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Added: 04 Dec 2018 Category: Brian Racing
Swapping the Camera for the Steering Wheel - Season 4 - pt2
Having not raced at the Aghadowey Summer speedweekend in favour of taking photos, the end of July meeting that was the Moffett shield should have been my next meeting out. In true Northern Ireland fashion a race day in the middle of the summer brought one of the wettest days of the year on the back of weeks of gorgeous sunshine. I started getting the car ready it was getting to the stage I was getting soaked through just taking tools back and forward to the shed in what seemed like a never ending thunderstorm during the afternoon. I don’t mind the concept of racing in the rain, but I hate working in it, everything seems like a laboured task, and so I decided to just go and watch. Still, it could have been worse, I could have gone to the F1/F2 European at Northampton.

Mid August then brought about by first racing since mid June. I finished both heats and the final in a rare, drama free afternoon of racing and felt good that I was making some progress. I looked around the pits and a few cars were loading up ahead of the Dash4Cash and I decided it would be a good chance to build on the progress I was making. That all seemed a good idea right up until I slammed the car into the wall on the home straight over correcting a slide and parked it in the wall in turn one for good measure, I think my first non finish in 2 meetings which was to be the start of a trend.

After a few weeks of making the sort of repairs everyone else does between races I had the front corner of the Superstox back together, when I say “I” what I mean is I did the things that bolt on and off, Gary Grattan straightened the front bumper and Gary Beggs did a bit of welding and work to straighten the back bumper out, by “I” I mean I drove around the country and other people worked on it. In practice the car didn’t feel right and I came in and checked I’d bolted everything together properly but still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I went out for the first race and the car still didn’t feel right, at the point I’d my arms crossed on the wheel to turn the car when going round turn three and four to line up the penny dropped that my handling problem was a steering problem I came back in and despite Simon Kennedy and Mark Bell quickly tightening up the top knuckle in the steering I didn’t make it back to the gate before the race had started, but at least the car didn’t need anything for heat two.
Heat two came along with me having a bit more confidence that steering would turn in the bends and indeed it did. With a few laps to go (in my mind anyway, it could have been ten to be honest) I’d lost a few places but most of the pack was still behind me when my outside back tyre decided it no longer liked being on the rim and sent me into turn one backwards and facing the oncoming pack, to face the pack with everyone missing me except James Logan who had nowhere to go but head on into me, going in under the bumper with the way the car was sitting and taking another front corner out of the car along with a rim and steering rack. The rest of the meeting was spent trying to get enough of the car straight enough to get the car back on the trailer.

The next meeting up was the World Final, no pressure when you’ve finished 3 races in the three months running up to it. At the initial cut I was too far down the points to make it into the World, but I was hopeful I wasn’t too far off the cut line to get in should enough drivers drop out and so I added fixing the car to a relentless workload of programme work, artwork, NIOvalTV stuff and getting photos sorted for the 50th Anniversary displays.
I once again spent the best part of two weeks changing the things other people do between races and enlisted the welding skills of Gary Beggs to put bars back in and point out things I hadn’t tightened properly. With the world about 10 days away I got word I was in and from that point time seemed to fly by and all the things that needed done just fell into place and got done.
I took a half day off on the Friday of the World final to get down the road to Tullyroan and get some practice in and help with the 50th Anniversary displays, making sure the steering was well tightened up. The car handled like a pig during Friday night practice and had some sort of want to go right all the time, I couldn’t get the power down off the bends, it was that bad Barry Stephen passed me going into turn one and was half way down the straight when I was coming off the bend. Various rear shock adjustments had made no difference and I went away on the Friday night quite disheartened and wondering if I was wise going out in the World just as slow as I’d been.
World final day came and went almost in a blink, my day started going through all my shock settings and measurements to find the platform on the inside front was quite a bit away from where it should be, with that adjusted the car felt good in practice. I screwed at it some more and it felt even better, not “I could win this from 33rd” better, but “I could get a finish” better. Between the Friday night and Saturday I’d got around 100 laps of practice and everything seemed as good as it has been in the car. With such optimism of a finish I left my camera round to the NIOvalTV filming stand should I not make the finish, photo’d the first few races of the meeting and headed off to the pits to give everything one last check. I was also already loaded up as it was my intention to only race the world and take pics the rest of the night. My dad took me round on the parade lap when I got a decent reception (I thought anyway, thank you to anyone who clapped or cheered) and then I took my place on the back of the grid.
When the flag dropped I decided to hang back expecting there’d be a pile up in the opening few bends on the scale of the one at Aghadowey in 2015 but nothing that severe happened. I passed cars that were spun or in the wall and at the first stoppage even had a few running cars behind me, at one stage I think I may have been about 23rd from a 33rd place start. After a restart, running last and as Jason Cooper and Lee Davison had already passed me the inside steering arm bar decided it would be a fine time to come apart, the inside front wheel overturned and spun me onto the infield in turn one, at first I thought it was my own doing but as I looked down the bonnet I could see the wheels weren’t going in the same direction. Over 100 laps of practice completed with no issues and mid World final one of the smallest cheapest bars on the car decides it’s done. Another stoppage followed soon after and I went to the outside and photo’d the rest of the World final. The DNF came with mixed emotion, I’d hoped I could get a finish, but at the same time as I looked around the other casualties of the World final I was just glad I hadn’t as much damage as them. World final done, it was a great experience and if I achieve nothing else on track, and I likely won’t, then at least I competed in a World final, not only that but one an NI car won!

Fast forward another month and it was time for the Irish Championship, for whatever reason I just was never really in the right frame of mind for it, A race I know I’ll do nothing in, starting near the back and with a previous DNF at Aghadowey in 2017 I just couldn’t have been less bothered about going racing. In practice the car had a miss, I cleaned the plugs for the Irish but the miss was worse at the start, I spun from last mid race, found myself facing the traffic on the inside of the start and finish straight and drove onto the grass and watched the rest. For a split second I considered re-joining to try and get a finish, but that quickly passed. The car went straight onto the trailer and I stood and watched the rest of the night.

I expected with the miss in the engine it was my last night of the season until I could get it looked at but a change of plugs seems to help it in the driveway and I got it compression tested just ahead of the Tullyroan Gala night meeting, by “just ahead” I mean shortly after I’d hoped to be driving up the road to take photos, I’d flattened the batteries testing the compression, the car was going nowhere, but it was ready nice and early for the next week’s meeting at Aghadowey.

A week beyond what should have been the end of the season I was one of eight cars out at Aghadowey for the King of Aghadowey and another chance to give the car a run out and hopefully clear the miss. Things didn’t get off to a great start when I was a little over eager to get through scrutineering before it got busy and I ran out of petrol and needed pushed back to the trailer once the car was checked, it may only be a marginal difference but it does seem to go better with petrol in it, it sounds better if nothing else.
A first practice on a greasy track with a wet setup I was happy with, a few tweaks on a drying track and I was unsure my changes made much difference so went back to what I had. By the first heat the track had dried out a bit more and I continued with my wet setup and set about going backwards from the very off, I think the yellows passed me in the first bend I was that slow. The car continued to fart and splutter and I think I eventually finished 2 laps down, but my first finish in over two months.
For heat two I made some changes to the setup but the miss continued and I pulled off just before I’d have been lapped for the second time.
The plugs were cleaned again for the final and I spluttered from the back and once I could see the leaders half a lap up on me it seemed pointless to keep at it and I pulled off. A frustrating way to finish the season was topped when the car wouldn’t drive off the trailer when I got home with a clutch or gearbox problem which made it a joy to get the car off the trailer.

After the car had a trip to my father in laws to fix the gearbox and see if he could see anything that would cure the miss it was ready to do the November “out of season” meeting at Tullyroan. Practice went well, Norl Mark gave me some tips of things to try and they seemed to be working. I went into heat one with a lot of hope that I’d the car going the best I’d had it, this was short lived when I somehow managed to swap ends in the middle of the back straight and as I watched the yellow roofs head towards me I just kept it pinned until I got out of the way, that out of the way came in the form of the wall.
With the help of Noel Mark and Neil Davison as well as my dad and uncle, we got back out for heat two, the track was that greasy from the bangers it felt like a challenge to keep the car pointed the right way on the rolling lap so rather than risk further damage at a meaningless meeting I pulled off at the start and at the first stoppage went off into the pits and loaded up. Not exactly the days racing I had in mind, but my mindset going into the meeting was that the car was good and I wanted to chase Personal Best lap times, I wasn’t going to do it in those conditions.

My first full season on tar has been a tough slog, frustrating with far more low points than high points. By mid season when I thought I was making progress I started bouncing off walls and spent the rest of the year going in leaps and bounds back roads. The balancing act of NIOvalTV, photographer, racing, car prep, programmes and posters was a struggle, not to mention trying to fit in being a husband and dad! The workload at times it almost felt like I should have some form of entitlement to some rub of the green, but the truth probably is I was working harder on everything but the car and only reaping what I sowed. Perhaps too much of the season I kept just going back and hoping this would be the meeting that it all clicked without working hard enough to make it happen and the result was it never really did.
At the start of the season if the car needed something, it got it, no questions asked, by the end of the season it was getting to the stage if the jerry can needed filled it was raising the question if it was really worth £15 for another day of disappointment. There is a mental state or mentality I’ve struggled with towards the end of the season too, where I can day dream about racing pretty much just at the mention of racing, but when I actually get onto the grid it’s as though I’ve made it to where I want to be, it’s job done, like a football team making a cup final by beating all the hard teams on the way and then not showing up on cup final day and getting tanked. It’s left me a bit too polite and “after you sir….” to be racing a stockcar but I’m just that far off the pace I’m only getting in the way, so until I find some pace I’d rather be well out of the way than be putting a new front corner in after every meeting.
By the end of the season there has been a lot of times I’ve counted up how much kit is sitting round me and thinking how I could better spend the money, but the bottom line on it is I’m probably in a once in a lifetime position of racing a stockcar, even if the dream is more of a nightmare at times I’m still closer to being out there in the thick of it than I’ve ever been, I simply can’t walk away from it until I know I’ve given it everything I could have.

At times it feels like I’ve come a long way in a season and at other times it seems like I’ve stood still, even gone backwards, regardless of the direction I still couldn’t do it without those who’ve helped me and sponsored me, so thanks to all of those people who know who they are.

The grass car and the Superstox together for the last time

Mid August meeting finished like this, all my own work

Some of the fixing to get the car back out, a lot of drivers do this between races, I did it between meetings and still needed help from Gary Beggs to do some welding and Gary Grattan to straighten the bumper

Almost ready to go again

Another meeting, another corner, if Autograss taught me anything it's to keep lashing cable ties onto things

World Prep, even before I knew I was in

The car's first wash since Easter, must have been something back at the Sept speedweekend

World parade lap with my dad at the wheel, proud moment (Chris Berry Pic)

(Mike Looby Pic)

It doubt I'll get many chances to get my photo taken with these two when I'm racing, need to make the most of it (Paula Currie Pic)

Rolling lap.... I'm in a world final.... how did this happen? (Mike Looby Pic)

There's me at the back!! (Not sure whose photo it is... the internet owes me a few anyway!!!)

End of season, some time to reflect, some time to enjoy with the family, then we go again!

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