Scene & Heard Issue 6

This is where guest penmen vent their opinions on the scene today. This month, Shaun Wilson: erstwhile editor of the Hot Rod Gazette (nom de guerre: Ed Gasket), and now the voice of Shakespeare County Raceway.
For those of you reading who have no idea who I am, I used to produce a little ‘underground’ magazine called Hot Rod Gazette. It wasn’t available in the shops; we just hawked it around a few cruises and shows, and largely sold it by subscription. It was a non-profit making scheme, and all its proceeds were put into sponsoring shows or, occasionally, where a rodder or racer had found themselves in hard times, we’d give them a little something to help out and let them know that they were part of a big family who cared. It was all a very lovely idea but, like so many of them, it ground to a halt when the internet arrived and it became impossible to have printed ‘news’ out before it had already been seen in the public domain.

Back then I used to have a guy who helped out a lot with side-splittingly funny articles, who later went on to become the editor of this very mag! Dave Smith is much like a literary hand grenade; you just throw him into a room and wait for the hilarity to explode.

Whilst we were writing HRG we also came up with the NSCC drag racing series, the first true street and strip event in the UK. Contestants had to not only race their cars, but they had to drive them to various shows and cruises all over the UK – meaning you couldn’t just win it with a pure race car. Twenty years on and the series is still running, organised by James Murray, and will hopefully survive the uncertainties that are plaguing UK drag racing at the moment.

So, just when you think you’re taking a bit of a back seat in it all, along comes Jerry Cookson and asks you to become a commentator at Shakespeare County Raceway. Of all the people that I wouldn’t trust with a microphone, I’d be about top of the list – probably just behind Dave Smith, in fact.

To say that the experience has been an eye-opener would be something of an understatement. For 30 years, I just turned up with a car and a helmet and just assumed these events just kinda happened. I didn’t realise that there would be a team of people cleaning up the venue, setting up the electronics and prepping the track three days before anybody arrives.

I also didn’t realise that the guys who drive around in the flat bed pick-up, emptying all the bins on the campsite and in the pits, are the same ones who’ve already done a 10-hour day, marshaling the track. As for being up in the tower, it’s like being on a TV set of The Borrowers – lots of little people running around, frantically trying to co-ordinate the whole affair. I swear that, at the end of the day, they all go back to living in a little shoebox together.

But the biggest eye-opener for me is the amount of work that goes into keeping the racers safe. For years, I’ve stood in the pairing lanes bemoaning how long it’s taking to clear up what looks like a little fluid dropped on the track. How much harm could that be? Well, earlier this season, I had the opportunity to walk up the track after there had been an oil spillage – and I can tell you first-hand that it is literally like walking on ice. Not a bit slippery; more like proper zero-grip-under-foot-and-ending-up-on-your-arse kinda slippery. The reality is that oil mixed with the track prep glue creates an utterly frictionless surface, and if you can’t walk on it then you’re certainly not going to be able to drive over it under power.

So yes, it feels like forever when you’re queued up, but it’s for your own good. It’s also why if you’ve been out for a run, oiled a lane and caused an hour of down time, we all get so upset when you return to the track having ‘fixed’ the problem … and do it all again. Give it a little thought, eh?