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We give officials a lot of stick in this sport but it’s time we gave the country’s top clerk a chance to have his say..
Nigel Edwards’ karting career certainly goes back longer than mine. I first got to see him race way back in 1983 at Wombwell and Fulbeck, when he was competing against the likes of Paul Fletcher and Lew Marsden, who were the guys to beat around that time.
For most of the current breed of karters though, Edwards will be the face recognised from Champions of the Future/Formula Kart Stars races, and especially atPF International, where his ‘firm but fair’ approach is experienced on a regular basis at club and championship events alike.
Like a lot of good officials, Nigel Edwards has graduated from the ranks, emerging from the karting ranks and progressing, against financial odds, up the motorsport staircase of talent, before making that brave decision to use his experiences in the ranks of officialdom. But as a champion in both karts and saloon cars on the major circuits throughout the UK, he is a man with a solid racing CV and so well worth listening to.
“As you know I will be involved with Super One this year, and coming from Formula Kart Stars, and comparing the way the two championships are run, I probably have a different point of view to some other people. I do not think of myself as being a ‘big I am’, and for me it is important to build a relationship with the competitor. It is not something that is easy to do and only comes from time. But I do honestly think that the way the Blue Book is at the moment, and we understand the customer, because that is what the drivers are, it is important for those who run races, to understand that we have got to give them value for money.”
Nigel acknowledges that there are a lot of people in the sport who spend a lot of money, but he feels they are spending it more wisely now, possibly because of the current economic climate, than they have ever done before. And with that in mind the person spending what can be a substantial amount of money, must be happy with the value they are receiving. As Nigel put it, “they do not want a ‘Mickey Mouse’ decision to be made at championship level”, and, by being on the receiving end of such a decision, because customers can be right as well as wrong, find they are not being treated with the respect they are entitled to.
“If people find they are being ill-treated here (in the UK), then they will just go and race abroad. I have spoken to a lot of team owners who have threatened to move abroad,” and by association would take their drivers with them, which is not what British karting needs at the moment. “But having said that, and I know you have written about this recently, sometimes a black flag has to be given based on the information available to the officials. And every Clerk that I know, knows that a black flag is ‘judge and jury’.
“So we absolutely try not to do it unless we are as certain as we can be that it is right. Yes, it can go wrong, and I can agree with the drivers when they say, ‘don’t tell me you got it wrong after you black flagged me, because by then it is too bloody late!’ But… it is a deterrent and it is something a Clerk can use without putting points onto a driver’s licence, which is a debatable and emotional subject, and it is a deterrent that is witnessed by lots of people.
As an experienced official Nigel understands that a mistake can sometimes be made, and there can be no finer analogy that the one we discussed, where in the England World Cup match, when television play-back showed absolutely, and without argument, the ball going over the goal line for a clear-cut goal, only for it to then be disallowed. So sometimes a black flag will not give the right result, but from years of watching how officials operate, and from personally being on the receiving end of some rather obtuse decisions in the past, I am confident that Nigel goes to great lengths to avoid making a potentially wrong decision.
“It is always going to be difficult, and in the current age we are moving more towards using cameras in racing, but it is still debatable (how much value they have). They have some merits, some good points, but even so, and you are an expert in photography, it is not always clear cut even from watching a video of an incident, or some pictures of it, of what really happened. Even after witnessing an incident, it is not just what happened in that incident, but also of what went on before it, how the race built up, the ‘feel’ for it, and what happened on the whole lap before the incident, so it might not be as clear as some people think. Part of the issue with officials, and Clerks in particular, is that they need to get that ‘feel’ for it. A good kart Clerk is out on the track getting a flavour of what is happening, which helps you to understand if a particular class, or a particular driver, or just that ‘something’, is actually not quite right.”
As for things not being quite right, Nigel expressed some regrets at the antics ex-karters can be seen getting up to as they move on in motorsport, albeit at arguably too young an age, and we spoke in particular about the Junior Ginetta Silverstone race in 2010, which had been televised. “Yes, I was not there at the time, but I heard a lot about it afterwards. And I must admit that it disappoints me, because a lot of those drivers came from karting. You would have hoped they had learned the lesson of how to behave in a professional manner both on and off track.”
One of the more frustrating parts of attending a race meeting, let alone competing in it, are those individuals who immediately appeal by reaching for a wallet or cheque book when something happens, regardless of the fact whether the driver involved was right or wrong. We had already touched on the football scenario, and how nothing could or would be done to change the result, so why not have something similar in karting, if only to stop the have’s from trying to get one up on the have not’s?
“I’ve certainly put it to John (Hoyle) for this year in Super One, and certainly in Euromax where I am the Clerk for this year, we ran it in 2010, and again at La Conca, which is for two warnings throughout the whole meeting. So a driver can be given one warning, but then if a second warning is needed, then at that point it becomes a black flag. There can be no appeals because it is a black flag. I agree it can sometimes get a little bit messy, and I do have some sympathy for the driver, as there might be a valid reason to explain what happened. So maybe two warnings is not enough for a whole meeting, and could better be two warnings in one day? It is something that maybe we could have a look at, but it would then be like a yellow card, red card scenario. Yep, get your videos out if you want and make claims that something different happened. With hindsight, and when looking at it from two or three different angles, and with 10 minutes analyzing it, something different might be learned, which is fine, but it would not change the decision made…
Nigel is very keen to make people aware of the efforts being made by karting officials not to come down too hard on a driver after an incident. It would appear that the MSA believe that a penalty should be an automatic ‘points on licence’ position, but for his part, Nigel feels a karting Clerk needs to be able to show discretion, and with this in mind he wants to see as much as possible, a way of avoiding giving out too many points for relatively minor indiscretions. “If a driver commits a professional foul, or even if it was in fact a genuine mistake, but by running into the back of another driver he gained a place, then it is not unreasonable to give that driver a one place penalty, but not necessarily with points on his licence.
“Remember that a Super One Clerk has been given a National A licence, and so they must be allowed that freedom to make a judgement. If I think it was deliberate then I will put points onto a licence, and a place penalty, exclusion, or whatever. Then again it might well have been a tough race, and the drivers fought for 14 laps, but something did not go quite right towards the end? I think officials and drivers would be more comfortable with Clerks being allowed to use their experience of what happened, and therefore make a decision without unduly penalising the driver.
When listening to Nigel Edwards speak it is clear he has a passion for the sport and for trying to make sure that officials are doing the right thing. It does not necessarily need a genius to watch what is happening on the track, and then, wrongly, make a penalty points decision based on every potential contact that took place. When bearing in mind the way this was explained, being penalised for a possible advantage, but in a way that did not also leave points on a licence, does to my mind show a lot of wisdom and is certainly the right way forward.
In the past I have often felt that some ‘blazer’ decisions, made by people who would not know what each pedal was used for, have led to the wrong result, so I put Nigel on the spot: should officials have race experience? “I really do think that,” he said in response. “You need to have a little bit of empathy of where the drivers have come from, what they have done in the sport, and all the time and effort put into what they do… and some silly decision by an official can then spoil a championship. There is a lot of money being spent, and it is now very professional at national level. Having that experience can be a big benefit,” and whilst not said, just knowing that should help the driver under scrutiny to maybe appreciate a little more where the official was coming from?
And when considering the extent of that experience? “I started karting back in 1964 when I was 13 years old, which was the
youngest you could start racing then. It was just 100cc juniors then of course, not junior this or junior that. It was a steep learning curve for all of us, and we started reading Karting magazine and going to Blyton, and then Fulbeck and Wombwell became part of our racing. Terry Fullerton was also a junior back then and was a junior champion, but the championships were nothing like what we have now.
“I did not win a British Championship, but I suppose my claim to fame was in ‘Kart & Superkart’, I remember winning at Wombwell and Fulbeck, and one weekend we even went to Blackbushe, which in those days was like a million miles away – getting there felt like a major feat. And I won like this national championship there and thought, ‘wow, I’ve made it!’
“As I became a few years older I then became a senior, and my connections then were with Reg Deavin, at Deavinson’s down at Rye House, but it was all a bit complicated with tuning because of the distance, although I had a reasonable time using Komet engines, before using Dap T70’s from Mills’ and a Zip kart, which was with Mark Hines.
“I then retired for a bit after getting married, but I owe it all to my wife Sarah, who got me back into karting after a couple of years. I got as far as the early 80s, probably around the time I made the four- man British team and raced in Germany. I also won the Middle East karting
championship, which was just something I felt you had to do then, and Millsy (John Mills) helped me out there – we took four engines as hand luggage!” Now it would probably be cheaper to buy engines on-site rather than pay additional airline charges…
Retiring from karting in 1984, it was in 1986 when Nigel saw the new MG Metro Turbo’s in action at a British GP support race and was quite taken by the idea of entering mainstream motorsport. This subsequently led to a Metro van being purchased and turned into a racer so he “could play about at the back of the grid” a year or so later after building up the van. In 1990 it turned a little more serious and with a new car results started to improve with podium finishes.
Mike O’Hara then provided a new tuned engine to give the Edwards wagon the extra speed he needed, and he was set for an outstanding race until a spin under the bridge at Silverstone took the sump off the engine on a high kerb, but perhaps the cost of repair is best saved for another story!
After eventually becoming an MG Metro champion, helped by Bridon Ropes in Doncaster, Nigel moved onto the Rover 216 series under the Rover Sport banner, winning a few races and raced at Spa in Belgium, Zandvoort in Holland, and Le Mans in France. Again with Bridon backing, the Rover 220 Turbo championship followed in 1994, where as a privateer the Edwards team took on the might of a number of big teams. “My highlight was winning the 1994 British GP support race, which was a fantastic achievement.”
It is clearly a career that deserves respect. Being an official is never going to be an easy job, and it must be remembered that the majority do it on a part-time basis, with little real reward, apart perhaps from the knowledge that a job was done well. For me I can confidently claim that Nigel Edwards can Clerk at any race I take part in… and trust me that is saying a lot!