Sorry for the large gap in the diary over the past few weeks. I’ve had a rather large change in personal circumstances recently, and this has pre-occupied my somewhat. Hopefully over the next few weeks things will get back to something approaching normality.
Friday, 10th April
Early start today due to the long drive to Pembrey. It’s a sure sign that I’m taking this racing seriously – Yesterday my good friends Zia and Gillian were married, and I spent the entire day drinking lemonade in order that I could get up early this morning and not feel too bad about the drive to Wales. Faye, on the other hand, drunk herself stupid on red wine and therefore was not too pleased when I got up at 6am after 4 hours sleep. Due to the recent upheavals in my personal life I no longer own a car, so Mark Walford came to the rescue by offering to take my bike to Pembrey in his van. Cheers Mark, that’s another beer I owe you. So, we hit the road in convoy at about 8:30am or so, and managed to lose each other within 5 minutes.
The drive was long and tedious, with Faye sleeping for most of it. When we left London the weather was fine & sunny, but cold. However, the forecast for the weekend was for things to deteriorate rapidly, culminating in the worst bank holiday weekend weather in living memory. Sounded promising. Sure enough, by the time we got to Pembrey the weather had closed in, and there was heavy rain and high winds. I don’t mind racing in the wet (in fact, my previous wet outings have all been pretty promising. I’d like to think this is down to my natural ability and smooth style, but I rather think it’s down to luck) but the high winds were really bothering me. Trying to get the (borrowed) tent up in these weather conditions was by and large a futile and extremely annoying exercise, but probably provided good entertainment for everyone else watching. However, we managed it in the end, and I paid my practise fees, climbed into my leathers, and headed for the track.
It was bloody awful. Even though I was wearing thermal underwear and a ski jacket over my leathers (I wasn’t actually wearing the underwear over my leathers, if you get what I mean. I hate the English language sometimes) I was still bloody cold. The tyres weren’t getting any heat in them at all, and consequently I was wobbling around fervently wishing to be somewhere else. Mark, on the other hand was riding like a man possessed. I vainly tried to hang onto his tail to put a couple of quick laps in to see how the bike would behave, but only succeeded in scaring myself silly. The wind was threatening to whip my front wheel out from under me at Woodcote, a 100+mph kink. One poor lad went down there and practically drowned after ending up in a 2 foot deep puddle. In total I went out for three sessions, but I couldn’t really learn a great deal, as braking points and track conditions were changing from one lap to the next.
We spent the evening in the bar, as there was no way I was going to sit outside and try and cook and make tea. Got an early night in, but the wind was so strong I couldn’t get any sleep at all (damned Pembrey food). Total sleep in two nights: 4 hours.
Saturday, 11th April
Seeing as I hadn’t slept, I didn’t have any problems getting up. We were due for an early start this morning, so I got the bike scrutineered OK, then went to get my kit scrutineered. The useless idiot of a scroot simply smacked my lid around a bit, took the piss out of me and then signed my card. He didn’t even look at my leathers, boots, or gloves. Neither did he check whether my helmet was either damaged nor fitted properly. I was really tempted to put in an official complaint about him, but he’s already got a shit life what with being so f**king stupid.
Practise – As the weather conditions were so bad I simply opted to get out there and scoot around for a couple of laps to simply fulfil the ACU law that states that all competitors must do at least three laps. Conditions were roughly the same as yesterday, but with a bit more surface water. I could tell that the first lap hairpin was going to be a right laugh come the race.
1st race – I was on the 2nd row of the grid for this one, and was a bit nervous at the proposition of being T-boned at the hairpin. I lined up as close to the inside of the track as I could, but somehow Simon Tomlinson still managed to squeeze his bike into the space I’d left. I made a mental note to actually line up on the white line next time… The lights went to Green, and I went for it. I was vaguely aware of Mark making a quick start as he shot past me on my left. As suspected, by the time we all got to the hairpin the traffic had almost stopped. I pootled around, and set about chasing people. I passed a couple of TZRs, then tucked in behind David O’Donovan, who I’d chased around Brands a few weeks previously. This time however, I was a little braver, and decided to make an aggressive attempt at passing rather than simply waiting for a mistake. We shot out of Dibeni together, and I held a tighter line into the esses, forcing him to back off. Once past, I pulled away, but not quickly enough to catch anyone else. Final place was 11th overall, and 5th in class. I got back to the paddock and found Mark disconsolately staring at a large hole in his crank case. Turns out he got a lightning start, and held first until an internal engine component decided to make and external appearance. Miraculously, he managed to stay aboard when about 3 litres of Castrols finest were sprayed over his back tyre flat out through Dibeni. According to onlookers it was a highly spectacular tankslapper.
2nd race – After a pep talk from Mark (“Pass people as soon as you catch them. It’s no good waiting, as you’ve only got 8 laps”) I was raring to go for this one. The track was drier now, which favoured the horsepower advantage of the singles, twins and formula 400 machines we were with. I got a reasonable start from the 4th row of the grid, and soon found myself behind a TRX850. Every corner I’d back off to avoid skittling him, but every straight he’d blast away from me. I remembered Marks words, and rather than follow him, stuck a wheel inside at Brooklands, held the line, and never saw him again. Again 5th in class, but this time 13th overall.
3rd race – We were called to the collecting area, and waited, and waited. After about 20 mins we were sent back to the paddock, and told the race would restart in 30 mins or so. After about an hour we were called back to the collecting area, and sat there waiting again. Another 20 mins passed, and again, we were sent back to the paddock. Trying to remain calm and collected at times like this is very difficult, and I was beginning to get a little up tight. Finally, we were called again, and this time actually made it to the track. We had our warm up lap, and lined up on the grid. After a couple of minutes we were told to kill our engines and wait. Tempers and nerves were now getting very frayed. After a few minutes we were allowed another warm up lap, and we were away. I can’t really remember much about this race other than getting another 11th overall and 5th in class.
Later that evening I was talking to the safety officer, Pete, and asked what the delay was. Dave Tills, a promising young rider, had been killed in the previous race. I couldn’t believe it. By a bizarre twist of fate, he was also credited with the race win as the result was declared on the previous lap. If I can make any sense out of this tragic affair it’s that he died whilst leading a race in a sport he loved. My thoughts are with his family as I type these notes.
Sunday, 11th April
After a fitful nights sleep, I unzipped the tent. Hold on? What’s all this white stuff? It had snowed overnight! Although the snow hadn’t settled on the track it was still far too nasty to go out in. I skipped practise and the first race. In an effort to stave off the effects of hypothermia I was on the scrounge for a paddock jacket of any description to wear over my leathers. Roger came to the rescue with a lovely pink and yellow jobbie he’d picked up for a fiver some years back. I was given strict instructions not to crash in it. Combined with my white, purple and green leathers and orange novice jacket I certainly cut a dash in the paddock fashion parade.
2nd race – Again a start from the 4th row of the grid, and the track was drying out slightly. Had a massive scrap all the way round with Scott Allaway. I lost count of the number of times we passed and re-passed each other. Eventually I got a bit hot-headed, and tried to go round the outside at Dibeni. In the process I got off the dry line, and suffered a monumental slide. I thought I was going down, but somewhere my guardian angel smiled on me, and I managed to hold it. Scott got the better of me, and finished about 1.5s ahead. Unbeknown to me at the time, Charlie Entwhistle had a grandstand view of all this, and finished about .7s behind. Again 11th in overall, but this time a 4th in class. Damn. So nearly a trophy. Not to worry. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the scrap, and as we shook hands on the slow down lap all the adrenalin and emotion of the past day came out and I had to choke back the tears.
3rd race – This was a right ding-dong battle from start to finish. The lead was swapped between Simon Tomlinson and Phil Rollason, and every lap Ben Gilbert would shoot past me on the straight only for me to outbrake him into the hairpin. Behind all this David and Scott were hanging grimly on like a pair of vultures waiting for someone to make a mistake. Eventually I got past Simon on the last lap at Woodcote. We shot out of Brooklands, and I tried to get a slingshot past him up the straight. However, my bike ran out of steam, and we travelled up to Woodcote side by side, flat out, with me on the inside. I gritted my teeth, and just held on. We went round two abreast at 110 with our knees on the deck. I have never put so much trust in anybody in my life, and I suspect Simon was feeling the same about me. As we ran out of the corner, Simon had no option but to back off or run out of track. I held my position with a tight line into Honda curve. At the time I didn’t know I’d just taken 2nd place. Phil was 1st, I was second, .7s behind. Simon was third, .3s behind me. Ben took 4th, .5s behind Simon. Less than 2s covered the first five home. I got back to the paddock, and Mark told me I had got 2nd. I was completely gobsmacked. My first trophy!
All in all it’s been a very strange weekend. I owe Mark an enormous debt for hanging around all weekend in order to take my bike back on the Sunday night. I’m overjoyed at my solid performances over the weekend, with some good points towards this years TZR championship. Most of all, I’m immensely saddened by the death of Dave Tills. Lining up on the grid on Sunday morning was very, very difficult. I can’t pretend that I knew Dave well, but I know I wasn’t the only one feeling that way on the Sunday.
I won’t race at Pembrey again until the track is made safer and the scrutineering standards are improved. I know the risks I take every time I go out on a track, and do everything I can to minimise those risks. I expect the track owners to do the same.
Cost so far:
Fuel : £25
Monday, 13th April
Entered meetings at Croix and Snett.
Cost so far:
Croix race entry: £105
Snetterton race entry: £70