Taming a Hydra
Disclaimer: I’m not a racer an know next to nothing about it so bear with me while I learn about it from a master
For the past four days I’ve been stationed at Dan’s house as may things; a nanny, a friend, a business partner, manager, P.A., couch surfer, belayer, photographer, videographer, DJ, a driver and media consultant. Why so many rolls in so many days? That’s easy. It was a race weekend.
For those of you who know and understand the racing calendar then you don’t have to read the next sentence. A race weekend starts on Friday morning and lasts till Sunday night, this is three days of nothing but cars testing on Friday, qualifying and first race on Saturday and race two and three on Sunday.
Over the past three weeks Dan and I have been doing indoor rock climbing on Thursdays. As always we trooped off to the centre and under strict orders, Dan was limited to three walls and a cargo net and no belaying. Our other climbing partners who showed up destroyed the plan within minutes. Both wanted to climb and both wanted to climb against each other. Dan belayed one while I did the other, adding strain to his arms but all in all it helped out a little in his arm strength. After a pub dinner we bid adieu and headed to Dan’s as race days start early.
5:30am has always been a foreign concept to me as soon as I turned 11. As always on race weekend we woke up at half five, showered, shaved, kitted up, packed up car and drove to track stopping off at a servo for a Portuguese tart and an Up & Go. Unlike Dan, who sleeps like a baby while watching NASCAR, I was up almost all night clearing data from cameras, charging batteries, cleaning cameras, making posters and packing gear before embracing my bed at 4:00am so I wasn’t at my best making our way out to the track.
The awesome crew at Anglo gave their usual cheering greetings with Dan replying with cheek and myself with tired grunt. As Dan’s P.A. and photographer, I get unrestricted access to be in the garage to help Dan out as well as shoot the interaction with the team and crew. Unlike other photographers at the track who shoot amazing action scenes, I have the job of telling the stories of how the car “Cherry” gets from the back of the truck to the race track as well as what the driver and the mechanic do.
As Friday was test day, Ricky the engineer and Dan banter about the car set up and catch up about the test day held at Wakefield on Monday. As I have gone with an hour of sleep and a couple of stolen minutes from Dan’s G-up in the car and the “Racing Tracks” playlist, I needed caffeine. The boss man who runs the show, Tim, had set up a coffee and tea station which was severing black teas and coffees to the crew who didn’t want to wonder off to the café and buy cappuccinos and flat whites. Tim = LIFESAVER!
Being an open wheeler, the formula ford is but with its lesser cousin the formula vee to enable the most track time available. This meant six practice sessions over 10 hours beside the track. Now those who don’t know racing see four different types of cars that look the same rolling down the pits to wait then start their laps. For those who do know racing see four different classes of cars waiting for practice laps. The classes, for those new to motorsport, are Duratec, Kent, Historic and Vee. Duratec are a small field that have a 2005 ford fiesta engines. Kents are a large field with a Ford Escort engine from the 80’s. Historics are older versions of Kents with a small number of cars that give all a race for their money.
On top of all these cars on the track there were tin tops (roofed race cars of various engines, makes and models), super karts (go karts with two stroke engines) and radicals. With all these cars came the weather of a wet and overcast day. This would be a challenge for all those who were at the track. The crews had to prepare their cars for a wet track, drivers had to prepare mentally for a cold track and photographers had to steel themselves from the drizzle as they picked spots out on the track or headed to the roof with the crew to watch from the gallery.
Shooting like a fly on the wall, I was able to find vantage points out of the way from crew and drivers alike. Each shot taken, apart from the several gestures from the crew in jest, told the story of the silent driver, his brave and noble mechanic and the beautiful beast. This happened all day with no problems. All in all a great test day followed by an African feast and much needed sleep.
The gods of thunder and lighting praised us with only rain on a cold, wet and windy qualifying and race day. Waking up to the rain is hard, waking up with an alarm set at 5:30am to the rain is harder. Loading the car with merchandise and ourselves, Dan drove for his tart and liquid breakfast while I picked the tunes. Unlike Friday, I was able to speak without grunts.
Dan has a unique ability to move faster in the wet than the dry, which is weird as it was the opposite in go-karts. Dan waited in his steely silence as his team mates stretched and jumped into their cars for scrutiny. Driving through the pit to the booth is always a funny experience as it is done in caps or bare heads but with the rain it was helmets and mechanics holding umbrellas. Once the cars were checked over for weight, height, width of wheels and a few other things I’m not sure of but make sure the car is not breaking the rules, it was back to the pits for the short wait before the qualifying started.
Armed with cameras, it was time to head to the gallery and shoot the start and a few other little bits and pieces on several corners. Sticking close to the crew helps as they have the times of in hand of their drivers. Dan’s times were good as were his teams although a little slow compared to the wet it was the long wait till the race. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be a good race.
Although the rain died off a little bit, the track was wet and spinouts were expected. Once more the team left the garage and headed to the marshalling area. With engines revving and umbrellas out, they waited for the track to be cleared before lurching out into the drying track to begin the first race. With a great start Dan headed to the front. That’s when things went wrong. From the inside, over the grass, came a historic hitting Dan’s left flank.
Unknown to me who couldn’t see the crash from the standing area, Cherry limped into the scrutineering area. Dan was ropeable. Ricky had to drive a wounded cherry to the pits and Dan marched himself to the medical centre. At the medical centre Dan was poked and prodded as a precaution for sustaining an injury that would disqualify him from racing. The medics gave him papers that needed to be cleared by a doc before he could drive again. The problem was Dan was not allowed to drive to the medical centre to get cleared.
We abandoned the track post haste to get Dan clearance. Armed with three GPS enabled units, a map to the medical centre and Ricky’s knowledge we made our way to get Dan cleared. After half an hour we saw a Doc. The Doc wanted Dan to get an X-ray but the radiology department was closed and as time was not on our side a frantic search was underway to find a radiology department anywhere open so get Dan cleared. During the search, Dan got a call from the team boss saying the medics track side had overreacted and all we needed was clearance by a doc to say he was ok to come back to the track. Racing back to the Doc with this news, we were dejected as he still wanted an x-ray to clear Dan.
After a few more phones calls, we left for the hospital’s emergency department. Here we waited to be called up for an x-ray. Joking with other in patients, we progressed through the wait, got the x-ray and clearance as all Dan had was minor muscle pain that painkillers could fix. As the track was closed by now we headed home planning to get an early start with the clearance.
Sunday rolled around and we were back at the track with a newly medical fit Dan rearing to race. Race two started with no problems for both car and driver. After race two during the wait, we headed to the café bumping into Jimmy Vernon and his family reminiscing on old days of racing and Jimmy’s own crash. Many lessons were learned from this little talk that Dan took to heart.
Race three pulled up and once more I watched with the team as Dan did his thing. From the wall I shot him race past before sprinting to the garage for the debrief. While waiting for the slip of paper we reflected on the weekend as a whole. Two races finished and one DNF would hopefully not overly affect Dan’s standing in the top ten. With the cars squared away we left behind Sydney Motorsports Park for the last time this year.
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