It Was Twenty Years Ago Today… But Sgt Pepper Had Nothing To Do With It.

bumpercarFriday evening I was in Tewkesbury at the annual Mop Fair with my family. The ancient town was jammed with people, dazzelingly lit funfair rides and painfully loud music, all nestling among the Tudor and Georgian buildings and the medieval Abbey . At one point I was zipping round in a Bumper Car with my youngest daughter Georgie, beside me (left), her foot on the throttle and me doing the steering. We had a few collissions but then some evil kid decided to T-Bone us really hard. The impact was violent enough that Georgie’s elbow thumped painfully into the side of the car and for a moment I thought she’d cry…. But no, give Georgie her due, she didn’t and neither did she lift her foot off the throttle pedal once!

What a star. I was so proud.  I got the evil kid back and stuck him in the wall…. Twenty years ago I was a racing driver…and you don’t forget. 1996 and all that.

Back in 1996 a decent chap called Damon Hill won the world championship in F1. Top bloke. Not someone who stuck the opposition into a wall on purpose…(ahem…. well I never claimed to be in his league!). combe-startHe didn’t ascend the ladder to F1 in the usual way. Won against the odds, A proper racer. A hero we looked up to. And, I may be wrong here, the last F1 world champion who had previously had an actual job (in his case a motorcycle dispatch rider) before he became a professional racer. That doesn’t happen now.  Oddly enough his wife is called Georgie, like my daughter.

But I digress because the same year Damon was making that last stand for  F1 champions who hadn’t started out in Karting at kindergarten, 20 years ago to the day ( as I write this )  I was not at the Tewkesbury Mop Fair in a Bumper Car. combe-2 I was not even aware it existed .  I was at Castle Combe Circuit in Wiltshire, with my Rover 220 Turbo race car enjoying my one and only outright win in a circuit race.  On that day all the planets aligned and starting from the front row of the 30+ car grid I led all the way and even got fastest lap, pushed every inch of the way by former series chmapion Ilsa Cox (in the red 205). Blimey what a way to end the season! All winter to enjoy the fact. A photo of me winning featured on the cover of the MERLIN MOTORSPORT catalogue for 1997 and in the spring MOTORING NEWS even previewed the HANDYGAS SALOON CAR CHAMPIONSHIP by saying I was a favourite for the title. The world was a good place.

Well that never happened. I never won the title or even got close to another race win. The car had been tuned to the limit by my brother on a shoe-string budget and on that October day in 1996 it was absolutely singing. The trouble was that by  the following year that ‘limit’ had been passed and the resulting fragility of the engine was making itself very obvious.  We had a season of melted pistons and blown turbo pipes, a snapped clutch cable and a fairly big accident. It was not a success. I also met a girl (ironically the very day of that big accident) got engaged soon after, there was a house to renovate, only so much money in the pot and life went in a different direction. That didn’t turn out well either. I raced for a few more seasons, increasingly sporadically, and never regained that moment from October 1996 when, in motor racing terms, everything went according to plan.combe3

Twenty years on, at Tewkesbury Mop Fair; while I may not have done all the things I had hoped in motor sport during those intervening (by a long way!) , I did bag that win, which was an ambition from childhood, I’ve still got the cup I can be seen carrying round on the victory lap (right) that day and if life went in enexpected directions  thereafter, well… I was now sat in a bumper car beside my beautiful brave little girl watching as she kept her foot down, despite the knocks! Minutes before we’d stood ‘trackside’ together watched her big sister, Charlotte, at the wheel (with her Mum alongside) looking equally commited and taking no prisoners. I felt so proud of them both.

Unto the next generation I guess!

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