Tuesday, 13 April 2010
How it all began: Part 1
I have bought tickets to take Christian to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this year and it got me thinking about my first experiences of racing generally, and how I came to love the sport. My Dad had always enjoyed watching Formula 1 on television but had never attended a race, until 1986 when I was six years old, when he came home from work and told me that he had booked us a coach trip to go to Spa to watch the Belgian Grand Prix. I won’t pretend to be able to recall huge amounts about this particular weekend, or many of the others that will follow in this account, but I have some wonderful memories that I will share, please forgive the gaps. We travelled to London the day before the Page & Moy coach was collecting us and stayed with my Dad’s brother, spending the day doing the touristy bit around the capital, Buckingham Palace, Natural History Museum and the like. Next morning we boarded the coach, and then the ferry, and once on the continent the guide on the coach came around so that everyone could draw a sweepstake entry for the race winner, my Dad went first from our row and, due to there being more passengers than race entries, drew a piece of paper with the word ‘sorry’ written on it, he took it a lot better than I would have and joked that he would now be rooting for ‘Ayrton Sorry’. My fortunes were slightly better than those of my Dad, however, as my piece of paper said ‘Mansell’. Can you imagine, Nigel Mansell, the only driver I knew anything about, fast becoming my hero, and I had drawn him. We spent the Saturday night in Brussels, in a hotel overlooking the Atomium, and on Sunday morning we went to the Circuit to watch the race. It was a very hot day, so hot that later in the afternoon my body warmer that I was sitting on melted to the tar at Eau Rouge and my memories of the race are sketchy at best. I remember, obviously, that Senna was the arch enemy, and that from the inside of Eau Rouge, where we watched the race, I could see the cars coming down the hill towards me, but I could only just see the top of the roll bars as they came up the hill, because I was too little to see over the barriers. I remember my Dad’s excitement that Mansell was doing well, and then my disappointment to hear that he’d spun; surely he couldn’t still do it. Of course he could, this was Nigel Mansell, and he did, taking the victory and in the process winning me the top prize of £23 pounds in the sweep. We ran, or it felt like we did, back to the coach to pick up my money and went to the stalls opposite the old pits, where I duly spent all of my winnings on model F1 cars (you could get a lot for £23 in the days before Minichamps). We returned to the coach where I was greeted by cheers from the other passengers for my debut victory. What a way to start my love affair with Formula 1, watching from Eau Rouge as ‘our Nige’ won the Belgian GP, in the sun, with my Dad who was just as much my hero as Mansell could ever have been, and cleaning up in the sweepstake in the process; I often wonder if my passion for the sport would have burned so bright for so long had it not started with such a bang, anyway it’s hypothetical, it did and this was the start of a very special personal relationship, not only with Grand Prix racing, but also with Spa.
Part 2 will follow shortly.
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