Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The Cost of Racing


Today I want to talk about commitment.

People often ask what it takes to be a race car driver. What is the cost?

The cost is everything you have, my friend. You are talking about a sport that can potentially take your life, so what does it take?

What have you got?

The cost of motorsport hasn't changed since World War Two. It needs all the money you have, and what you don't have you need to make up for with hard work and sacrifice.

I cant remember not wanting to race cars. My dad was a race car driver. Special saloons in the 70's Rallycross in the 80's Production car racing in the 90's. He started his racing career at Goodwood Race Circuit. He would pinch the family saloon, a Ford Cortina GT, remove the bumpers and tape up the lights and go racing.

In shoestring terms, he had one. But that was all.

Moving on a few of decades from sliding Fords finest four-door around the West Sussex airfield, a little Kelvin Hassell was looking to start his racing career. A competitive Kart outfit in those days was about £2000. I didn't have £2000. Or £1000. Or £500. Then, my dear old nan did the only decent thing and popped her clogs, allowing me to afford my first Kart.

Now, the MSA would have you believe that Karting is a cheap sport. And I guess it is, if you're comparing it to Touring Cars or the British GT Championship. But In the real world where people have jobs and kids go to school on public busses, it isn't. A season in the Super One Series cost over £10,000. And that was in a brown caravan towed behind a Ford Granada. Minimal testing. Two chassis, (one was a welded up jobbie that I had crashed previously, a "break glass in case of emergency" kind of affair) Two TKM engines, built by 15 year old me. Three carburettors, also built by 15 year old me. One set of wet tyres, one set of slicks and a lot of stuff we made ourselves.

As soon as I turned 16, I was packed off to race school to learn how to drive cars. After that, I did every scholarship I could to try and win a regular drive in anything. I ran Formula Fords, Vauxhall Juniors, Karts, even Renault 5 Turbos. Everywhere I went I was the fastest, yet no one gave me a drive. I was so frustrated. I started to believe that these scholarship people had already chosen their driver and that the competition was merely a way for them to pay for it. One time I was even told, "We're not giving you the drive because you're basically a pro looking for a free ride." It was massively disheartening.

When I turned 17, I made two important decisions. One was that I would train to be a motor mechanic like my father, against the wishes of many people. Including my father. I didn't want to wait until I could afford to race, so I needed to learn about cars so I could sort them out myself. My cousins and I were all around about the same age and one was notably better off than the rest of us. When he got himself a really nice car, my granddad stepped up to see that the rest of us also had a bit to spend on a car. It was the age of Max Power magazine and my cousins all wanted the latest hot hatch fashions of XR3s and Nova GSis, but not me. In the back of Car and Car Conversions magazine (hands up if you remember the ol' Triple C!) I had spotted a Vauxhall Chevette with Cibie spot lights and a roll cage. I also had a mate called Ray Deacon who was a wiz in a rally car regardless of which seat he plonked his knowledgeable arse in. He also just happened to be "in-between rally cars" at the time. We agreed that he would pay the entry fees and I would provide the car and the driving. It wasn't racing door handle to door handle, but at least I would be driving competitively.

I had some of the best times in my driving career chasing down Escorts and Minis in the twisty white roads of Sussex. Never mind that you couldn't open the windows with the doors closed. Don't worry that you couldn't hold a conversation over the Janspeed exhaust. Forget that you need to re-jet the Webber every Mot. Who cares about getting up an hour earlier to sit warming the engine before you could drive anywhere. And while teaching a girl to put on a six-point harness guarantees you a trip to second base, there is a limit to how far you can take it with a roll-cage and with no back seat. The car was totally impractical for College, work, socialising - in fact, anything that didn't involve driving sideways between trees at 100 mph. But when you need to compete, you make sacrifices. You make a commitment.

The company coffers filled a bit more when one of our customers committed to a new race car. This had the added benefit of his old car coming up for sale. I found myself racing a very standard XR2 in a championship for heavily modified Ford cars. This taught me how to come last a lot. But I was on a race track. I was learning. And it was the most important thing to me in the world. The Chevette had inevitably gone the way of all rally cars. I had replaced it with a V6 Cortina Estate that had no exhaust and no shock absorbers to speak of, but it did have a tow ball and had only cost me £100. I couldn't use it for rallying but it would make an emergency tow vehicle/ bed in a pinch, if I needed it for the XR2.

The following year, dad found an Escort Cosworth rolling shell very cheap and wanted me to make myself a nice comfortable road car. I cant even begin to explain the wrongness about owning a fast car and not racing it. If you don't understand the sheer colossal amount of wrongness with something so terribly wrong as not racing a fast car, there is something wrong with you. Also you should probably leave now, this blog is not for people like you.

I blagged some engine components and got building. I got a couple of sponsorship deals out of some of my suppliers. I worked all night every night, often sleeping at the workshop. I built the #13 Escort Cosworth. It was a really good car. I miss it dearly. It gave me a fastest lap at pretty much every track in the country. Lots of wins. It was expensive though. When my dad decided that the company couldn't help my racing anymore, I knew I couldn't afford to race a Cosworth. Father and I fell out. But, even with no job, no race car and nowhere to live. It never ever occurred to me that I wouldn't race again. Didn't even cross my mind.

I got a job at a local garage and immediately started looking for somewhere to race. I'd missed out on the Eurocar explosion of the 90s and ASCAR was the only other thing I really wanted to race. It was already was prohibitively expensive.

I should point out that my introduction to racing was Wednesday nights at Arlington Stadium in Eastbourne, watching the oval track gladiators of the Superstox in a mesmerising blur of speed, tyre smoke and twisted metal. I love Stock Cars. I love all the oval track racing. Burt Reynolds had taught me about NASCAR through the medium of film, with the box office flop Stroker Ace. I knew stock cars at every level. The idea of us having a NASCAR series in the UK had really got my attention.

Fortunately there was a new series starting out of Arena Essex called Baby Grand Racing. These little NASCAR replicas (now called MASCAR) were fast, fun and, most importantly, I could rent one.

Now with a proper job, mother decided that it would be a good time to get me on the property ladder. She gave me the deposit to get my first flat and with it my first mortgage. As fun as working 9 to 5 and having a massive debt is, I never really felt comfortable with the idea. It did, however turn out to be a good thing.

It was whilst racing at Lydden Hill in the Baby Grand that I first laid eyes on CAMSO V8. The Belgian series for NASCAR type stock cars had made its annual visit across the channel to the Kent venue from its home track of Warneton. They were big, noisy and very fast. I took down the phone number of Roots V8 Racing from one of the cars and went on to win the Baby Grand final, which made introducing myself to Tony Roots considerably easier.

Tony invited me to Warneton to test a car. I went, it was amazing, I knew straight away that I needed one of these cars. This was going to be expensive. The cheapest car I could get was Tony's old #77 car at £15000. I didn't have £15000. I didn't have £5000. I didn't have £1000. But I did have a flat.

It took longer than I wanted it to, which, as anyone that tries to sell property will tell you, is normal. I had just enough equity to buy the Stock Car and good enough friends to sofa-surf on account of making myself homeless again. I rented a garage at Warneton where I stored the car until I was ready to work on it, then I would sleep in the garage when I stayed in Belgium. Which ended up being most of the time. The series was small, but I needed it to be successful, having pretty much gambled any chance I ever had of a normal life to go racing in it. I promoted the hell out of it, getting it regular coverage in motorsport publications thanks to the friends I've made in motorsport over the years. It was hard. I can even remember going over to Warneton once without enough money for fuel, Hoping that we could do a deal with someone when I got there. And we did. I'd managed to meet people that would become some of the closest friends I'll ever have. I think this happens to a lot of people that go racing. There is no family like your racing family.

Tony saw the work I was putting in and helped me out (took pity on me) by putting me to work in the race school there. He also moved me out of the garage and into his camper. My car was made out of second hand bits off of his car. He did everything he could to keep me on track, and the parties we had off the track were outrageous too! The best years of my life were had with those people I met, because of buying that race car and I will never ever regret it.

We talked about growing the series more. I put together a group of people to help us direct the media to the series. P.R guru Melissa, my long suffering girlfriend of the time. Sam from Race Car Engineering and my long time friend and sometime sponsor Chris. We secured some top coverage for the sport, Tony bought us a TV deal and the ELMS as it had become looked pretty unstoppable. Then Tony started to get ill. He'd survived Cancer before and we thought he had it licked, but he didn't. He offered me everything I needed to carry on racing, but I didn't want to do it without him. We'd seen the birth of the new half mile oval at Venray. But he was not going to get to race on it. The greatest time of my life led me straight to the darkest time of my life. Perhaps the only time I didn't want to get in a race car.

Commitment.

Its a two way street.

You may not want to race but you have to. There are other people that need you to. I'd been talking to a production company across the pond who were making a show about Late Model drivers. I was making preparations to go to the opening race at the new Venray track in Holland in one of Tony's spare cars when the phone rang; Can you come to North Carolina next week? Yes.

The production company were doing a show called Big Time. It would be a reality TV show where Late Model racers would compete against each other in driving tasks to win a drive in ARCA. But before that happens, they need to make sure we can drive a Stock Car. They took us to Rockingham and set us loose on the Little Rock oval in ARCA cars. We weren't allowed to know any of this, until we arrived at The Rock. Myself, and the 30 odd other Late Model drivers attending the "audition" could not believe it. So, at Budweiser's expense I hacked round in an ARCA car all that afternoon, with Chad McCumbee on the two-way. You know him; Plays Dale Junior in the film "3". I was amazed and thankful for the opportunity, and I only wished Tony was around so I could tell someone.

They discussed at length, a way that I could stay there until filming started, and whether they could budget for that. Eventually though, they had to send me home. I didn't mind though, I'd had an amazing time and now I had to go to Venray for the race I should have been doing with Tony.

I left Late Model racing for good not long after. I drove Sprint Cars, which is probably the weirdest thing I've ever driven. I went back to the states to race a Modified. I raced Legends. And in it all, I got to working with my dad again. AHM is up and running! We have a fleet of classic cars and we even rebuilt the Cortina that he raced at Goodwood all those years ago. He's racing it now! I even join him on the long distance stuff now and again.

But the ovals always call me back. Last year I went to Mat Newson and spent more than I could really afford on racing in the BriSCA F1 Championship. I want to do a lot more BriSCA F1 next year. I've evicted myself and moved into the workshop in preparation. Hell, I'm hardly ever home anyway, have you seen the BriSCA schedule? I saw a post on Twitter a while ago asking why a racing driver would say they are going to do something before the finances are in place.

Commitment.

You can do it, you just need to want it bad enough.
This season I'm buying my own F1 from MNR. Not sure how, but I'll see you at the track! =D


***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Best Car Films In The World, Ever!


Ever wondered what the best car film in the entire universe is? Wonder no more! I'm going to give you a run down of the top ten car films, and I am never wrong!

Read on...

#10 Le Mans

“Racing is life, anything that happens before and after is just waiting.”

Any petrolhead that has not heard Steve McQueen utter that immortal phrase is either deaf or clearly not a real petrolhead. This 1971 classic has everything you could possibly want from a film; next to no dialogue, lots of racing and some very very fast Porsches....

The film centres around the great French 24 hour race of the same name. The plot pits the works Ferrari 512s against the mighty Porsche 917s. I think there is also a love interest and something about McQueen’s character killing a guy, but, thanks to the fast forward button, you needn’t let something as insignificant as the plot ruin the film.

Most of the footage is actual race footage, the Gulf Porsche which McQueen is piloting in the film was actually being raced by Jo Siffert. In car action was taken from a Porsche 908 which McQueen himself had driven at the Sebring 12 hour race. Despite stopping to change film, the camera car finished a credible 9th at Le Mans whilst filming the race.

This film is a shameless excuse for race fans to watch 70’s Le Mans cars doing what they were built to do. Try using the line “Hey honey, you want to watch a movie tonight?” with this one and it will be the last time she lets you pick a film.


#9 Gone In 60 Seconds (the new one)

Yes I know the car chase was better in the old one, but this isn’t about the Mustang, it is about all the other automotive cream-in-your-pants material that this film exudes. Just that scene where they open up the Ferrari warehouse; I don’t even like Ferraris but that was a sight to behold.

There are so many good cars in this film that it is just shocking, and when you find out that Doctor Who is the master criminal behind it all, well, my mind was well and truly blown.


#8 Heart like a Wheel.

Despite the fact that Shirley Muldowney didn’t like it, the film that portrays her life is excellent. Cha Cha, as she became known, was a housewife that loved going fast. Her husband put a dragster together for her and she went out and kicked ass with it.

Shirley didn’t just change the sport of drag racing, she changed the perception that race fans across the United States had about women drivers in general. The film is an action packed, brilliant tribute to a remarkable woman.


#7 Two Lane Blacktop

I don’t really know what Two Lane Blacktop is about. There are two guys in a Chevy doorslammer and then there is a Pontiac GTO driven by a guy with some kind of personality disorder. There is a girl with the moral standings of an ally cat whose purpose in the script seems to be to collect seamen from the other characters.

Nobody questions when she jumps in random peoples cars and then pisses and moans about how uncomfortable the seats are. More worryingly, no one seems the slightest concerned about her promiscuity. You would think at least one of the male characters would point out that, if she has been travelling on route 66 this far, using her vagina as a meal ticket, then that vagina is probably a proverbial petri dish of sexually transmitted disease. Who could possibly imagine what nasty concoctions reside therein.

Festering fannies aside, if you like big V8s and illegal street racing, this is a must. Way better than that Fast and Furious rubbish that is bandied about now days. There is no pointless gear changes and questionable ideas about how nitrous works here.

#6 Christine

Christine scared the pants off me as a youngster. I loved the book and the film and the car.

The star car was a 1958 white over red Plymouth Fury. A fantastic car that never really existed. You see, Furys only came in beige and there were only about 5000 ever made. They are rarer than hen’s teeth and, therefore, the cars you see in the film are often not Furys. They are the more widely available Savoy model.

The name Savoy doesn’t really have the same impact as Fury. Fury gives the impression that it will rip your head off, whereas Savoy sounds like it will take your coat and pour you a nice Gin & Tonic while it puts the roast beef on for supper.

Whilst name picking wasn’t really a problem for Stephen King who can paint a picture with words, it was a problem for John Carpenter who needed to paint pictures with actual pictures.

They used 20 cars for the film of which there are allegedly two left.

#5 Initial D

I love Manga and I love Anime and I love drifting. I loved the Initial D series and when I saw the film, I found it had only a loose “Based on” connection to the cartoons.

This doesn’t stop it being the best movie of its type, although that doesn’t mean much as its only competition is Tokyo Drift which is an appalling monkeys breakfast of a film....

What I like about Initial D is the realism. You feel like these guys are actually drifting, not being towed sideways on a cable. There is no-one taking an RB engine out of a Skyline to put in a Mustang or other such nonsense. In fact, the cartoon series has more convincing drifting in it that Tokyo Drift.

Initial D is just an amusing storyline and cars going sideways. Initial D is THE best drift film there is.

#4 Stroker Ace

This was a close fought thing. The only reason Stroker Ace is not number one in this chart is that I tried very hard to supress my emotional attachment to this film.

Stroker Ace was the first time I saw NASCAR and it changed my life. I would search out toys that look like NASCAR cars in toy shops and when I played with them, the best driver was always Stroker Ace. ...

The film is fun and includes racing from an era of NASCAR where the cars were just gorgeous in my humble opinion. Harry Gant and Tim Richmond appear in the film among other NASCAR greats of the time.

I suspect Burt Reynolds hates the film. It was a massive failure in the box office and Burt turned down Terms of Endearment to do it. But if you like Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit, then you will love this film.

#3 Cars

Every time I watch Cars -and I watch it a lot- I see something new. The technical aspects of this film and its sequel are so good, they have to be added with the adult car buff in mind.

The movements of the cars, the noises they make, what other kids film would have scripts involving three wheel brakes for dirt racing, type 2 Transporters and whitworth bolts? Cars isn’t for kids, it is made by car nuts for car nuts, be they young or old.

In a world where driving and motorsport seems to becoming as socially unacceptable as murder, it is good to see Disney flying the flag of the internal combustion engine and introducing another generation to the wonders of the motor car.

This film has probably done more to help the automotive industry than anything in recent times and the effects will be felt for years to come.

#2 No Man’s Land

I once said that if you are looking for the best car in the world, the answer would probably come from Porsche. Well, that is also true of films. In at number two is this Charlie Sheen motoring classic about stealing Porsches.

Whilst the film does have a proper meaningful storyline and is well played by the actors, it is really all about the gallery of beautiful 911s that star in the film and the howling flat sixes that are annoyingly interrupted by music during the car chases.

Some say that this film is was influential in the creation of the first Fast and Furious film. Personally, I cannot see how because No Man’s Land is a remarkable film and Fast and Furious is rubbish.



#1 Full Throttle

My favourite car film (and therefore  the best film in the entire universe) is Rowan Atkinson’s portrayal of Tim Birkin in Full Throttle.

“Tiger” Tim was responsible for the Supercharged Bentley. He was a phenomenal racing talent in a time when motor racing was properly dangerous.

Atkinson himself is a racing driver and plays the part of Birkin to perfection. The racing scenes are done on a tight budget with some very rare and expensive machinery so I can forgive the Le Man races for not having quite the same impact as those in the McQueen film mentioned at the top of the article.

That said, seeing the Birkin Bentley hounding down Rudi Caracciola’s Merc still stirs the soul. I love this film and I think it is criminal that it is not more widely available or talked about.

If you can find a way to see it, do. You will not be disappointed.

And no, I won’t lend you my copy.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday, 20 May 2016

Would Your Car Vote To Leave The EU?


If you have your car worked on by a small, independent garage, you will be aware of the diverse range of vehicles that the independent mechanic is required to work on. They need to be able to repair your BMW, your wife’s Toyota, your Daughter’s Citroen and your son’s ridiculous hot hatch with the noisy exhaust and even nosier stereo.

Your mechanic does not know everything about all of these cars, and the many others that pass through the workshop doors, but your mechanic is able to fix them due to a handy bit of legislation from Europe.
Block Exemption and Euro 5 legislation protect the rights of your mechanic to access the technical information and equipment from the manufacturers, to be able to diagnose and repair the many different types of vehicles he or she is required to work on.  

The freedom of movement across the borders of Europe applies, not only to specialist technicians being allowed to work in the UK, but to replacement car parts. This creates more choice, more knowledge, and a cheaper bill when you have your car repaired or serviced.

Leaving the EU would give us the option of creating our own legislation if we feel we could knock something up better than what is already provided by the EU.

Qualified and specialist mechanics would be harder to source, their wages would rise as would the cost to the consumer.

We would have the opportunity to create new trading relationships with European parts suppliers. Again, these could be better or worse than what we already have with the EU. And again, the results will show on the bottom line to the consumer.
There are, of course, many car component manufacturers within the UK. With the sudden closing of the borders to migrant workers, the cost of production is likely to go up considerably making them uncompetitive on the world stage. This gives these larger companies the option of; dealing only with the domestic market, or upping sticks and moving to the mainland.

So, there you have it. If you haven’t thought about how the referendum affects your car, now you have. I’m sure it will make absolutely no difference on how you vote, which is kind of ironic because how we vote seems to have little or no effect on how the country is run.


Viva la revolution! 

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Ten Cool Cabriolets For Summer

Never once have I seen an advert for a cabriolet that involved a fat balding gent driving his part frozen wife through Peckham high street. Cabriolet commercials seem to be about beautiful people smiling as the wind ruffles their perfect hair. Under a blazing summer sky they drive through some Mediterranean paradise. We imagine that it is us pulling up outside that expensive second home. This is the dream that car manufactures use to entice us to buy cars with no roofs and every year massive throngs of British citizens do just that. 
We forget that we live in a country where it rains for all but one week a year and, because we are not politicians, we don’t have a second home to drive to.
Cabriolets are useless to the average Englishman, but still we insist on buying them.

So, today I am presenting you with some of the runners and riders in the second hand cabriolet market. Here, in no particular order, is my selection of 5 summer drop-tops as spotted on Ebay this morning, along-side 5 alternatives that you may not have even considered.

The Peugeot 306 Cabriolet
When Peugeot wanted to replace the out-going 305 everyone expected great things from the 306. Unfortunately for Peugeot, the status quo was unbalanced by an anarchist in the numbering department. The world stood back in amazement when Peugeot broke from conformity and released the 309. Heads were scratched, beards were stroked, and nobody could understand the numerical curve ball Peugeot had unleashed. The car was good, but that number wouldn’t do.  The number anarchist was fired and replaced with Count Von Count from Sesame Street who put Peugeot’s model line back on track and released the then long-awaited  306.
Peugeot examined the Citroen ZX as the basis of their new mid-size-car-to-fit-every-market. They scrutinised the Citroen carefully from the floor up and decided that the only thing worth keeping was the floor. On this floor they asked Mr Pininfarina to design something that looked more like the mega successful 205 and less like Citroen’s box based ZX.
The Cabriolet came with an excellent 2 litre engine for those that like driving and a wheezy 1.6 engines for those that don’t. The car is still as good looking today as it was at its creation and, if I ever get the urge to take my top off, the 306 Cabriolet will probably be my first stop.

You Should Also Consider… The Renault 19
Following Peugeot’s complete disregard for chronological numbering Renault replaced the 9 and the 11 with the 19. With the initial styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro and the cabriolet added by Karmann, the 19’s understated looks hid a fabulous car. Only available with the bigger engine options, the 19 cab didn’t cater for the non-driver and the 137 bhp model was more fun than any of the 306 cabs I have driven over the years. But people do not drive cabriolets to go fast and that is why this is in the also consider box.

The MGF
I can’t count the number of times I have told someone not to buy an MGF and they have gone and done it anyway. To say the MGF is a bad car is like saying Goebbels was a bit naughty. In an attempt to complete this assignment without my biased view of the MGF making its way onto the page, I have looked for inspiration from the MG Cars Enthusiasts Club website.
The website boasts that the MGF was a “completely new design from MG with no input from BMW or Honda.” Given Rover’s track record, I’m surprised they feel this is something to boast about. It continues, “the MGF is a thoroughly modern sportster bristling with the latest in auto technology.” I assume this refers to the front and rear sub-frames and suspension from a Metro. Or maybe the K series engine that was designed in 1988.
“Rover have described it as a "candid camera car - nobody is sure where the engine is", this is because the bonnet appears long and high compared to other mid-engined cars, yet remains too short for a front-engined car.” Fortunately MG made sure you could always find the engine by simply following the trail of water and oil left by its notoriously unreliable head gasket.
Despite MG’s insistence that the “almost fixed” seating position makes the MGF “roomy”, it doesn’t. They are an uncomfortable unpleasant driving experience unless you happen to be upgrading from an MG Midget or you have a bed made out of rusty nails and broken glass.
According to the MG bumph, the Mazda MX5 was its main rival so here is a top tip, buy an MX5. Or an MR2. Or this from my also consider list:

You Should Also Consider… A shopping Trolley.
Released at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket back in the 30s, The shopping trolley out performs the MGF on almost every front. Swivel wheels provide more precise steering and high-speed stability whilst the trolley’s lower centre of gravity improves handling. The shopping trolley’s safety record is not as good as the MGF’s but it is certainly a winner in the reliability stakes. For open top motoring the shopping trolley beats the MGF hands down every time.

The Nissan Figaro
Having a friend that raves about this little retro two-seater, I was quite keen to drive one when the opportunity presented itself. Outside it’s a cutesy white-over-whatevercolouryouhavechosen 50’s looking ride. Inside, the 50’s theme continues with the old style steering wheel and switches. Even the seats look deceptively uncomfortable. It is nice to know that Nissan can make an aesthetic interior when they want to. Sitting in the Figaro I cannot help but wonder why the flagship Skyline got an interior lifted straight from the leftover Nissan Sunny parts bin. The seats are comfortable and the bright interior gives the feeling of space. The Figaro is a pleasant car to sit in. And, because of its turbo, it is no slouch either. Of course it isn’t going to set your hair on fire and I expect a top speed of over 100mph is somewhat optimistic, but the Figaro is a fun car for a spirited drive despite its sluggish three speed auto box. In town the little car turns heads. Then it turns gawking into openly pointing and laughing. The little Nissan is, what my friends call “a girls car” and no amount of me harping on about how good it is will change their minds. I like the Figaro but my friends would stop inviting me to motoring related events if I insisted on repeatedly turning up in one, which is why I raise the point of considering the Honda Beat.

 You Should Also Consider…
The Honda Beat
The Beat is the tiny little car that is in enormous amount of fun to drive. It has the looks of the unlikely offspring of a go-kart and a running shoe, but it feels like a race car as the tiny engine screams into your ear when you give it the beans. This car didn’t just make me smile when I drove it, it actually made me laugh out loud. I pulled out on to a dual carriageway and gave the pint sized Honda everything it had. It howled through crisp gear change after crisp gear change and felt like it was doing a million miles an hour, but when I looked down, we had barely touched 50, and it sounded like it would run out of puff at about 70. But the Honda was talking a good fight, revving at over 8,000, it reminded me of Scrappy-Doo trying to take on monsters 3 times his size. Despite the Beat’s attempt to be a race car, I couldn’t think of a single vehicle that the Beat would be able to, err, beat. If it is the gawking of strangers that you want though, the Beat has got you covered. Thanks to Pininfarina once again, the Beat even looks fast when it is standing still. Which is good because, as fun as it is to drive, you wouldn’t want to take it far.

 The Fiat Punto Cabriolet.
Made by Bertone they were one of the cheapest cabs available back in the day. Find one now though and that Fiat build quality is starting to show through. Like the 306, the shape is timeless. The Fiat doesn’t look dated, it looks classic. Once again there is no planet tearing performance here. This car is heavy and it lets you know it is with every input you make on the controls. The Fiat, like all the cars we have looked at, is a fun car, not a fast car. And it is certainly all about the glamour over the go.

You Should Probably Not Consider…
The Fiat Cinquecento Soleil
If the Punto is too glam for you, then how about the lesser spotted Cinquecento Soleil? Nothing more than your basic Cinq with a rag top, this car feels light compared to the Punto. It feels light compared to my socks and is probably about as robust in the face of a road traffic accident. This car may have the aesthetics of a skip with a tarpaulin thrown over it. It may have the performance of a skip. But don’t think it will crash like one. This car wouldn’t survive a playground game of conkers, let alone any sort of traffic collision.

The Ford Escort Cabriolet
I used to own an Escort Cab.  It was broken into more times than the medicine cabinet at a rehab clinic. The Escort was about as secure as a politicians grasp on reality. I think I drove it a handful of times until I decided the stress was too much and went back to my familiar k10 Nissan Micra. Nobody ever broke into that. My old ‘scort was about an 89 model and I see they still fetch up and over a grand for a nice one. I always loved the look of the Escort Cab. Other people liked the Golf and the 205 but I was a Ford man and the longer wheelbase Escort was just a more comfortable Cab than the other converted hot hatchs.

 You Should Also Consider…
The Vauxhall Astra Cabriolet

The only thing that might have come close in the size stakes was the Vauxhall Ashtray. I had one of these too. Not a cab, it was a GTE. It was very fast which was handy because fast was its only redeeming feature. It had a digital speedo which was as useful as a fifth leg on a cat. Unfortunately the digital revolution did not make it as far as the clock, which was analogue and ticked so loudly that you couldn’t sit in the car with the engine off for more than 30 seconds without screaming. I couldn’t anyway. Like the Escort, it got broken into too. Although the thieves had the decency to take the whole thing away and not just the contents. The police later found it abandoned in Moulscomb (Part of Brighton that Brighton people don’t like to talk about) I can only assume the thieves had enough of that bloody clock too.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Anger Management

I have been racing for some 20 years now but even since Karting as a youngster, I have understood three basic rules of confrontation at the race track.

1. If you throw your crash helmet at the ground or a competitor’s race car, the best possible consequence is that, you will have to buy another crash helmet.

2. Officials do not respond well to being shouted at. If you get out of your race car to fight an official or another driver, the best possible consequence is, you will get banned from racing.

3. If you get out of your car to confront a race car on a live race track, the best possible consequence is, you don’t get run over.

The worst possible consequence of all these scenarios, much like everything you do at the race track, is injury or death.

It still boggles my mind that drivers and team members cannot think these things through to their conclusion. People argue about how it is a “Heat of the moment” incident but racing drivers are supposed to thrive on keeping their cool under pressure. When they come off the track to “kick someone’s ass” on pit row, how do they think it will pan out? I can say with all certainty that it will not change the result of the motor race. But it might stop the driver throwing the punches from entering the next race.

The angriest I have been in a race car was a late model race in Belgium in 2011. I had come through from the back of the field to second place. I also had picked my own number in a sweepstake so, if I could win, I would leave the weekend with a tidy profit. I was catching the lead car easily when we got a caution with three laps to go. The 2x2 re-start would put me on the outside of the leader. I would be past him by the exit of turn two. This race was a full gone conclusion and everyone knew it apart from the pole sitter. He came into turn one so hot that he shot out of the bottom groove, ran over my car and went straight into the wall. See the video here. I was mad as hell. A race I should have won I was now not going to finish. Throwing a tantrum would not magically put my car back together. So I went back to the pits and started making preparations for the next race.

Last night we lost a talented young Sprint Car driver because we still seem to think it is ok to walk back onto a live race track and show your displeasure at the driver you feel has wronged you. This is a dangerous thing to do with a limited number of possible outcomes. None of those outcomes are good for the drivers, the fans or the sport in general. Yesterday we saw the worst possible outcome and I extend my deepest sympathies to all involved.


I hope we all learn from this and put safety at the forefront of every decision we make whether we be on the track, in the pits or in the grandstands.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday, 25 July 2014

"Buschwhackers"

Recently I have heard some spectacularly misinformed arguments as to why NASCAR should ban Cup drivers from racing in the Nationwide series.

1 “Cup drivers stop young up-and-coming drivers getting rides.”

No, the ride is available for a fee and is open to anyone with the money (and licence requirement) to fill it. Development drivers are charged by the team for the privilege of being development drivers. It is not difficult to become a development NASCAR driver, you just turn up at a team with a large cheque. Most of the youngsters that you see in NNS have their drives paid for by investors. Often it is family money, sometimes corporate; it doesn’t really matter. A regular NNS “Back row Joe” that doesn’t have the money to run at the front, still won’t have the money to run at the front when the Cup drivers are no longer there.

2. “If the Cup drivers were not there, there would be more sponsorship money for the NNS regulars.”

No. There is not a queue of companies waiting for their chance to get their name on a front running NASCAR. Sponsorship simply doesn’t work like that. I have seen a marketing proposal from Roush Fenway Racing that actually uses the fact that Cup drivers run in NNS as one of its selling points. Sponsors go racing for a reason, a return on their investment. They are not going to start throwing money at people they have never heard of just because there is no-one else to sponsor. They will most likely take their money to another sport or event.

3. “The racing will be better without cup drivers”

No. If that was true, you would never watch the Sprint Cup. If you want to know what NASCAR looks like without NASCAR drivers in it, watch ARCA.  That is not to say the racing in ARCA is bad, but is it better than any of the NASCAR series? At its best I think it is the same.

4. “NNS would be more popular without the Cup drivers. NASCAR needs to listen to the fans.”

Possibly. I have seen no polls about the popularity of Cup drivers in NNS. But I do have statistics showing that NNS is already the second most popular motorsport in the USA, so how much more popular will it get? NASCAR have little to gain and at lot to lose by making a massive change like banning Cup drivers. If they made that decision and they were wrong, they would kill the NNS stone dead within 6 months.

 A decision like this will change NNS marketable value and you have to remember it takes a hell of a lot of money to put one of those cars on the grid. All of a sudden you will get sponsors like Monster Energy projecting a higher return for their investment if they just run part time on a Cup car. Smaller sponsors would see the same return for a smaller investment in the Truck Series. It is a tight rope and not one I would expect NASCAR to start chopping around unless they can be completely certain of the outcome.    


I think the truth of the matter is that some people just don’t want Kyle Busch winning everything. That is a fine opinion to hold, but I would never support any system that penalises drivers and teams for being good at their job. Much less suggest that the governing body risk destroying an entire series just to stop one driver from winning.
He turns up at Latemodel races too!

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday, 27 June 2014

NASCAR Qualifying: The New Era

When I heard about the new NASCAR qualifying system a part of me, a part that seems to be getting bigger the older I get, didn't like it.

I don’t like change. I don’t want the powers that be to keep chopping about at my beloved sport. One lap shoot-outs are hard for a driver. To take it away undermines the achievement of the great drivers that came before.

I feel the same about the new Chase for the Cup rules. I didn't like the chase format before and I like the new one even less.

My issue with the new points format in NASCAR stems from the fact that I have a problem with any suggestion that tries to emphasise the importance of a race win.
This is because it suggests that someone knows a racing driver for whom winning races is NOT important enough. I can say with 99% certainty that there is not a single one of those 43 drivers starting on a Sunday afternoon that doesn't want to win that race. Even the guys that know they have to start and park.

In the last race of a season, you might get one guy who is about to win the championship if he just finishes. He still wants to win but he is not taking any chances. Is that who we are trying to save the sport from? One guy who actually makes the other 42 drivers in that one race try harder and take diabolical liberties when overtaking.

When the powers-that-be make rules like this, they miss an important point: - 
In Formula One, when Bernie Ecclecake has a bad day at the office, his drivers put on a bad show, TV ratings go down and he doesn't make quite as many millions of pounds that week as he feels he should. 
However,

If one of those drivers putting on the show has a bad day, that driver could be in a hospital or dead.
I resent promoters telling drivers they are not trying hard enough to win races. I think it is down-right disrespectful. Besides, telling drivers they are not trying hard enough is the crew chief’s job.

Let’s look at the new NASCAR Chase format. If Jimmy Johnson wins the Daytona 500, he can direct quite a lot of investment getting ready for the chase. And if he does this, he will probably win the championship. If there was no chase and Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500, he could direct quite a lot of investment into performing well at his weaker tracks (If he has such a thing) and if he did this, then he would probably win the championship.

One driver or one team has been dominating this sport since the Flock brothers played the game. It doesn't happen all the time but it is bound to happen sometime and likewise, sometimes championships go down to the wire like Kulwiki’s in 1992. There was no chase back then and still a handful of drivers that could win the championship at the final round. It is the nature of motorsport I’m afraid. Let’s not penalise drivers and teams for being good at their job.

Back to NASCAR qualifying though, I regret to inform myself that this particular change is good for the sport. It is good for fans and drivers and teams. It gets all the cars out on track so no-one has an advantage in the form of track condition, weather or time of day. It is more track time for the smaller teams that need the exposure. And for the fans, lots of cars are always better than one car. Everyone wins with the new set up.


Except us old people that don’t like change. But, fortunately, nobody listens to us anyway!

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***