By: Wyatt H Knott [2006-05-01]

Banger Racing

Part 1 of 3

I considered my recent assignment in England as a manufacturing consultant to be primarily an opportunity to travel the world on the company's dime, but it should have come as no surprise to discover that when a corporation decides to make the investment and dispatches an employee on international assignment, there is actually quite a bit of work for him to do when he gets there. Particularly in the first weeks of my assignment, the job required ten and twelve hour days, six days a week - none too much for a high powered executive perhaps but for a recently-promoted-to-management-from-engineering-type it was super-sufficient.

It was the time of year when daylight in England is a rare commodity and after the first few weeks I began getting slightly desperate for some sort of communal activity. Chatting with the tiny Moroccan man at the laundry or the girl with braces at the grocery store checkout was not getting the job done. I was entirely receptive when, one Friday afternoon as work was finishing, a coworker invited me to go with him to the Banger races.

This was not, as I first suspected, a race where men push sausages down the road with their noses while their hands are tied behind their backs. Despite my correctly having identified the English term for sausage, my coworker shook his head.

"Very funny, no. That race is not until the springtime, during the lamb festival. Banger racing is with cars."

Apparently the races were conducted by an amateur auto league; cheap junkers and backyard rebuilds contesting in a noisy weekend tournament. In response to my initial skepticism, I was promised a spectacle:

"It's fantastic, nothing like the stock circuit. Crashes you've never seen in the States. You’ve got to go, words can’t describe it."

My coworker spoke with obvious relish, like a boy telling firecracker stories.

"It’s demolition derby, only the cars are Minis and Raleighs and Vauxhalls. You know, they've got these tiny cars over here," he leaned towards me, his hands close together and said quietly, "It's like a bunch of clown cars racing. The track is small, very tight. They're all locals, they drive all over each other, it’s great, lots of neighborhood competitions." His voice was getting loud again.

He went on enthusiastically. "The last time I was there, there was a crash so bad that two cars flipped end over end down the track. We thought they were going to explode." His arms flailed in circles.

With the prospect of such glorious entertainment, I was eager to attend and not just for the crashes. In the first few weeks of my secondment, I was finding the remote setting to be psychologically taxing. I'd had it with ruined abbeys, twee country houses and their fecund gardens.

The town was a dense cluster of streets in an otherwise rural shire. Located on a peninsula jutting into the sea and surrounded by tidal mud flats, it seemed about as far removed from civilization as you could get and still be in England. The crowds of bicycling laborers, hunched over their handlebars as they commuted to and from work come rain or gloom, had come to represent the whole sentiment of the place to me, that we were together in our suffering only as a crowd, each one close to another yet alone in his exertion.

Oh, the English were polite and friendly enough, recommending sights to see and places to eat when out touring around. Once or twice we went out for a few pints at one of the franchise bars downtown but they never invited me into their homes or even asked me to join them for dinner out on the town. It wasn't until I was about to go home, many months later, that I went to a real "local," a neighborhood pub.

My biggest problem was that my family was back in the States and I had been living in a hotel room for some time before I found a decent flat to rent. On some days, my most personal conversation was with a hotel maid. Despite the fact that the maid was a charming young blond with a boyfriend in Australia, this only ended up contributing to my disillusionment.

Even my American coworkers had been reticent. I found most of the Yanks only wanted to do one of two things; complain about the local culture or brag about their travels. We were working so many hours that all anyone really wanted to do was sleep when they got off work. I could understand why nobody had taken me up on my proposals to hike in the nearby mountains on one of our few days off. It wasn't that I held this lackadaisical behavior against them, it simply meant that I did most of my touristing alone.

Yet here was a friendly fellow offering to show me some local color. How could I refuse? It took absolutely no delay on my part to agree to meet my new friend on Sunday morning. The races started at noon, "to give everyone time to get back from church." We arranged to meet at his house at half past eleven so I could follow him to the event.

I endured two more nights in the hotel, eating electric kettle noodles and watching the bloodiest game I had ever seen on television: rugby union. This is a national pastime? Boxing aside, I've never watched a team sport where a man could walk off the field with a broken nose and be sent right back on again after wrenching and taping the cartilage back into place and staunching the blood. It's nothing but the thinnest veil of an excuse for bloody mayhem. What kind of men are these, I wondered, that impact against each other with such thunderous claps, with so much bloody warlike anger that they break themselves? Was this apparent national ferocity the same feeling that inspired them to drive their cars into one another on the weekend? Was this the sort of spirit I was about to witness?

Sunday morning couldn't come soon enough.


[Next: Banger Racing, Part 2]


Yay! A Serial! [2006-05-01 12:44:03] Knig Pre, GfbAEV
The early Indianapolis race cars had Offenhauser "four-bangers." I hear that there are Citroen 2CV races, I'd like to see that as I imagine it's rather like watching a riding-mower race!
cereal [2006-05-01 21:40:35] Wyatt
Then you're going to be ecstatic - in addition to this 3 part monstrosity, I just gave Sean the first 3 parts of another series, one that could easily become a book.

Banger Racing in the UK [2006-05-02 15:22:59] Knig Pre, GfbAEV
There's a bunch online about Banger Racing in the UK. They have "full-contact" banger events, which I guess is a good thing because you wouldn't want any partial contacting. I still want to go see the harvesting machines crashing into eachother and random cows. Don't fear the reaper!
BgrRcng [2006-05-02 22:55:23] Wyatt
Hang in there, Part 2 includes plenty of full-contact banging.
voila [2006-05-02 23:03:30] Wyatt
and lo, there's a link to Part 2! Was that there before??? I'm thoughter than I sniffed I was.

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