Crash bang wallop, what a picture!
It would be worth wagering (a not insignificant sum) that each weekend, as a procession of recovery trucks laden with cars rock up, pen hits paper by frothing locals seeking to curtail a pursuit that disturbs the tranquility of their otherwise picturesque village. Welcome to the world of Banger Racing – a cross between anarchy and automotive recycling. Granted Henham does strike as an ill-conceived location; albeit nestled in a field some distance from the chocolate box cliché cottages. However, for decades it's been the place in which a permanent line is drawn under a cars years of loyal service – before being cubed and sold by the kilo for scrap. Reversing the urge (as old motoring itself) to destroy a vehicle not fit for purpose is intrinsically engrained in, but not solely, the DNA of male species.
Banger Racing remains a pastime as far removed from the world of big budget motorsport as is pay-per-view boxing to a pub brawl on a Friday night – it’s a true testament to grass roots motorsport at its rawest. Yet despite the lack of prize money and high-end accoutrements it’s no less competitive or fascinating. I meandered amongst various teams, often relying on peripheral vision to evade a shower of molten sparks. It’s right up there amongst the sports that health and safety forgot – or gave up trying to police. Yet, being that close to imminent injury was nonetheless refreshing and fuelled the overall experience.
The pre-race briefing and safety rules were broadcast aloft the roof of 4x4 via loud hailer. Whether heeded or not, nods and grunts of acknowledgement were given and it was over. Drivers returned to their vehicles for last minute mechanical adjustments, as well as applying copious amounts of duct tape and upholstery foam to the stripped bare, roll caged strengthened interiors. Surprisingly team tactics were discussed; whether they’re fruitful is anyones guess – once the flag drops it’s each for their own! With a final tightening of their safety harnesses and a self-inflicted focussing slap about the face they were off. In what felt like a blink of an eye the first heat was over. However, as entertaining as the race itself is – the relentless activity away from the track fascinated me.
Those cars able to emerged from the track through a cloud of dust; making a beeline to the relative safety of their designated pit area. With driver safely extracted from his pummelled car, so began the considered use of angle grinders to remove misaligned or dangerous bodywork. And when the finesse of 20LB of sledgehammer fails, dangling the car (in a manner tantamount to cruelty) from a crane until the offending part conceded often wins through. However, the level of mechanical savvy, implemented in such basic facilities and with a finite of time, is to be applauded – putting many seasoned mechanics to shame. New radiators, clutches changed and steering adjusted. Transmissions from lesser engines mounted to higher capacity engines to deliver that all important high revving acceleration. Improvising fixes and ‘that’ll do’s’ from a trailer laden with parts. All before the allotted time between races expires. Longevity of parts and repairs isn’t important, just as long as it lasts until the next round – it’s rare that any car lives to see another venue.
Far from being a male dominated sport it’s a family affair. Wives and daughters, each with a role to play in the days proceedings, bolstering numbers of the extended pit crew. I earmarked the Hallet family for further scrutiny; a down-to-earth mix of fathers, mothers, sons, uncles, aunties, brothers, nieces and grandchildren – all of which were only too pleased to educate me on the finer points of their chosen sport. Brothers Paul and Alfie were behind the wheel of cars 69 and 99; racing under the team name ‘The Scrappers’. With both brothers ably supported by senior members of the clan – a majority of whom were seasoned racers going back decades.
As the tannoy once again beckoned drivers trackside, so started the revving of engines; leaking of oil and vaporising of water spurting from already damaged radiators. The crowds watched in excitement as vehicles limped towards the inhospitable battlefield of the race oval. Grudges develop; often held over by individuals or in unison amongst teams until the next race meeting. For that unwitting target their race day can be a short affair.
Seldom do teams expect to come away flush with prize money. When asked how much the sport costs in relation to prize money earned negative amounts where muted. I guess, as with many amateur sports, it’s the partaking and personal achievement which outweighs the renumeration. So in a motorsport hinged on survival, as opposed to milliseconds, a driver’s progress through the rankings is testament to their own driving abilities – and a pinch of luck. Reasons alone to award these bastions of grass roots motorsport with the respect