimed this case had proved that justice was available to anyone prepared to pay for it.

Whether or not Sir Gerald was actually innocent doesn’t much matter. The point is that very few people charged with a motoring offence could afford to embark upon such costly appeals. Justice, in this particular instance, was available only to the very well heeled. I was reminded of this episode by Ian Rennison’s recent article, specifically with reference to judicial procedures in karting. Ian argued that the present appeals system encourages financial bullying of officials at club events by those parents who can afford to pay for solicitors. I remember attending an ordinary club meeting 12 years ago when one particular father suddenly announced that he was “phoning a Brief” after his son had been excluded. It came as a total shock to me that anyone could take the sport so seriously. I’m broadly in favour of Ian’s proposal that any appeals procedure should end with the club stewards for all National B meetings. However, points accumulated on a driver’s licence at minor events can have very far reaching consequences. If you’re going to remove the right of appeal at a higher level, then it might be worth looking at the continental system which favours imposing time penalties for most offences rather than relying on licence endorsements.

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I don’t suppose that many people from the karting community were able to empathise with Michael Foot, who was frequently lampooned by the Right Wing Press as a “Worzel Gummidge” look-alike. However, his death at the grand old age of 96 still brought a few tears to my eyes. Judging by the many tributes in our newspapers and on television, it appears as though one or two figures on the Right were equally touched. I only met him on three occasions, but was deeply impressed each time by his obvious warmth and integrity. My claim to fame was that I once spent a pleasant half hour walking his dog Dizzy during the 1983 Darlington By-Election. The dog, named after Benjamin Disraeli, had actually been a gift from Sean Connery who was romantically involved with Michael’s stepdaughter Julie. It’s probably as well that Connery chose a puppy rather than one of the karts he’d acquired around that time. It’s difficult to imagine the myopic Foot becoming a successful kart competitor, although he may have done well at Wombwell where you’re turning predominantly to the Left. However, as a team boss his motivating skills would have been second to none. I sat in a draughty Church Hall listening to one of Michael Foot’s impassioned speeches and went home firmly believing that Labour could still win the 1983 General Election. By comparison, convincing an average competitor that he’s the next Lewis Hamilton would have been a piece of cake.

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A plan devised by Gary Walker would have appealed to Foot’s egalitarian instincts. Gary currently runs the Racing for Buttons project at PF and he’s become concerned at how much money is now being spent by serious championship contenders. “However much you try to discourage cheque book karting, it seems that competitors from wealthy families will always have a big advantage,” he claims. “The only way you can change this is by supplying all the equipment and restricting any alterations to a bare minimum.” Gary has been in talks with Martin Hines and they are trying to establish a national championship series for cadets using Honda powered Zip karts running from 2011 onwards. The idea is that competitors turn up at each participating circuit with just a racing suit and helmet. Karts would use the same gearing with fixed chassis settings. Tyre pressures would be the only variables. “Much has been written about Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button reaching the top in British karting whilst operating on low budgets but I don’t believe it would be possible for any driver to win S1 or Formula Kart Stars without vast financial resources,” Gary claims. “With a championship series like we’re proposing, the best driver rather than the wealthiest competitor is virtually guaranteed to come out on top.”

It seems such a good idea that many people will wonder why a similar plan hasn’t been tried before. Part of the reason might be set-up costs. Gary estimates that he’ll require around £40,000 to get this series up and running, which is quite a daunting prospect in itself. Another drawback is the logistics involved in transporting twenty or thirty karts around different venues. For all but ten days of the year, they’ll be lying idle and that doesn’t make sound business sense to someone with an eye for profit. Because they’re involved in serious championship racing, the karts will also require maintenance to a high standard and that’s another major cost consideration. Perhaps the greatest problem facing such a scheme, though, is the gulf between rhetoric and reality. Competitors and their parents always claim to want a level playing field but the reality is that most of them are constantly seeking an advantage wherever it can be found. Drivers everywhere, whether they are involved at cadet or F1 level, will always look to find excuses for poor performance. A competition that removes most of the excuses may not prove to be quite as popular as some people think. Gary, though, remains optimistic. “We’ve run the Buttons scheme at PF as a non profit making venture and making money isn’t the objective here,” he insists. “The scheme is definitely viable even without sponsorship, but I’m confident that we can attract sufficient backing to make it a low cost championship that any ambitious cadet will want to be a part of.”

Gary Bracegirdle, Tim Baker, Bob Phair, Jenny Philpotts, Jim Coulthard, Richard Brett, Brian Malin, Wyatt Stanley and Tom Wood correctly supplied 1973 as the year in which Reg Gange Jr first won the World Cup at Morecambe. The year was memorable for Gary as he moved out of Juniors into Class 100 National. Tom Wood recalls competing as a member of Britain’s six man team in the Junior World Cup that year. Other members of the British squad were Mike Wilson, Neil Coulthurst, Sean Walker, Gary Latham and Bryce Wilson. The event was held at Oldenzal in Holland on a scorching weekend. “It was so hot out there that they actually closed the nearby DAF factory,” recalls Tom. “All the other competitors seemed to be wearing cotton race suits but we Brits had to compete in leathers which didn’t help matters. Also the European age limit for Juniors was 18 whereas in Britain we moved into seniors at 16, so on average we had a much younger and less experienced team. In fact it was rumoured that the eventual winner, Alain Prost, was actually a married man at that time.”

 

The 1974 British Team Selection Meeting was initially held at Rissington, running opposite way on. Tom won this event but it was later decided to hold another one with a more conventional track configuration.  GCE studies prevented him from taking part and he wasn’t selected for the team. After his 16th birthday, he moved up into 250 International before eventually leaving karting and seeking a career in cars. He competed successfully in Formula Ford before budgetary constraints forced him to quit. He acknowledges that leaving karting was a mistake and has noe returned to the sport working as a mechanic for other drivers.

THIS MONTH’S POSER

In 1980 John Lennon was shot dead by Mark Chapman. The Americans chose Ronald Regan to be their President, Robert Mugabe took control of Zimbabwe and Michael Foot replaced Jim Callaghan as Leader of the Labour Party. Nottingham Forest retained the European Cup by beating Hamburg, while in Moscow Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Alan Wells and Daley Thompson all won Olympic Gold. Alan Jones seized the F1 world title and Peter De Bruyn captured karting’s top prize ahead of Ayrton Senna. Finishing immediately behind Senna that year was a driver who had just won his eighth British title. If you can name the individual send an e-mail to dave.bewley@talktalk.net or contact me by telephone on 01946 861355.

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PHOTO

The young lad in kart no 8 following Chris Hodgetts would eventually pick up eight british titles. Who is he?