Many motorsport fans will be perplexed by my decision to go to Brands Hatch last Sunday for the BARC Championships race day, partly because the immense Silverstone Classic was available as an alternative, and partly because rain was coming down for much of the day, making life on a grassy bank pretty hard work.
But here’s the rub: I love Brands Hatch, and have done since I was first taken there by some friends 22 years or so ago, and I also love club racing, simply because you can watch it without a care in the world about who wins and who spins. Ultimately, it’s a bunch of men and women driving as hard as they can before heading home to get on with their lives. Success in the MGOC Championship isn’t going to get Toto Wolff on the phone. As far as I'm concerned, paying £14 (kids go free) for the privilege of watching a bunch of racers have fun for six hours is pretty good value, come rain or shine.
The first thing that struck me is the eternal truth that marshals deserve more thanks and praise than they get. I know it’s been said before, and I know it’s as true today as it was then, but it simply can't be said enough.
Sure, marshals are clearly in love with club motorsport even more than I am, but while I paid my entry fee and had the opportunity to wander where I wanted, leave when I wanted and to take shelter when I wanted, they were on duty throughout. Given the weather, and the fact that there were some pretty inexperienced racers cutting their teeth in treacherous conditions, they were kept pretty busy, too.
Yet they went about their business with relentless hard work and good cheer. Cars went off everywhere. They sprayed gravel as they went, all of which needed clearing up. They got beached, which required some hefty pushing and towing. They shunted, which required conciliatory words and some hardcore lifting. No doubt there will be sunnier days, but there will also be worse – and on each and every one of them anyone who likes motorsport should be grateful that the marshals are there.
While I’m at it, it’s also worth a note of appreciation for the facilities at Brands Hatch these days. Again, the changes since Jonathan Palmer’s Motorsports Vision team took up ownership of the venue have been well documented, but again they are worth repeating. On this soggiest, muddiest of days the toilets were clean, the canteen was open and everyone we met was courteous and helpful, despite no doubt wishing they were somewhere warm and dry. There’s now a kids' play area by the Kentagon to fill the quiet moments, and the paddock facilities are open, organised and welcoming.
In many ways these things are the basics for any venue charging the public to come in – but for so long Britain’s racing circuits did none of them. Palmer and his team have lifted the game for everyone, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m happy to take my seven-year-old son to the track for the day, even in rubbish weather, and one of the reasons he’s now hooked for life. In time, their effort will pay back in pounds and pence, I have no doubt.
If you’re tempted to try watching at a club race meeting, I’d urge you to do it. There were no queues and no crowds – just good company and a soggy picnic. It was a great day out. And if you do, just remember to say thanks to the marshals for making it possible.