Getting Back on the Bike

The rescue team had the equivalent of a Christmas cracker logic puzzle to get me off that tyre wall.

After checking I was OK, they asked me to get out of the car. I went around to the nearside, and saw there was some body damage, a dent in the door and the front bumper had taken a knock and ripped out its attaching bolts. Clearly I was still worried there was underside or suspension damage which would only become apparent once freed from the barrier.

I walked away for a minute to get away from the situation and let the guys decide what to do without me in the way. I cursed and held my head in my hands some more, feeling pretty inept.

After some deliberation and verbal calculations, they attached the transporter crane to the back of Maud and asked me to get back in. Then they lifted her rear, swung us over on top of the bank, pushed us backwards with some engine-assistance and told me to head back to the pits.

All the time they were careful not to cause more damaging (than I had), and spoke clearly and calmly to me, with not a raised voice or animated gusture when I did something wrong. Like starting the engine several times when I’d mis-heard.

I trundled back to the pits, and Maud didn’t feel damaged. I felt sure everyone was aware what had happened, but they weren’t. On my return to the paddock, I got out of the car and owned up immediately to everyone I saw. Pete had his arm inside the passenger door and had popped out the dent before I even got out of the car, saying “that’ll all polish out”. His experience told me I may have been lucky and that my acrobatics may have resulted in cosmetic damage only.

Then I made a bee-line for Nick. He was the one who’d worked long cold hours during the winter to get the car ready, and this was how I repayed him.

“I rolled it.”
“You didn’t.” (shocked face)
“I did.”
“You didn’t.” (same, shocked face)
“I did – I’m so sorry, Nick.”
“What you sorry to me for? It’s your car.” (already walking towards Maud to assess the damage)

That immediately made me feel a bit better too. He came to check the car, but didn’t look that phased. I popped the wing mirror back, found some gaffer tape (green was all I could find) and taped it up.

I then had two turning-point conversations with experienced drivers. Trev Nightingale’s dad, Dave, and Tony Lynch who came and found me.

Dave is an ex-rally driver who’s seen it all before. Tony has won MDA and stockhatch rallycross championships. They both assured me that these things happen, you’ve just got to put it behind you and move on. Time in the car was all important – take it easy and build up as the car becomes familiar and your experience of controlling the car in different circumstances builds. These are clearly some of the conversations I should have had earlier in the day….

Tony was great. After his wise words, he said “Come on, let’s get the car cleaned up”. We went to his van and he gave me a bottle of spray and some polishing cloths. He sprayed, and I rubbed. He told me to keep the bottle. That feeling of being picked up when you’ve been knocked down made me so much happier, and it seems to be an underlying value of rallycross. Everyone does what they can to help out in whatever way.

I knew I had to get back on the bike – as shaken as I was by what had happened. Negative thoughts continued to fill my head, and feelings that I might not actually have what it takes to master driving on the edge pushed all perspective aside.

I got back in the car, went out and did five or seven uneventful laps including a joker or two. I’d got some miles under my belt and felt comfortable – if not particularly fast. Tarmac is much more familiar to me, and I’ve owned small hot-hatches, so I harried some of those corners. But the surface transitions and gravel is where it’s at in rallycross, and it’s that I need to master. All in good time I hope…

I’d not seen my wife Sarah and kids at the circuit at all yet. When I arrived back to the pits for that second time, they were there. It was then that the mix of adrenalin and emotion hit me.

I got out of the car, and again the first words to Sarah were “I rolled it – first lap”. She knew how much it must have hurt me psychologically and telling her was the last hurdle to get over. I could see she was upset for me and I had to hold it together – mainly because I’d been so well looked after in her absence and felt extremely meek.

The rest of the day went almost to plan. The Lydden organisers loosened the original timing plans, and I went out as much as possible. I don’t know how many good, hot laps I got in with other traffic on the circuit, but I felt much more comfortable in Maud and had pushed in all corners. I maintained more respect for Chessons Drift than any other though…

Darren Scott, another very experienced rallycross driver, pointed out the semi-rigid rear suspension setup on my car, and immediately ducked under the rear bumper to soften the rear dampers for me. Yet another example of people being there for the right reasons – to absorb themselves in the sport and help out however they can.

The car felt OK – more stable after Darren’s adjustment – and from then on, I really just wanted to get the miles under my belt and leave further setup changes for another day.

The main straight chicane was the only other eventful corner for me. Gaining confidence, I’d run wide and tried to cut left hand kerb. I’ll try not to do that again. There was a massive bang as I hit it, and thought I’d damaged the suspension or broken a wheel. As it was, it seems I only popped the tyre off it’s rim, and trundled back to the pits for a replacement.

Later I got a massive tank-slapper on coming out of the chicane back onto the tarmac, and feared more barrier contact. But I let go of the steering wheel as it was spinning around in front of me, balanced the throttle and got through unscathed.

I got out of Maud for the last time as the light started to fade. It got even colder and snow started to become more persistent. Having not eaten all day, driving adrenalin turned to hunger. I certainly made up for it with an evening at my brothers and several beers to reminisce on the day.

Several of my friends and family had come to Lydden for Swift drives as well, but unfortunately I was too busy doing my own thing to really watch or catch up with them. It was bitterly cold, and most people had left before or just after I came off track. It was good to spend the evening talking about something we’d all shared, and will continue to enjoy sharing with others over the coming weeks. The list of people coming to the first race at Lydden is growing by the day!

I felt privileged to have had the amount of time I’d had in the car – my car, Maud. The roll started to feel like it was just the “main event” of my day, and I started to process all the driving experience, information and conversations. I was exhausted and Sunday I felt mentally very heavy, not sleeping particularly well, and not finding much time to think about anything else.

So that was my first rallycross weekend. Three lengthy posts later, I feel I’ve got it all down.

Sat at my dining table right now, my dusty helmet is in my peripheral vision, and I just want to get back on the bike.

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