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Added: 14 May 2021 Category: Brian Racing
Swapping the Camera for the Steering Wheel - Season 6 - 2020
Reflecting on 2020 it was more what Netflix might refer to as a “limited series” rather than a “season” but when we did get racing it came as a welcome distraction from the world around.

At the end of the 2019 season Gary Grattan had been setting my purple car up and after an improvement in results and some discussions I took up the offer to acquire the ex Gary Chambers Superstox as a way of an upgrade. The idea was that I’d have a final outing in the purple car at Aghadowey’s Christmas meeting, but I couldn’t get it to start on the morning and to be honest it was a horrible day, it would have been taking me away from family festivities and I didn’t make that much of an effort when it initially refused to budge.
Over the winter Gary swapped the workings of the purple car into the new car and on a snowy day in late February I took collection of it and took it straight to Ryan Wright’s to get some signs on it. The car was collected and ready for practice day at Tullyroan at the start of March.

My first run in the car didn’t get off to the best of starts when I reach for the gear lever at the end of the run and it wasn’t there, luckily it had fallen into the footwell of the car and it was reattached for a few more runs. As the day went on a miss started to come into the car, which at the time I put down to the battery maybe needing charged or the plugs needing cleaned and thought little more of it.

Under the cloud of Covid 19 doom, gloom and with sports across the country being suspended the opening meeting of the season took place at Tullyroan Oval on the 14th of March. I got 9th in heat 1 and 11th in heat 2 before the miss came back in the final and I pulled off.

Within a few days of that opening meeting the ORCi had suspended events and I think it was a week later the UK went into lockdown.
Working for what is deemed an “essential business” I spent the lockdown months working from home, probably a blessing I was working to keep me occupied, and I think I thrived doing web coding work in the comfort and isolation of my home office, while finding more and more motorsport podcasts to listen to, or getting back into dance music and listening to lockdown sets from Judge Jules, Paul Van Dyk and Fat Boy Slim. Spedeworth TV’s classic races and Getting Back serieses provided some great entertainment too. In the normal run of things I spend the entire season on a hamster wheel from one meeting to the next and the season is barely over and we’ve a push on DVD’s for Christmas, that is only over and it’s on to getting the likes of the fixture list done and prep work for the next season, it’s probably 15-20 years since I had as much free time from racing as I had over lockdown. I got a lot of things done I’d never have got done in a normal race season, gardening, laying slabs, organised my programmes and magazines into chronological order, I did couch to 5k as my daily exercise and only put diesel in the car twice in 4 months!

Before we got back to racing proper there was a practice day at Aghadowey, I was still working at home at the time and it seemed a little hypocritical to not want to return to the office but to be OK with going out to practice, so it wasn’t until a Tullyroan practice a few weeks before the resumption of racing that I got to practice. The day started badly when I put my foot on the brake coming off the trailer and brake fluid leaked all round me and the car continued rolling backwards. With help from Gordy Wright I got that fixed, but only managed about 2 laps before the miss was back in the car and I may have over revved it trying to clear it before everything sounded like a biscuit tin full of ball bearings, I lost drive and later established I’d sheered the bolts on the flywheel. I think I counted my practice as 40 seconds of green flag time.

With the engine out to get the flywheel bolts replaced it went to Mervyn McReynolds for a freshen up and was ready for the first meeting after the resumption of racing on the 15th of August. It initially seemed much sharper and then started to splutter. Gary and Denver Grattan spent some time working with the carb until Ted Holland suggested trying the filter in the carb which was full of dirt. At that point I’d two DNF’s in the heats on the back of two or three practices I’d pulled in from. By this stage I’d somehow managed to lose the fuel cap and that ended my night early, for the amount of laps I’d done during the night it’s hard to imagine how I lost a fuel cap, I barely did enough laps to need to put fuel in it!!

Armed with a new fuel cap, which only arrived on the morning of the meeting, the next outing was at Tullyroan again on the 29th of August. Things didn’t get off to the best of starts when I got a puncture in my first practice run, then I had a drama less second practice before going to go out for a third time and the throttle cable snapped. After starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel of the missing and fuel issues I managed to run out of petrol in the middle of heat 1 which had a few lengthy stoppages in it, it turns out it burns more fuel when it’s getting through the carb. In heat 2 things changed though, as pole white I got a break while the other whites squabbled amongst themselves, I got out in front and led probably the first half of the race, Steven Haugh caught and passed me before the car started to splutter and miss a bit coming off the bends, at one stage I nearly pulled in while running second after the car appeared to die off the corner, but just as I was going to swing a left for the centre it picked up and I kept going, from there on I went into “get the car home” mode and Graham Meek caught me and I let him go, in hindsight Ed Davis possibly wouldn’t have caught me but I seen him coming and let him through too, oblivious to the fact it was the last lap and I probably had enough of a gap to be out of striking distance in the last bend. The closing laps I’d been so focused on what the car was doing I hadn’t seen a single lap board, it was just power, brake, turn left, repeat, after not completing a practice session without some form of drama I was euphoric to see the chequered flag and taking a fourth place was a new personal best result for me.
By the time the final came round I was still trying to get my head around my 4th place and would have been happy enough to put the car on the trailer there and then and finish the night on that high. The final came and went with an attitude of “just get it home with 4 wheels on it” and I achieved that with a 12th place finish, but I was catching some of the cars in front of me near the end which was another endorsement that I was making some progress.

Tullyroan was once again the scene for the next Superstox outing on the 12th of September, my week of prep was geared towards building on the fourth place finish and trying to improve, unfortunately all those plans went out the window when it was chucking it down from mid afternoon. As a glasses wearer I find the wet a challenge to see between everything steaming up and the spray, I’d never driven this car in the wet before and I tend to try and drive where others aren’t and there is normally a reason others aren’t on those lines, the reason being that they are slow.
In the opening heat I tried the gauze goggles that people have told me are good in the wet, and indeed they are, I had possibly the best visibility I’d ever had in the wet, if I could have stopped driving the corner like it was a 50p then I might have been onto something. I’d a ball despite finishing 11th. After waxing lyrical about the gauze goggles and how good they were I went out for heat 2 in fading light, now at this stage I should say I had been told the goggles weren’t as good in the dark, but I thought they were fine on the rolling lap, and they were up until they got a bit of water on them, then you suddenly realize it was like driving round with the floodlights off, I was using the high viz coats as a marker on the back straight to identify the pitgate, I repeatedly nearly driving into the wall in the corners because I had to be that close to make out where it was and at one stage I nearly went the back of Keith McAreavey who was sat in the wall on turn four, there was a good chance I’d have pulled off if I thought I could - A) Find the infield, and B) not run anyone over who was on it. Somehow I finished, somehow I didn’t run anyone over.
Having put the gauze goggles away and gone back to having a bit of perspex on the front of the cab it was time for the final. Our final was after the bangers though and that was always going to make the conditions more difficult and on my first run around turns 1 and 2 I found the back end trying to pass me and off I went into the wall. I got the car fired up again thinking I’d rejoin, which I did and a lap later had almost exactly the same accident, just not hitting the wall as hard the second time. That was time to call it a night and off into the middle I went.

Next stop for the Superstox was Aghadowey on the 19th of September, racing back to back weeks for the only time in our shortened season. I picked up a puncture in practice and lifted the first tyre that came to hand and put it onto my outside rear, that was a decision which soon came to bite me up the arse. In the first heat I got a reasonably good start and was nearly half the straight away after the first lap when I went into the shed end too hot and the world around me disappeared in a cloud of my own tyre smoke, I rejoined but found myself pottering around on the outside trying to stay out of the way and just pulled in.
Having changed the back tyres round to put the bald one on the inside and the one with a bit more life in it on the outside I picked up an 11th in heat two, just staying on the lead lap and doing a person best lap of Aghadowey in the closing stages.
It was the King of Aghadowey final and a closed grid start, my 11th and a DNF had left me at the back of those who were still running but as I pulled up to the grid I noticed the brakes go soft and the fluid was pouring out of the pipe into the servo again, another DNS recorded and another race watched from the infield.

The race action returned to Tullyroan for the first round of the NIOvalTV series on the 3rd of October. It was one of those days that looked like it was just about to rain all day and there had been quite heavy rain in Carrick before I loaded up. We were now reduced to one practice session which was the only time throughout the night I encountered rain, the car felt good in the slightly damp conditions and I think I was the fastest of the white and yellow roofs.
While it still looked like it was threatening rain, the first heat was dry, I started as the front white and led maybe the opening 5-6 laps of the race with Etan Dilly keeping me honest before I made a few mistakes as the tyres got grippy and it allowed him close enough to push through, I ended up with a ninth place finish which I was pleased with out of seventeen. Unfortunately that was as good as the night got, the drive shaft must only have been hanging on by a thread as it sheered bolts on the way out for heat two leaving me with no drive. I didn’t carry small bolts that size so had to start butchering 3in bolts down with a junior hacksaw before that snapped the blade. While trying to make do with the bits of bolt and nuts I had, Gary Grattan managed to get a couple and put them in while I got ready for the final, just coming out the gate at the very last minute. The effort was in vain though as I got collected by Ed Davis who was spinning from a hit from David Beattie and turned me in turn one. The car wasn’t too keen on starting again and I lost a few laps before firing it up and heading onto my traditional infield spot for the remainder of the final. Afterwards I considered with it being part of the NIOvalTV series that I should really have kept going and picked up series points.

Before we got another fixture in we were back in lock down, season cut short and car tucked up for the winter, back to working at home, back to podcasts, Spedeworth TV, walking around the same local forests and streets and racing being something you just watch on TV.

New wheels for 2020

Signed and a bit of fresh paint

Practice Day (Darren Black photo... I think)

Ready for a few laps at practice day (Chris Sharp Photo)

Just before the world came to a halt (Chris Sharp Photo)

Working from home?

Repurposing old tyres

Months of waiting to get back to the track, 2 laps in and then this, I sheered the bolts on the flywheel

Back to racing (John Wolsey Photo)

No trips away or holidays meant a number of days annual leave could be used to get the car ready

Practice at an Aghadowey meeting (John Wolsey Photo)

One of my fav photos from 2020, the reflection of the scene in the pits

More brake problems

It's not glass afterall (John Wolsey photo)

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