What you see on television is what you get in real-life, and as sporting personalities go, the first thing that becomes immediately apparent is just how friendly Vicki Butler-Henderson is. Within minutes you could be forgiven for thinking you had known her for years. Her smile and captivating laugh are rarely far away from the surface, and as far as the term Ôpetrol-headÕ goes, it is a description that could have been invented for her!
The young often follow in an older generationÕs footsteps and Vicki, not surprisingly, was born into a racing family. Her grandfather Lionel used to race, no less, a Frazer Nash at the famous Brooklands circuit, whilst her father Guy raced for the British kart team, and used to have his own kart racing engine business. Then there is her brother Charles who is also a former kart racer, as well as a former British Touring Car racer, who was often seen around the tracks at Fulbeck and Wombwell back in the 1990Õs. VickiÕs sister, Charlotte, however, remains the exception to the rule, perhaps taking a leaning towards self-preservation, rather than Òhanging it on the edgeÓ Vicki style.
During a quick career summary, it soon becomes clear from talking to her how much VBH (an abbreviation she picked up whilst at Max Power magazine) likes a challenge After several years of karting came a period as a racing instructor at Silverstone, before undertaking a dual career in journalism, working on a number of British motoring magazines, including Auto Express, What Car?, and Performance Car, before becoming the assistant launch editor of Max Power magazine.
She then joined the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC”BBC’s flagship motoring show HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_(1977_TV_series)”Top Gear, but when the BBC cancelled the original show in 2001 (in the days before Clarkson, May, and Hammond), Vicki, along with co-presenters HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quentin_Willson”Quentin Willson and HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiff_Needell”Tiff Needell, moved to Channel HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_(channel)”Five in 2002, to continue their work on a then new show called HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Gear”Fifth Gear. Three years later she presented HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITV”ITV’s coverage of the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Touring_Car_Championship”British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), in which her brother Charles also appeared.
We had met to talk about her passion for cars and motor-sport, and in particular her new book Ô100 sexiest CarsÕ, but karting first things first though. If Butler-Henderson Snr is called Guy, then why were his kart engines known as CBH-Comers? ÒYou know,Ó she said laughing at the thought, ÒI have always wondered about that, seeing as I was older than Charlie! (Being six years apart Vicki and Charles never raced against each other). ÒNow thereÕs a challenge for Karting Magazine?Ó she laughed. ÒGive me a few months though, OK?Ó she said grinning. ÒThe baby is due in a few months time. Seriously though,Ó she said whilst trying to keep a straight face, ÒI think dad was thinking that if the karts with his engines appeared with ÔGBHÕ on them, people might get the wrong impression…Ó
So not ÔVBHÕ then? ÒWell, you know how it is in families, the boys always get the attention… Charlie did more kart races and championships than me, so I would have to grit my teeth… But,Ó she giggled, ÒI have probably had more opportunities to drive sideways as a ÔtartÕ on TV, and be able to show off more in a car, so I think I have ended up with more of an edge on him! You have to try and make things a bit of fun, donÕt you, and show just how much you are enjoying yourself.Ó
From the moment when she had her first kart race at 12-years of age, she still smiles at the memory of one of her race rivals on her debut being David Coulthard. ÒThat was the youngest we were allowed to race back then,Ó she remembered, Òand I was in Junior Britain. But David lapped me..! Overall though I think as I got older I preferred 100 National, because by then I had got a lot more experience. I always had to carry extra lead to make the weight, but I felt the karts gave more ÔfeelÕ for me. I never did any championship races though, although my brother did, because I did not stay in karts too long as a senior, moving to cars when I was 17 years old.Ó
Vicki gave her customary giggle when I mentioned how I had been speaking to Denis Davidson, father of former Super Aguri F1 driver and current Peugeot LMP1 Le Mans ace, Anthony Davidson. Denis had been more than happy to talk of good memories towards the Butler-Henderson clan, and she was keen to hear about some of the things he had to say.
ÒVicky was racing in 100cc when we started Cadets with Ant in 1987,Ó Denis told me, Òas did her brother Charlie who was also a Cadet. She was the first of ‘our’ generation of kart racerÕs to have a race in a single seater, in a Formula First (using Ford Fiesta engines). I was that interested I went to Brands Hatch toÊspectate, intrigued to seeÊhow she would do, but I think she broke down?Ó
ÒYeah,Ó she recalled, Òit was not actually in my first ever race, but I remember I did have a start-line problem in one of my Brands races. My drive-shaft broke right on the start/finish line, so I could not even start the race. That is the race he must be thinking about; it is so lovely that he cared to do that. What else did he have to say?Ó
ÒOne funny story was when Anthony was the BAR-Honda test/reserve driver, Vicki was putting together a go kart team for an indoor do, and when she got to him with her clip-board to write the names down, she asked for his name! Typical of Ant, he laboured it out slowly waiting for the penny to drop! Of course he had changed quite a bit since she had last seen him as a Cadet, but it gave Ant a laugh at her expense!Ó
ÒI remember that,Ó she said laughing, ÒI knew what you were going to say and it was so embarrassing! I was so keen just to get all the names down for the race I just did not recognise him at the time. I had not seen him for so long and the penny dropped big-time! I have had the pleasure of meeting Anthony on many occasions; he is such a talented driver.Ó
Keen to hear more, it was back briefly to another of the Davidson memoirs, when he had offered the story of how he Òfirst meet Guy B-H at Zip in 1987, when I bought our first kart from Martin Hines. Guy was an old family friend of MartinÕs who was behind the counter and volunteered to rebuild my Comer, and invited me to go over to the family pig farm in Sandon, near Royston (Herts).Ó
ÒOh, I love that story Ð it is so funny,Ó Vicki said. ÒYep, the farm is still there. I also remember that my father used to race against Martin Hines when they were younger, so for me it seems as though dad has known Martin all his life. Dad would end up behind the counter and there would be rows of kart and engine bits on display. I was a teenager then and I would go and have a look and a smell of the engines Ð it was the sort of thing that I really enjoyed, watching dad re-build engines. Oh, that oily, petrol mix…Ó As she drifted with the memory, the impression VBH would dearly love to get back into a kart again, seemed to be very clear indeed.
Aware of her passion we turned to the televised Fifth Gear Williams F1 test she did with Tiff (Needell), when Vicki was in a very quick BMW M-Sport saloon, but spent the entire test giggling with excitement. ÒThat day just about ended with me in tears Ð I enjoyed the experience so much! I really ÔraggedÕ that car around Rockingham, and there was of course no chance of me getting anywhere near Tiff,Ó who caught VickiÕs BMW within three laps or so. ÒBut it was his own passion as well that got to me Ð it was like watching a little boy, who had been let loose in the garage to enjoy himself; it was just a lovely, special day for all of us.Ó
Now 38-years old VBH admits how maintaining a very positive outlook on her life keeps her motivated. ÒI think I get it from my dad actually. Rain, sun, whatever… whenever I get up in a morning I just try to be happy. I think you have to aim to be optimistic and it helps to deal-with whatever life throws at you.Ó And no doubt from this comes the passion and excitement associated with anything that is not only quick, but can be driven sideways, when such opportunities are on offer come Òrain, sun, or whatever…Ó And with it came just such a recent opportunity, to bring her many driving experiences into her new book, which as one might now appreciate, has been written in VBHÕs truly, inimitable, passionate style.
ÒWell, I do admit I have been very fortunate, and I had wanted to do something to show the types of cars I had been able to drive. It then just happened I was approached by Carlton Books to do something and we came up with the sexiest cars idea. The book goes from the 100th down to one, which for me is the best of them all, and includes cars that have been the most unusual, as well as the worst,Ó a decision not helped by the simple fact the steering wheel came off in her hands…
Comparing our top 100 cars had VBH in hysterics. It meant having to include all the cars I had driven, so matching LamborghiniÕs, PorscheÕs and FerrariÕs paled against my lesser models like Ford AngliaÕs, Morris MinorÕs and a rusty Hillman Imp Sport Ð I showed my age with such cars, without doubt much to my intervieweeÕs considerable amusement.
And the best VBH car? A Lamborghini Diablo GT, (a car that VBH found so intoxicating, Ò… as I walked out to see the car for the first time, goose bumps shot over me.Ó) ÒItÕs just so gorgeous to look at. I first drove it in 1999 and for me no other car has yet pipped it. It was the last of the really big cars, rear-wheeled drive with no traction aids on it, and needing to know what you were doing to be able to drive it properly and not end up in a hedge. I find it so disappointing that modern LamborghiniÕs are now all four-wheeled drive, with this, that and the other…Ó
Our conversation continued to cover entertaining stories about cars and racing, although the immensely enjoyable t�te-a-t�te with VBH ended, perhaps quite rightly, with two final karting thoughts:
ÒI have to say that karting gave me the best grounding I could ever have wished for in my career. I went to an all girls school, and without karting I would never have met so many men in my life. I remain grateful to have been able to live my childhood amongst the many different people I met in karting, surrounded by fast cars, which I believe has helped to make me the person I am today.
And secondly, on safety. ÒI remember one race at Rye House when I got to close to the kart in front. We did not have the protection kart racers have today, and somehow my foot got caught under the back of the kart in front as we accelerated towards the starting lights. It was one of the hairiest moments of my life, but thankfully I managed to free my foot in time Ð it is not a problem todayÕs drivers have to worry about.Ó
Drawing our meeting to a close Vicki agreed to sign a copy of her book for me and, rubbing salt into the already jealous wound, wrote ÒTo Mike, HereÕs to your top 100!Ó She was still grinning when she wrote it!
A classy lady!