Charles Graham, Daytona CEO, shares some insights into Daytona, racing and life in general.

GPK Series – Interview With Charles Graham

 


Racing Is At The Heart Of Everything We Do

Daytona’s CEO wins the 2016 Race Of Remembrance.

_c9c1510Following a great showing at the Birkett six hour at Silverstone in October (second place) I decided to do one more race in 2016. Given my passion for long distance endurance racing the 1000km Race Of Remembrance at Circuit of Anglesey was the obvious choice.

Wade Eastwood of Eastwood Action (Tom Cruise’s go-to guy for stunt coordination) is in the UK for an extended period while filming the Mummy and Mission Impossible 6 with Cruise. He had been suggesting we should do a race together and when I suggested Race Of Remembrance he jumped in. We arranged for Datum Motorsport to run us in their Lotus Exige and began the extensive planning that goes into a long distance race.

We’d arranged a shake down of the car at Anglesey on the Thursday with practice, qualifying and night practice on the Friday. We hadn’t ever seen the car before Wednesday evening and I got a surprise on Wednesday evening when I first tried the car on. I am 6’ tall and I just couldn’t fit. I had to incline my head at 45 degrees and my helmet was still hard up against the roll cage diagonal cross bar.

image003Tom, the principal at Datum Motorsport was fantastic. He immediately worked out that the cross bar wasn’t specified in the regulations and set about removing it with a hacksaw. Once the role cage diagonal had been removed we tried again. Now my helmet was up against the underside of the roof of the car. The engineers then worked out a method of lifting the rear of the roof by 35mm for me. My teammate Wade was concerned that this would affect the aerodynamics of the car by reducing airflow over the rear wing so he preferred the roof down for his stints. The pit stops in the Race Of Remembrance are a mandatory 4 minutes. This is to ensure that disabled drivers are not disadvantaged in the race and enabled us to affect the changes that we needed each time we made a driver change. I was still very cramped but I could now drive the car. Apparently Lotus supply an aftermarket roof with a dome on the driver’s side as this has been a problem before so I am hoping that we will be able to arrange that for next year!

Thursday was useful, we spent a fair amount of time on track, practicing pit stops and making set up changes. From memory I think we had 4 or 5 front roll bar settings during Thursday as well as numerous different rear damper set ups. Wade and I both fell in love with the circuit and were now very much looking forward to the event.

image006Friday was set aside for practice and qualifying both day and night and, although I have taken part in a number of night races, particularly in karts they have always been under floodlights. Anglesey has no lighting whatsoever so the cars are fitted with very powerful LED light arrays. This was really a novel experience as it is very dark on Anglesey in November. The lights have a good throw but picking up apex’s is difficult and each time you pass someone the lights in your mirrors are blinding. The team had fitted a couple of extra lights to the corners of the car in order to help with the apex’s but this didn’t help a lot.

The Race of Remembrance is an endurance race and the winners are awarded the Heros’ Cup. There are two other classes, the invitational class and the relay class. The race was originally conceived as a low cost race with two wheel drive, standard gearboxes and certain power to weight ratios. The relay class is for Caterhams, which are very fast and light with small fuel tanks. The Caterhams were running in teams of more than one car that would take over from each other in a relay, so not so much of an endurance race as you could field another car if there was a technical problem. The invitational race included an entry from Sir Chris Hoy and James Onslow Cole in a four wheel drive Golf with 400 Bhp and a sequential DSG gearbox. Syncro fielded a Honda Civic type R that was pretty much a touring car as far as I could tell. These cars did not qualify for a trophy and I’m not quite sure what the point was.

image010We qualified 4th and Wade started the race. He made his way to the front after about an hour and we managed to hold the lead through to the first driver change. He was putting in some really quick laps, dropping now into the 1:43’s.  My first stint was to be in the dark.  I was just settling in when I almost joined an accident at the late apex in the hairpin. We had been running second to Rob Boston Motorsport in a Lotus elise. Rob Boston was driving and he was very quick. A regular in the Elise he had been leading but had given it up to us in the driver change pit stop. The marshals were given light wands in place of their yellow flags for the night race however these were hard to see.

Heading towards the hairpin I thought I could see a waved yellow but wasn’t sure. I slowed considerably and was then overtaken by the Synchro Honda (as it turns out – under yellows).  When the Honda passed I decided that there can’t have been a yellow flag/wand so set about the Honda mid corner. I arrived at the hairpin and turned in to spot the Rob Boston Elise facing the wrong way with a Caterham buried in the front of it. It looked like a big accident which was confirmed to me later by car owner Peter Mansfield who advised me that the chassis of the Lotus was bent. I saw the accident at the last moment and jinked left and missed the carnage by a narrow margin – as you can see from the onboard video!

I then had to circle for what felt like an eternity whilst the mess was cleared up. I got a green for the last few minutes of my stint when I got the call to box over the radio. I checked the scoreboard in the garage and I was pleased to have handed over in the lead. Wade was off and managed to extend our lead to over a minute. An hour later the race was chequered flagged for the night stop and we were still P1.

image009Wade restarted in the morning and ran a short stint. I then hopped back in the car for an hour and managed to extend our lead by another 34 seconds. I then received a chequered flag to pause the race for the memorial service. This is what makes the Race unique, a night section and then a pause on Sunday morning for a service on memorial Sunday. After the service and enjoying some hymns in the pit lane I restarted behind the safety car.

The restart advantaged us as we would be behind the pace car and the rest of the field was in track finishing positions for the memorial service. The first car behind me was a small saloon, and the rest of the field could not overtake until they had passed over the start line. I think I timed the restart perfectly and I ran and hid increasing our lead. I pitted after 168 laps and Wade went out on fire. His laps were now sometimes dropping into the 41’s. He was clearly enjoying himself.

Unfortunately an unscheduled pit stop with a broken gear linkage then cost us the lead.  Wade had been mid shift when the linkage broke leaving him in neutral. He was very quick thinking and pulled on one of the cables which found a gear and brought him back to the pits. Tom and Aaron were brilliant and managed to jerry rig the gearshift with some cable ties. Wade re-joined in fourth and we held that position.

The good news however is that the Honda Civic and the two Caterhams were invitational and Relay class and therefore didn’t really count and didn’t qualify for the coveted Hero’s trophy – that was ours. We were presented with an engraved 18 pounder artillery shell which I understand has a documented history and a lovely watch from Omologato.

I have to commend Mission Motorsport who put on a fantastic show for a wonderful cause. Circuit of Anglesey management, you were faultless and I cannot ever give enough praise and thanks to the 106 marshals who turned up and kept greeting me with a blue flag.

We will be back to defend next year….with a domed roof.

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Thanks to Kev Lewis of www.photosbykev.com and Faber Photography for the images above.


It’s All Dickie’s Fault.

I am often asked how Daytona started, the common assumption is that I must have been racing driver in my younger days or something – but the answer is that I was not clever enough to do physics “O” level – now known I believe as a GCSE.

Back in my day, we did “O-levels” – except I didn’t, well not in Maths or Physics anyway. My school decided that it simply wasn’t worth me even trying and they directed my efforts towards a “CSE” instead. A CSE was a less academic curriculum, it was in fact, almost entirely practical. David “Dickie” Lomas was the lucky chap who got to teach the physics “rejects”. My first recollection of him was him discovering me carving his name (along with a derogatory comment about him) into my desk. From that day forward he decided to help me.

Dickie was an inspirational teacher who found a way to engage with my maths and physics- challenged teenage brain. Our first term together was spent building a digital clock, which was quite something back in the seventies. In the January term, Mr Lomas asked the class to help carry some large cardboard boxes into the classroom. When opened, we discovered that the boxes contained three go-karts in kit form. The class was split into three and each group proceeded to build a kart each.

These “Dale” go-karts were powered by Briggs and Stratton engines and my group’s kart featured red and black bodywork.  I managed to find a picture of a Dale kart on the internet (albeit in yellow).

kartYou will notice that the kart has a reasonable ground clearance and the tyres have some tread. This was fortunate as the school had a large complex of playing fields and dirt tracks leading to the playing fields so we had a ready made off road race track.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven, I remember my first drive and it felt to a 15-year-old boy like I was flying. We organised races between the three karts and teams and had the time of our lives. I then spent every minute I could maintaining, driving and racing those go karts.

If you look carefully at the picture you will notice that the Dale kart is slightly unusual in that both accelerator and brake are to the right of the steering assembly so it was right foot braking. I became proficient at heel and toe pedal control with my right foot.

In 1985 I damaged my left leg rather badly in an RTA in California. Over the following ten years, it remained broken despite the efforts of various Doctors to repair it – and it ended up quite a lot shorter than the other leg as the Doctors kept breaking and shaving bits off my tibia to try to promote new bone growth.

In 1995 the very clever Professor Mike Saleh took over my case and used an Ilizarov Device to both re-unite both ends of my tibia.  Historically long term orthopaedic patients ended up with one leg shorter than the other because of the repeated removal of some of the bone. One leg that was two inches shorter was not uncommon and this led to all kinds of other issues as the body compensated resulting in hip, ankle and back misalignment. I had to use an Allen key to stretch apart the two halves of the device by 1mm each day which lengthened the leg.

legIronically we overdid it a bit and my left leg is now longer than my right leg.The consequences of the original injury are a loss of movement and some neurological damage which means that my left foot isn’t as good as my right foot. Karts today all require left foot braking and as a consequence of all of the damage I am at a disadvantage as I don’t have the feel, particularly in the wet. In that respect I yearn for the right foot braking of my trusty old Dale Kart from 39 years ago.

It has been quite a journey since I drove my first go-kart but I wish I could thank David Lomas for everything he did for me and for being the inspiration behind Daytona. I tried to contact him last year but discovered that he had died in 2006.

In his obituary, there is a description of him building a TV signal jamming device and then hiding in the bushes outside one of the housemaster’s homes so he could jam their telly. Each time the house master got up to hit the television Dickie Lomas would turn off the jammer and then turn it on again as soon as the housemaster would sit down.

You sometimes hear that you should go through life without regret. I’m not buying that and will always regret not getting in touch with Dickie Lomas before his death to show him what he was responsible for as I believe he would have been very proud at what has flowed from his teaching.

As I said above, Daytona has been the most amazing journey but there are no regrets about not being clever enough to take physics “O” level.  On this basis, my fellow pupils who were clever enough to take the “O” level must be rocket scientists now.


Race Of Champions 2015 Queen Elizabeth II Stadium

The definition of Theft: (criminal law) the dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession.

We have worked with the Race Of Champions Team in the past, running a series of races at Wembley in 2007 and 2008 including a 24 hour on the track inside Wembley Stadium in 2008. I have been saying to the organisers for many years that they should include a kart race so that the audience would see the cut and thrust of some real racing within the event. Apparently they were listening.

image1ROC got in touch a few weeks ago and advised that there would be a very narrow window of opportunity in Stratford this November. Fredrik Jonsson, the President of ROC asked us to provide Dmax karts for an event within the race of champions. Initially the plan was to run events over a few days that Daytona drivers could book and experience the ROC tarmac at the Olympic Stadium and possibly to run a 24 hr race as before and then to have a heats competition for the ROC drivers.

There was some discussion about sponsors. We are sponsored by TW Steel. ROC is sponsored by Tag Heuer. Roc supplied us with some ROC patches to go over our TW Steel logos. I wasn’t happy with this as I wasn’t convinced that the patches would come off cleanly after the event. We would have to have new uniform. This was duly ordered.

Due to the schedule of the Rugby World Cup and the imminent construction work to convert the Olympic Stadium into West Ham’s new ground our operations became limited to the 21st November, the day of Race Of Champions. It was decided that we would run a 90 minute race first thing for Daytona drivers followed by a practice for the ROC drivers at 12:30 and then two heats and a final for the ROC drivers to finish off the ROC event. Race Of Champions had to remove all of their circuit by 9am Monday 23rd November as the construction boys were starting the conversion then.

Normally months of planning goes into ROC however for this event only a few weeks were available. We submitted all of our plans and technical requirements to ROC in great detail including a technical diagram of barrier requirements and waited for the call.

We were able to get onsite a few days before the big event and when we arrived we were a little concerned about some of our technical requirements being met, particularly the number of barriers on site. The ROC circuit is built from a ring of concrete and there is, therefore, a significant operation to convert the kart circuit to a car circuit and back again. We would be under considerable time pressure as this would all take place on live TV (SkyF1 and on a worldwide feed). ROC were under significant pressure as they had little planning time before taking over the site and very little time overall on site.

We met the ROC track team on the Thursday night to discuss arrangements and they guaranteed that they would have the circuit ready for Saturday morning and we agreed that I would inspect the circuit at 1am on Friday morning. As I left the Olympic Park I noticed a building site adjacent to the stadium. I called Jim, who was still onsite, from the car and asked him to go to the building site and count the plastic barriers located there. Jim called me back “102 – 51 red 51 white”.

On the Friday we unloaded 30 Dmax karts into our temporary home at the stadium along with a significant amount of other kit that we transport when racing away from home. It really is quite a logistics operation between driver gear, kart equipment, track equipment and fuel.

image2Once we were unloaded I went for a wander. I had been told that we could weigh the ROC drivers in the locker room and I had to brief them in the driver lounge. I went to scout the locations of both.

A little later I got a call over the radio asking if we could take one kart to the driver changeover area. I had a feeling that I knew what this was about. I drove a Dmax around the service road to the colourfully lit driver change area. We arranged the kart under the spotlight and the guys polished it a little. Sure enough two minutes later Mark Wimblett arrived with Sebastian Vettel in tow. Fredrik Jonsson had told the ROC drivers that there would be a kart race the next day. Apparently this news was really well received, particularly by Ricciardo, Massa, Coulthard and others. Jason Plato was particularly pleased as the grid for the heats in the kart race was determined by the results in a skills challenge the drivers had done that afternoon. Plato on Pole. Sebastian wanted to inspect the kart before he agreed to anything. He looked over the kart, asked a few technical questions about the FR125 Evo engine and the Bridgestone tyres. He nodded his approval. The ROC kart race was on! I was so impressed with Vettel. It is what I would have done, go and look at the kart, question your competitiveness in it and then commit if happy. Before my critics jump in I’m not claiming any similarity with Vettel, other than that. I would have looked at the kart and I had bet myself that if anyone would want to come and check it out it would be Vettel.

I was very concerned about the track situation and had doubts that the ROC track team had sufficient numbers and assets to achieve what was required. ROC asked me if our guys could just stay all night and help out. Top Gear, the Chris Evans mob – not the real Top Gear, were due to film on the circuit after the Friday night race of Nations and this was due to go on until 1 or 2am. I know TV and they never finish on time so I could see a situation where we spent half the night sitting trackside waiting for TG to finish, getting no sleep and under-delivering the next day. I asked for volunteers to work through the night with me. 6 of the guys put their hands up – you know who you are. The team went back to the hotel and I told the 6 I’d be in touch if I needed them. I was going to need them, but not quite how I first thought.

I went to our hotel in Docklands for a team briefing at 9pm. Our hotel was on the site of the Banana Warehouse which is where bananas used to come in on ships from Africa and the West Indies and which was the site of the first ever indoor go kart track. After the briefing I bored the boys with some stories about the crazy stuff that used to go on there. I then made my way back to the stadium for the inspection at about 1am.  My fears were confirmed. The circuit was not ready for a kart race with over 100 metres of uncovered concrete.  Karts and concrete walls don’t mix. The ROC managers onsite listened to my list of safety issues and decided that the ROC drivers race could not go ahead. This was particularly because they were not confident that the circuit could be changed back and forth in time with a live TV audience waiting. I had other concerns.

We went to a meeting room within the admin of the stadium and called Fredrik on Skype. Fredrik was at a party at the Shard with all of the drivers. He and I were then on the phone from 2am until 4am trying to come up with the right message and deal for our 110 drivers who were going to have to be told that the race they were so looking forward to was cancelled. I wasn’t happy with where we ended up and left for the hotel at 04:30 in pretty poor spirits. David Coulthard later confirmed that the party went on until 5am (with the Race of Champions starting at midday the next day), next day Plato looked a little battered, but was as ever in great spirits; Coulthard was bright eyed and bushy tailed. I got to our hotel at 5am, I sent Jim a text saying “call me when you wake up” and lay on the bed for an hour. Jim was scheduled to be up at 6 and called me then and I gave him the bad news. He wasn’t impressed. We discussed communication with the customers and how we were going to break the bad news that the race was to be cancelled. Jim left with most of the team and I jumped in the shower. I then left to drive up to the circuit. Whilst driving through the Blackwall Tunnel I realised that this would be the first time in my career and the first time in 25 years of Daytona that we were going to cancel a race. As I emerged on the north side of the tunnel it began snowing heavily. Paul Newman, the actor and Racing Driver had two “Newmans laws”. They were published in an interview he did for Playboy magazine in 1985. I was living in California at the time and I read them right there in LA, in Playboy, in 1985. The first Newmans law is “It is useless to put your brakes on when you’re upside down” and the second Newmans law says “Just when things look darkest they go black”. I suspect the second had something to do with Newman’s sons death from drink and drugs overdose in November 1978. As I emerged onto the north side of the Thames from the tunnel both of those were running through my mind, particularly the bit about the brakes. I felt it was time to take the brakes off. I drove to the building site, fast, and drove along the perimeter recounting the big white and red Rhino Barriers lined up on the site. A rhino barrier is a plastic traffic barrier, 2m long and almost a meter high. When used as a traffic barrier it is part filled with water, giving it weight and strength to form a good traffic barrier. If used without water it is perfectly adequate to use as a kart circuit barrier as it absorbs kinetic energy from a kart crash by moving. The rhino barriers are coupled to each other with a large plastic pin that drops in from the top.

I called the Ops team and went through the plan. I got onto site and swapped my BMW for one of our sprinter vans. I asked Pat Horrocks to grab another sprinter and 20 guys and to follow me. We made our way onto the site, via some misplaced Herras fencing and we started loading rhino into the vans. The barriers were filthy and turgid water poured out of each barrier as we lifted them and threw them into the back of the sprinters. It was foul and the snow kept falling. We made trip after trip. There was one kid, a marshal from Daytona Milton Keynes, name of Stefan Nicolov who was superhuman. He was throwing these rhino barriers into the van as if they were candy. It took best part of two hours. As soon as a van was full it raced back to the stadium, we didn’t even bother to close the rear doors, we just got it done. There is a Daytona expression – JFDI and we did.  The barriers were unloaded at the circuit, still with snow pouring down and arranged along the concrete, red, white, red, white. Jim called me up on the radio, from the media room where a 110 of our guests were waiting to be briefed and asked if we would be ready by 9. My radio was hanging off so one of the Marshals called over and relayed the message. I replied, “tell him we will be ready by 08:30”.

The circuit was ready. I went to the briefing room where Jim was briefing the drivers. I explained a couple of safety issues concerning the interface between Tecpro barriers and Rhino barriers to the drivers and asked them not to damage the rhino barriers as they would need to be returned to Balfour Beatty in their current condition before 9am Monday morning.

We got on with the race. There were a few issues, particularly with grit from the sand traps and water from the snow and rain getting into throttle cable outers which was then causing sticking throttles.

We had announced that David Coulthard, an old friend of Daytona’s and particularly of T W Steels would give out the trophies and a special award for fastest lap. DC has his own T W Steel watch, as do we and he was due to present a DC T W Steel watch to the driver with the fastest lap.

During the race Tom McMurray, our pace kart driver pointed out that a driver had just managed to achieve fastest lap by driving through the pit lane, without stopping and without making a driver change, thereby missing out half the track. This caused great mirth. Normally we would have a minimum lap time set within the system which would prevent this but we weren’t doing the timing. When we questioned the driver he explained that he had come in to do a driver change but his throttle had stuck so he couldn’t stop! We did however manage to delete that lap time later thereby making the award to the correct driver which was Jack O’Neill of Titan Motorpsort.

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so relieved when a chequered flag has gone out. We had to, very quickly, remove ourselves and our equipment from the circuit including pushing the rhino barriers into the tunnels under the grandstands.  The stadium began to fill up with the ROC spectators who had come to watch the ROC gladiators.

A little later we made our way to the podium in the middle of the stadium where Andy Critchlow administered our awards ceremony and David Coulthard gave out the trophies. Once the trophies had been given out Andy launched into a speech about the watch for the fastest lap. I don’t know how he had been briefed about this as I hadn’t said anything but this was a disaster. If Fredrick or anyone from TAG Heuer heard the announcements, which of course where blasting out everywhere in the stadium, about a DC watch or a TW Steel watch there would be hell to pay.  We have hijacked a couple of events in the past for our sponsors but this was one I wanted to let go. I was standing in the bowl waving my hand across my throat at Andy Critchlow and luckily he caught on and changed the subject. It was close, Andy, you’re a guy! Jack and our media team met with DC later for the watch presentation.

Please find the podium results here.

1st Place – Titan Motorsport – Jack O’Neill, Andy O’Neill, Owen Jenman
2nd Place – Team Ultimate – Craig Murchison, Doug Willingale, Lee Eggleton
3rd Place – Kempower Motorsport – Tom Kempynck, Jake Butler, Joe Conroy

image3We then headed back to our karthouse as it was known and began hauling the karts onto their shipping pallets. I then went up to the driver change area to see some guests and I bumped into Fredrick. He said to me that the ROC drivers really wanted to race each other in the Dmax’s. We were back on! My footsteps back to the karthouse were heavy, the karts were filthy and would need a huge amount of work for them to be readied for another round. The guys took it really well and began the prep. This was really complicated as rules inside The Borough Of Newhams Olympic stadium regarding fueling and defueling with 30,000 people sitting over our heads were strict as hell.

We prepared the karts and waited for the call. Shortly before 18:00 we got the call and Tom led the boys up to the driver change area. At this point the cars of the grand finalists Vettel and Kristensens went technical, twice, dumping fluid all over the circuit. This unfortunately swallowed up a load of time, including the tv schedule time and ROC took the decision to pull the kart race, again. My heart sank for the boys. In terms of putting the ROC drivers out on the circuit I wasn’t unhappy. We’d done an amazing job, in the most adverse conditions. We’d pulled it off and we were ready.

image4We had some lovely correspondence after the ROC weekend. I’ve pasted an email below which touched me: I just wanted to say what an awesome event you and your colleagues put on Saturday.

The fact the event was nearly cancelled and the whole Daytona team worked throughout the night to get the track prepared for us is just staggering. The karts drove superbly, and they yielded plenty of grip and drivability despite the conditions. In fact, I think it made it even more fun powersliding through all the corners.

Your marshals were also on top of their game and well on the ball. One of them noticed our kart had a sticky throttle before our own driver even realised there was a problem! He dutifully got another kart ready for my stint before I even knew what was going on, and when I asked for the pedals to be adjusted on the new kart, it was like an F1 pitstop, I had never seen someone move so fast! Every one of them I spoke to were all really friendly and helpful too, even though I imagine they hadn’t got much sleep!
So once again, thank you all for an awesome day.

Daytona Dmax Racer

I couldn’t have been more proud of the gang, or of the company. I asked the guys on Friday night “to put their best foot forward” and Team Daytona, I’d work with you anytime.
One more thing: I told the ROC track team where the Rhino’s were from. I sincerely hope that they put them back because if they didn’t, well, that would be theft……

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Bangers

I was watching a TV show about banger racing last night and it reminded me of some crazy nights at Wimbledon Stadium back in the 90’s. We gave some assistance to Capital Radio’s Help a London Child charity event that took place over the Easter Weekend and we were invited to race in the National Advertising Benevolent Society annual banger race.

When we pitched up we were quite pleased to see we had two Ford Granada’s. Wimbledon was heaving and the atmosphere was amazing – kind of like a football match/stadium, but with racing.

top-gearI think we had a couple of heats and if the car was still running at the end you were automatically entered for the Demolition Derby at the end. Meantime there was a celebrity race. Ex Blue Peter host John Leslie who later became infamous for altogether different reasons was due to take part in the celebrity race with Hugh Laurie and a few other big names. 5 minutes before the Celeb race was due to start my phone rang and it was John Leslie who told me he was stuck in fog at Edinburgh airport and could I take his place in the car for the celebrity race. John is very tall, 6’5” or so and the drivers were supposed to walk out to the grid and climb into the car in front of the crowd. I pointed out to the organisers that it would be better if I didn’t walk out to the grid as people would realise it wasn’t John even with a helmet on; so I climbed into the car and drove onto the grid. I made a good start, up to fourth. Despite being in the car and wearing a crash helmet I could hear the tannoy system talking about John Leslie and just at that moment the car cut out, I lost a couple of places and then the car restarted. It turned out the engine died each time I turned right which was a bit of a problem on an oval. I was pulling all of the wiring loom trying to fix what was clearly an electrical fault but to no avail. I wasn’t last but it wasn’t great. As I returned to the holding area one of the Capital Radio DJ’s, I think it was Pat Sharp from memory, came over to the car and wanted to try and interview John Leslie, live on air and over the stadium Tannoy. Pat came over to the car with a tv cameraman and started asking me questions. John has a broad Scottish accent and I don’t so I pulled my visor down and ignored him. It was very comical, with Pat trying to ask questions as I sat there visor down staring straight ahead. It was very Stig.

My brother Jim went on to win the Demolition Derby by being the last vehicle moving out of some 200 cars and then went on to do the same the following year. He could’ve been a contender I reckon.


Up the creek

ceo1In the early 1990’s I qualified via PADI as a scuba diver. My instructors name was and I guess is still Andrew Sharkey. His partner in London Scuba was (and I guess is) a colourful geordie by the name of Ian Pattison. In 1994 we set off to dive in the red sea. We spent a week on a boat, out in the red sea and I went on some amazing dives including a dive on the SS Thistlegorm. The Thistlegorm was sunk by a German Heinkel 111 bomber in 1941. She was carrying two steam locomotives, cars, motorcycles, bren gun carriers (a small armoured vehicle), some ammunition and all sorts of other kit. You can make your way through the ship and see all of the above and one of the locomotives lies beside the wreck.

The Thistlegorm lies deep, in diving terms, at 100 feet. You have to become an advanced diver to dive to this depth so a couple of days before we had taken our advanced test. The night before we had overdone it a bit, particularly Ian, who passed out at the saloon table. A fellow diver named Jon and I then propped his eyes open with matchsticks and took some photos of him. Unfortunately the photos didn’t survive. The next morning we made a shallow dive and undertook the test. Ian was still suffering and on our return from a navigation exercise we found Ian asleep lying on the sand at the bottom of the red sea!

I also recall a night when there was some tension amongst the Egyptian crew during a major storm. After an hour or two we spotted a tiny sailing dinghy, literally the size of a rowing boat. There was a little old fella on board this tiny boat, in the middle of the red sea. He came alongside and was then lifted aboard. It transpired that he had brought the captains hashish delivery.
At the end of the trip we spent a night in Hurgada. Ian and I fancied a night out and suggested this to the rest of our crew however at this time, tourists were being shot, so the others declined. Ian and I went into town and hit some clubs and some drinks, a lot of drinks. I remember at one point I was standing above the dance floor, on a bar or something, I put my arms wide and fell into the crowd who, luckily, caught me. Ian thought this was the funniest thing so I tried to repeat it at another club. This time I jumped up to swing from the lighting rig, which then collapsed dumping me, the rig and a lot of dust on the dance floor. I remember Ian picking me up out of the wreckage, laughing and saying “I’ll go out with you anytime”.

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The next day we flew back to the UK. I went home to my place and started to feel a bit under the weather. This continued for twenty four hours and I then went to A and E – or casualty as it was then known at Queen Mary’s Roehampton. The doctors there decided I was suffering from Decompression sickness also known as the bends. This condition results from rising too quickly from depth to the surface, or from flying too soon after diving. To this day I don’t understand how this happened as I wore a dive computer, which advises you on ascension rates, had worked out all of my dives on my dive tables and had waited 24 hours before flying home. Nevertheless I was very sick.

The quacks put me in an ambulance, destination Portsmouth, specifically Royal Naval Hospital Haslar at Gosport. RN Haslar was the last Military Hospital in the UK. In the past it was an important place, located at Gosport Creek in 1745 to look after wounded sailors returning to Portsmouth. In the 1990’s RN Haslar was equipped with the UK’s most sophisticated decompression chamber and I was bundled straight into the chamber with an operator. I had to stay in the chamber for 24 hours. The plan was to compress the air inside the chamber to the equivalent of being 60m underwater, feed me a mixture of gasses through a facemask and then bring me back up to sea level over a period of 24 hrs. I remember that the face mask was very uncomfortable and I was allowed to take it off for 5 minutes every hour, just to get a bit of relief from the discomfort. I recall there were two guys sitting outside the chamber, monitoring me and some computer screens and we could talk to them via a telephone. Each 55 minutes waiting to take the mask off went very slowly. I attach a picture below of a diver being recompressed which leads me to the point.

ceo3RN Haslar was located in Gosport Creek which is part of Portsmouth Harbour. As I said the hospital was established in order to look after sailors who had been wounded during battles against the Spanish or the French.

The sailing ships would sail into the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour and anchor and a rowing boat would then be despatched with the wounded aboard.

The boat would head up Gosport Creek to RN Haslar where they would be looked after by the medical staff hopefully to make a recovery or alternatively to end up in the graveyard located next to the hospital, hence the expression “up the creek”.

 

 


I’ll raise you another 10 grand

I’m about to leave the office to watch my daughter play in her first rounders match and then I’m going home to play poker. I host the Wednesday night game once a month and play with 10 of my oldest friends. The stakes are limited but the stella and the language are not.

Its a wonderful diversion, a good reason to see my friends and I think I make money! However that is not the point.

I used to be involved in another game in the late eighties and early nineties and this game moved around various people’s houses and business premises. One summer night in 1995 the game was at my place in Barnes, South West London.

I should set the scene by telling you that my ex, who I was living with at the time, had asked me the previous evening “how come you never lose any money when you play poker, whenever you come home you have always won. Somebody must lose at this game.” She then went on to ask me what stakes were played for. I assured her that the stakes were minimal, “pennies!”

She seemed happy enough with this and went off to work the next morning.

That evening the boys arrived and Harry Blain the art dealer arrived carrying a satchel full of cash. He explained that he was going to Paris in the morning and needed fifty grand in cash to pay for some art he had agreed to buy.

At about ten pm I heard the front door open and Rachel come in to the house. In a fit of humour I grabbed Harry’s bag, upended it spilling the entire  50k onto the table and then said in a reasonably loud voice “there’s your ten grand and I’ll raise you ten grand”. She stormed into the room, took one look at the pile of money on the table and stormed back out again, slamming the front door as she left.

My recollection isn’t great but I think it was a day or two before I saw her again and had an opportunity to explain!


Trust Sport

ceoblog27april2011wThe Daytona Group has many revenue streams, businesses within a business effectively. Apart from the obvious ones such as the venues we have hospitality, Dmax, Championships, merchandise and education. We have recently fallen into another business which is having quite interesting consequences for me and others in the company.

We have very seasonal cash flow and money can run a bit thin as we go into February -March each year. Late last year, the Technical Director Richard Brunning approached me with an idea that we should go racing. The project required some funding and involved some risk but I gave the project the green light and our BARC Formula Renault team was born. Formula Palmer Audi is no more, along with Formula BMW and if you want to race in the most important and competitive junior Formula, then Renault is where it’s at. Carbon fibre tub, sequential gearbox, slicks and wings – it’s a junior formula 1 car and with 22 cars on the grid it’s where you need to be if you are serious about a career in racing.

TOCA Renault – the next step up, which runs with touring cars has 11 cars on the grid and there are some question marks over the cars as they can be unreliable and difficult to work on. The teams love BARC and, at half the budget, so do the drivers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very expensive; you could buy a house for a seasons racing in BARC, your new home would probably be in Warrington or Livingstone but I hope you get the point.

We had been developing a young Russian driver who came to us a little over a year ago, with no experience, via the Lydd circuit. Ivan Taranov started with some arrive and drive and progressed to Dmax and had expressed a desire to go car racing. We signed up to run Ivan in the Renault series and went to work. We had some kit left over from my racing days and acquired the rest of the gear needed.

Pretty much all of this happened with no involvement from me, which I see as a good thing, the ultimate in autonomy perhaps. The idea germinated in someone else’s brain and he (Richard Brunning) made it happen. To date I have had a limited involvement so last weekend I spent the weekend in the garage at Donington for the first round. I have to say thet Donington looked awful, very unloved, and they are still signs referring to “the Grand Prix Venue”. A little presumptuous I thought – unless they are referring to 92.

Ivan was very nervous and qualified poorly 19th for the first race and 21st for the second. Saturday night, when we went to dinner he was not happy. His old man, who looks half my age, had flown in from Moscow for the race. Sunday morning Ivan went out and nailed it, finishing 11th in both races.

I was up in the media suite and the grandstand watching the race and it occurred to me that we were completely in Ivan’s hands at this point, there was nothing more the Team or I could do and I realised that this really was the ultimate autonomy, no radio link to the driver, the rest of us were passengers on Ivan’s journey. We had a pit board to let him know how he was getting on, we could give him information but no instruction or help.

So we ended up in this part of the business almost by chance, but certainly not as a consequence of any inspiration on my part and this is very significant for me. I could spanner the car if the boys were stuck, but I don’t need to, as I said before, I’m a passenger and loving it. I’m sure that it is a significant moment for any entrepreneur where another member of the team has the idea, and drives it forward and all I had to do was say yes to the risk.

The foray into what is probably the most competitive UK racing series right now has really kindled my passion for the sport and I think I will enjoy the f1 season even more in my new found role as team owner.

Trust is a wonderful thing and the feeling you get as an entrepreneur where someone else runs with the ball, and carries it further and faster than you could is one of the best ones.


28 Days Later/It fell of the back of a lorry guv/Places I have been cont…

You may have seen a previous comment about Richard Brunning, Daytona Technical Director and I, taking a trip around the old Monza banking. I recently found a website which celebrates individuals gaining access to interesting places to which they should not (under law) have gained access.

I have a (imho healthy) interest in military installations, particularly those that are abandoned or disused and it was a web search that introduced me to 28 days later. I do not know anyone who contributes to the 28 days website but I do find that I am possibly guilty by association or intent and I have interests in common with the contributors. I will provide the web address to you to at the end of this comment so patience please although half of you (both of you) have probably already headed over there.

So these guys find access to interesting places, military, technical, industrial etc. They are a very ethical bunch and have a code that they never leave anything behind, including litter, and they never take anything away (apart from photographs).

My interest is particularly in old military installations and have visited many in person and virtually. In a previous life I was a photographer and I collect photographic prints so I consider myself to have an eye and an interest. The photography on the website is out of this world and some of their stories are very entertaining. One or two of the entries concern a place called Dean Hill which is (or was) an MOD facility in darkest Wiltshire, and this is where the guys from 28 days later and I coincide again.

In early 2003 I was running a technology business and was looking for a site for another business that I was thinking of starting and Dean Hill came up on the radar. Dean Hill was what was known then as a defence munitions site – ergo the MOD stored weapons there. I managed, by various methods of subterfuge also known as lying, to fly over the site in a helicopter and then to visit the site and to undergo a guided tour by the then commanding officer.

Dean Hill is a 750 acre site, built in the Test valley. It has its own police station, sewage plant, railway station, its own narrow gauge railway network, pistol range and most significantly 25 or so underground bunkers in which, back in 2003, the MOD stored bombs, lots of bombs. One of these bunkers was used to store nuclear weapons.

During both Gulf Wars paveway bombs were assembled and installed with their GPS targeting systems at the site and the ordinance then made its way to Southampton or places such as RAF Brize Norton for onward delivery to Saddam Hussein. The site was more like something out of a James Bond movie, with all of the underground bunkers and K9 patrols. Dean Hill had its own (secret) railway siding off the western trunk line which would deliver the hardware, which would then be put on cars on the narrow gauge railways for shipment into the underground bunkers. The biggest problem in the bunkers was moisture – I guess pave ways and moisture don’t go together well – and the MOD had installed a number of dehumidifiers in each bunker. According to some information that I was able to acquire later these dehumidifiers cost an obscene amount to run, something in the order of £0.5million a year.

Dean Hill was used for overnight storage of nuclear weapons, when the aforementioned were travelling from Aldermaston (where they were fuelled up) to Southampton (as to where they went from here – your guess is a good as mine!). When nuclear weapons were on site a platoon of marines lived in a large bungalow next to the entrance of the nuclear bunker.

So – as the story goes a nuclear device has spent one night during 1987 at DH and is due for onward transmission to Southampton in the morning – the bomb was loaded onto a truck and left DH. Unfortunately the truck was involved in an RTA just outside the gates of DH and the truck left the road due to some ice and it was at this point that the truck and the bomb parted company. I was told this story whist I was on site in 2003 and later checked the veracity on line and it would appear that one of the UK’s most protected assets, second possibly only top the crown jewels did actually fall off the back of a lorry! Oooops, good job lieutenant Al Qaeda wasn’t tooling down the East Dean Road that morning.

Dean Hill was closed later that year and sold for £1m to a private consortium. The site contains areas of special scientific interest – weevils or moss – not sure – but the new owners had to acknowledge and guarantee their approach to this and I am intrigued to know what their plans are for the site. It would make a wonderful IT storage facility, if it wasn’t for that moisture problem.

In the meantime go to www.28dayslater.com and enjoy the photography and the irreverence. You will find a visit by a 28 days team on that web site with some photographs of the site.

For various pieces about the RTA search google “dean hill nuclear bomb”

Bing aerial here: