Amidst all the talk of F1 politics and the threats to rip the sport in two, Saturday formed a brief but all-too welcome respite from the petty politics of Formula 1.
My colleague and friend Jason Swales (BBC Radio Five Live Producer) was taking part in his first competitive weekend of racing at Silverstone at the wheel of a Ginetta, and so a bunch of us went down to lend our support including Jason’s Five Live colleagues David Croft, Anthony Davidson and Holly Samos, Toby Moody of MotoGP fame and our other halves, partners and children.
There’s something pretty awesome about a weekend of club racing. It lacks any snobbishness at all. It’s just proper racing.
Jason was decked out in Alpinestars overalls and a very slick Bell helmet that Mr Davidson had helped design in a beautifully simply Navy Blue and White striped colour scheme.
At his first ever event Jason had qualified 14th – mid-grid – for the opening race. We all took to the grandstand at Brooklands and watched the first race unfold before us. Jason raced hard and fought up to 12th position until amidst a sea of cars the red mist descended, he missed his braking point and, in front of his legion of fans, ploughed into the gravel. Cue applause, cheering and much derision from us all.
F1 Racing’s Bradley Lord suggested that, once he’d extracted himself from the car, Jason’s running over the gravel was a touch reminiscent of Juan Pablo Montoya at Indy a few years ago, but as Jason would later tell us, running over gravel isn’t the easiest job in the world. Nor was it the easiest job in the world for his team to remove all the gravel from the Ginetta, whose front end had acted as a pretty efficient scoop.
Jason had bigger fish to fry however as he was called infront of the Stewards… at his first race! Good effort. He’d apparently overtaken under yellow flags, even though he’d been waved through, and having learned how not to treat these kind of situations from Lewis Hamilton in Australia earlier in the season, Jason was honest with everyone and receieved no penalty. Quite right too.
Race two saw Jason again start 14th but a bad start dropped him to 16th. As they rounded Brooklands at the end of the first lap, two cars spun ahead of him and he almost collected them both, narrowly avoiding the pair with a deft touch, but losing another three positions in the process. By the end of the first lap he was 17th.
Driving, in his own words, like a “getaway driver” he’d made his way up to 15th by the start of the final lap and, summoning all his courage, passed the guy infront of him at 92mph on the inside at Copse to steal 14th place and finish there at the chequered flag.
He felt, and quite rightly, thoroughly chuffed with himself, as we were left keen to get on with our own ARDS tests so we too could take part in a similarly enjoyable afternoon of racing. But just watching it had been a highlight to the week. 24 hours earlier, Crofty had been at Heathrow airport waiting for FOTA and the FIA to finish a meeting which ultimately resolved nothing. This was on the other hand, we all agreed, a lovely way to spend the day. Silverstone may have been blooming cold, but a day at the races was what we all needed to get our spirits up. It was racing as racing should be. A bunch of friends huddled under an awning, drinking tea and having a laugh.
F1 may get all the news, but don’t forget there are great club events every weekend at racing circuits the world over. They’re a great way to watch motor racing and tickets won’t cost the earth. And the racing, as Jason showed us, can be brilliantly exciting, and more than a little bit hairy. So check your local circuit’s listings and spend a day at the races.
Trust me, it makes a refreshing change.