Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Stock Car Racing

Last Sunday we had St. Helena’s first ever (as far as anyone remembers) Stock Car Race.

Stock Car Racing, in case you don’t know (it’s probably called something different outside the UK) is where you get a lot of battered old cars and race them. The rules permit a certain degree of contact and the main audience attractions are wondering who will be smashed up next and whether any of the cars will still be running at the end of the lap.

Now, if you’ve ever been to St. Helena, you may be surprised to hear that there are any vehicles on the island, capable of moving under their own power, that are not still in regular use. I was told that the entrants were “MOT Failures” (NB the MOT is a UK roadworthiness test). I knew that there was an MOT in St. Helena but, given the state of most of the cars on the road, I found it hard to believe that anything that could still move ever failed it. So much of my interest was sheer disbelief that they could get any working entrants.

However, they did, and there were seven competitors: three Mk2 Escorts (the one used in all the rallies in the 1960s and 70s), a Ford Sierra Estate, a Vauxhall Viva, a Mk 1 Cortina, and one other yellow thing that I couldn’t identify (I’m not sure if the yellow was a paint colour or just rust).

Racing took place on a dusty track just next to the refuse dump in Bottom Woods, presumably to make disposal of the remains more convenient, though possibly the ready access to spare parts may have been a factor.

After some initial ‘time trials’ (i.e. can you make it round the track before it gets dark), the cars were grouped together in fours and the racing began.

It quickly became evident that being in front was a major advantage, because the combination of road dust and exhaust fumes that trailed in the wake of the leading car made it damn near impossible for the remainder to see the front of their own car, let alone the road. The trackside marshals must have had nerves of steel to stand there in the resulting dust-storm, with (relatively) fast-moving heaps of rust hurtling around somewhere in the immediate vicinity.

Crashes did occur, though we mostly heard the bang rather than saw the impact. They were evidenced by the fact that the cars, when they again became visible, were suddenly missing insignificant components, such as doors.

I’m not entirely sure who won, but the driver of the Sierra should have had a prize for sheer persistence. He started every race but I don’t think he ever completed a lap without breaking down midway and being towed off by the marshals.

Other prizes go to the driver of the yellow ‘thing’, for Panache (attempting to power slide in dust with a vehicle that could otherwise only just manage a one-in-100 incline), and one for Insanity for the driver who selected the red-bodied Escort. You see, I know its previous owner, and she didn’t dare smoke in the vehicle because of the petrol leak ….

Nobody got hurt, a great time was had by all, and I understand that just over £500 was raised to help fund a blood-analysis machine for the General Hospital.

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