As well as modifying, cleaning and restoring cars, I do sometimes take them out on track. All was well with Carol, until she reverted back to her homicidal tendencies.
10 years ago, I founded the Kei Kars in the Park club, for micro Japanese Kei cars. As active chairperson, my duties also include attending national shows and supporting the Club Stand.
The morning started with the usual mad panic and Husband’s reluctance to get out of bed! However, we were soon on our way. Jay followed me in Mitsi (the L200 Pickup) and I led the way with our Autozam Carol. After a careful game of charades (still not really sure how I managed to recreate the necessary hand signals with just one hand), Husband pulled off at the next slip road and returned home for the camping chairs.
As I pulled into Silverstone I felt the usual mix of pride in my work, and concern with what people would think of me and Carol (especially with her unique paint job). I checked my mirrors again for any sign of a bright red L200, before having to admit defeat and head in alone.
There’s always a queue to get in, and for once, Carol behaved herself; no wondering idle, no high revs, just a constant and pleasant tick over. I handed over my ticket and pulled over just past the gate. I waved over a lady holding a radio, and asked where the track briefings were. I knew I had just 10mins to spare, or I would lose my slot and my chance to go on track. She didn’t know.
So I followed the marshal’s directions and got to the Club Stand. I jumped out the car, apologised to those already there, delegated getting the stand sorted (to the wonderful Darren), and raced off in search of the track briefing.
As I bounded up the steps, it dawned on me that all my documents were still in Mitsi (the pickup), wherever she (and Husband) might be! I nervously followed the crowd and approached the desk, with just 5mins to spare.
“DVLA print out please…”
“I’m so sorry, I don’t have it, it’s with my husband, he went back to get the camping chairs and –“
“Go on the DVLA website, get your code and come back and show me your phone with the code on it.”
“Thank you so much!”
Just as I unlocked my phone, a large security guard opened the door to the stairwell and called out for the 8:40 briefing group; my briefing group!
“Sorry, you can’t come up until you’ve had your licence signed off by the guys on the desk,” I hear him tell another driver.
Eventually, after much panic, I get in the next briefing. I now have 10mins to go get a helmet from Helmet Hire (who only take cash, which I also don’t have on me), get back to the Club Stand, do a final check on Carol and get her over to the pit lane. Panic!
I get hold of Husband. He’s in and he’s on his way. I meet him outside the briefing and we sprint over to Helmet Hire. Then it’s a race back to the Club Stand.
“Hi, sorry, gotta go…” I tell the others, as I start throwing any loose items out of Carol before jumping in and driving off.
I pull up at the pit lane. My heart’s racing and my chest is tight. ‘Oh god! Why didn’t I go pee first?’
The guys in the car next to me are grinning from ear to ear at the sight of Carol, she does seem to have that affect on people… then the cars in front started moving off.
MX-5s, Civics, Silvia’s and more, roll cages, blow off valves, over sized spoilers. ‘What the hell have I let myself in for here?’
As 27 year old Carol brings up the rear, the nerves dissipate. “I’ve totally got this.”
I know Carol is slow. I know I’m not a racing driver. So, I stick to the right and put my indicator on to let the cars behind know I have seen them, and I will keep my line until they pass (as per the rules). A scary (and illegal) undertake from a civic shook me up. Had I moved over any sooner, I’ve no doubt I would at least have been very seriously injured (I’m really not exaggerating the magnitude of how fast he was going Vs how little protection there is in a 27 year old Kei car). None the less, I start pushing Carol a little further.
I clear the pit straight and spot a Teggy behind me waiting to pass. I pull as far right as I can and flick on my indicators. I wait to see if he’s realised I’ve seen him. He doesn’t pass. I look forward. Copse corner is upon me. “F**k!”
There’s no way I can stop in time. It’s difficult to hold on in Carol around the corners as it is, with her flat seats and no harness. I can’t go straight on, not without risking colliding with the Teggy that probably has no idea how much trouble I’ve put myself in. I have to try and make the corner. I steer. I cling on to the wheel with all my might.
‘I’ve lost it.’ The rear of Carol swings around. Grass is flying up the passenger side window. The barriers are flashing past in front of me. ‘This is going to f**king hurt.’
I feel Carol begin to lean. ‘She’s gonna tip.’ I steer into it. She settles. The barriers continue to race by, now closer. ‘They’ll rip my bumper off trying to tow her out of this,’ I think to myself – I mean really? I’m doing 60 mph, side-wards, across the grass, and for the first time in my life, I’m completely out of control, not to mention, this is all my own fault, and I’m worried about the marshals ripping the front bumper off?
We hit the narrow strip of tarmac that links the pit lane to the track for service vehicles. Carol stops.
I gather my direction, check that the route is clear, fire her back up and head back out on to the track.
The red lights are flashing (end of play). ‘Oh no! They saw me. Everyone’s going to hate me. I’m in so much trouble. What will I say?’
The adrenaline is still flowing as I slowly follow the car in front around to the exit (almost a full lap), when I see another car stopped on the outside of a bend. ‘That’s what the red lights are for, bet I’m still in trouble though.’ I keep my head down and park up outside Helmet Hire.
“Did you have fun?”
“I lost it at Copse. I thought the red flags were for me.”
“Oh. Well, as you’ve only been out 7mins, they might put the session back on. If they do, come back and I won’t charge you again for helmet hire.”
With my tail between my legs, I drive slowly through the pointing crowds, back to the Club Stand. I pull up and get out to check the damage. Not a blade of grass. Not a scuff on the tyres. Nothing.
“Did you see that?” I ask.
No-one admits to seeing it.
On the ride home, and over the days that followed, it began to dawn on me how close I came, twice, to something far beyond my control taking the reins. It scared me.
Brace yourself for the awesome speed that is a 660cc kei car on an international racetrack:
I learnt a very valuable lesson that day. I learnt I was cocky. I thought I was a safe driver and for that reason alone, I would never crash. I learnt to watch the track ahead, not the car behind. I learnt that when it does go wrong, at least I don’t panic, I just fix it as best I can and ride it out; but most of all, I learnt that Carol hasn’t stopped trying to kill me just yet!