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7912European driving

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  • Randy Lewis
    Apr 2, 2005
      Hi Colin,

      You're driving was not too fast for me, I AM a former European race driver. On the other hand, my traveling companion was wearing a hole in the floorboard where the break pedal would have been and muttering something about, "where's my left side steering wheel?". I hope you don't have "be in my wake", because that means funeral in the U.S. But, I know what you really meant! Thanks to all the U.K. guys who sent messages following the trip. P.J. and I both had a good time.


      colin herridge <cawh2000@...> wrote:
      Hi Randy,
      Sorry i was driving to fast for you,but in deference to a foreign retired driver i was going slower than normal,if i hadn't had to hold back for you i would have cut about 5 minutes of the journey time :-).Maybe one day you can have me in your wake somewhere in USA lol.

      P.S. it was great meeting you again and chatting with PJ,i'm sure we were all in agreement about country counting tho PJ wasn't convinced with our argument about karts.

      Randy Lewis <ranlay@...> wrote:


      Photos from this race trip are now posted on www.ranlayracing.com


      I first started going to England for trackchasing back in 1999. The trip I have just completed in my fifth visit across the pond in the past seven years. I do not want anyone to get the misimpression that I only go here for racing.

      Carol, the kids and I have spent several vacations in the United Kingdom. We have had the opportunity to experience London theatre, see Big Ben and all the other tourist activities. We even traded our timeshare once for a week�s stay in the English countryside, which was great. Son, J.J., lived in London for a year and a half. Therefore, the Lewis family has strong ties to the U.K. and I am guessing (although I have never taken the time to research it) that our family name is Welsh.

      However, this trip is not about seeing the typical sights in England. This trip is about trackchasing in England. The Easter holiday is good timing for such a trip for several reasons. First, this is a four-day holiday in England that means more tracks will be racing. Secondly, Carol often visits her parents in New Mexico over Easter. Being the loving husband I am, I think it�s important that she can spend some quality time with my in-laws without me (this is my description of it anyway). Finally, there is not much racing activity in the United States during the Easter weekend.

      With all of these factors going for me, I began planning this trip more than two months ago. Believe it or not, there is a ton of planning required to make the trip a trackchasing piece of art.

      The first item of business was to get a reasonable airfare and schedule for the trip. It is not cheap to fly to Europe, even when traveling in the non-peak months of the year. Airfare was right around $700. The hidden plus to that price is that with my American Airlines platinum status, I earn enough miles for a free domestic ticket to be used on another trip.

      The next item of business was to get a rental car. I found a car from Dollar Rental Car at 24 pounds a day. Right now one British pound equals about two U.S. dollars. That meant I would be paying about $48 a day for my rental car. That is about twice what I normally pay. I learned, again, that just about everything I bought in England cost about twice what I would pay back in the states. I could have saved about 50% on the car if I had been willing to rent a stick shift car. Considering I would be driving on the opposite side of the road to what I am accustomed too and that I would be driving a right side steer car, the idea of also shifting gears as we careened around the English roundabouts, seemed like a bit much. An automatic transmission is was.

      Now that the airfare and rental car reservations were behind me, it was time to plan where I would be driving my rental car. Coming into this trip, I had already been to 28 tracks in the U.K. That knocked those tracks off the potential list of new track possibilities. By checking websites, I came up with a plan to see eight tracks over the four-day trip.

      I use the English version of AAA, called AA, website for travel directions. If you are planning a driving trip check out this site: http://www.theaa.com/travelwatch/inc/planner_places_redirect.jsp, this site will give complete driving directions from point A to point B.

      One of the greatest things about English racing is that events are rarely cancelled by inclement weather. I have now been to 36 straight tracks and have never been cancelled even though had the English weather been the same in the states about half the tracks would have cancelled.

      When I know the tracks will not cancel, I can make a hotel reservation without fear. In the U.S., I can�t make a hotel reservation is advance when I�m trackchasing. If I did it would �lock me in� to a certain location for the entire evening. A trackchaser has to be flexible. If the planned track rains out at 6 p.m. it just might be necessary to make a u-turn and drive 200 miles in some other direction to see a track where the weather is better. I almost never make a reservation in advance because of this need for flexibility.

      I was able to find the Travelodge chain of hotels for England. Many of their hotels are located in �Welcome Breaks� (aka rest stops) along British motorways (aka interstates). I would need to stay in four different hotels on four different nights. I was able to book the hotels at an average cost of about $75 per night. In England, that�s not a bad rate for a hotel that might cost $40-50 in the U.S.

      Let me make a brief comment about Welcome Breaks along British motorways. These places are really convenient for the traveler. A Welcome Break always has a petrol station and sometimes a hotel. A Welcome Break is also sort of a mini-shopping center. They will normally have one fast food restaurant (KFC, Burger King, McDonalds) as well as a sit down restaurant. There�s a convenience stores with snacks, gifts, music, etc, as well as slot machines, video arcades and more. These Welcome Breaks are placed every 30-50 miles along the road. They are so far superior to rest areas on American interstates it�s not really fair to mention them in the same sentence.

      I�d be remiss if I didn�t mention the �dirty dozen� of U.K. friends who helped me plan the trip. I got input from Colin H., Paul H, Rick Y., Roland V., Colin C., Dave C, Spike R. and many others. I hope I didn�t leave anyone out. Thanks guys, you made the trip all the better.

      Now I had an airplane ticket, rental car, trackchasing plan, driving plan and hotel reservations. What else did I need? How about a trackchasing companion? Of course, Carol is the best racing buddy a guy could have, but she wasn�t available for this trip.

      I was lucky to make arrangements with P.J. Hollebrand of Webster, New York to come along for the ride. P.J. ranks just one spot behind me in the worldwide trackchaser standings in 8th place. P.J. comes from a very rich racing background. He and his family owned a NASCAR champion race team back in the 70s and traveled all over the east coast to more than 100 races each year. Today, P.J. is a letter carrier for the U.S. post office and also owns and operates one of the leading racecar collectibles businesses along the east coast.

      When you spend four full days within less than 10 feet of one individual, you get to know them pretty well. All I can say about P.J. is that he is one nice guy. If everyone were like P.J., we�d have a much better world. Now I know most of P.J.�s innermost secrets, both trackchasing and non-trackchasing, but am sworn to secrecy so no matter how much I am paid I can never share what I know.

      Of course, P.J. entered the trip with the normal (don�t know if it is more inherited or more from the environment) east coast skepticism. This is a common foible from folks of this area. Comments such as �Are you sure they never cancel?�, �Is there really enough time to get all of these tracks in?� etc. are common symptoms. Of course, in addition to dealing with east coast trackchasers, I must deal on a weekly basis with east coasters such as Lenny Miller and Jimmy Shapiro at the golf club so I have come to know what to expect. I just keep reminding myself that they don�t mean anything by it, that�s just the way they grew up.

      I�ll let P.J. tell you if any of the tracks cancelled, if we had time to make our complete race plan or if any other perceived catastrophic event, real or imagined, occurred. All I can say is that it was a pleasure to go trackchasing with P.J. Hollebrand.

      Flying to the U.K. always presents a challenge because of the time change. The U.K. is eight hours ahead of Pacific Time. P.J. and I met up in Chicago. From there we flew to London�s Heathrow Airport to start our day. We landed at 7 a.m. (11 p.m. Pacific). It was now time to START my day, but it was 11 p.m. my time!

      No one said trackchasing would be easy. My first stop in the London Airport was to get my cell phone working in Europe. The last time I bought a cell phone, I made sure it had GSM capability that would allow me to use it in Europe. A simple purchase of a �SIM� card gave me a new phone number for my U.K. stay. This phone strategy would end up paying huge dividends during the trip.

      P.J. and I would get to meet up with several of the U.K. race fans and trackchasers. The first folks we met up with at our first track, Ringwood Raceway, were Spike (Steve) Rixon and his lovely accomplice, Linda. Spike and Linda were operating the track merchandise stand at Ringwood and doing a brisk business.

      Spike and Linda surprised us with a beautiful memento of our trackchasing trip. They gave P.J. and me each a lovely Lucite piece with the names of each of the eight tracks we had on our trackchasing plan encased with the British flag. I will value this custom gift forever and it will have a place with my most valuable artifacts. Thank you very much Spike and Linda. What you did was very thoughtful indeed. I also learned of the somewhat unusual occupation that both Spike and Linda share in their civilian lives. Any Yanks care to guess what that might be?

      We also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Paul Huggett and his wife Stella. Paul is the Associate Editor of the glossy racing magazine, Short Circuit. Both he and Stella are former race drivers and Stella is a former autograss champion. Paul had a lot to say about both the racing and political landscape. I very much enjoyed our conversation. We saw Colin Casserly taking photos from the Ringwood infield, but unfortunately did not get a chance to say hi in person.

      Our second track of the day took us to the Wheels Raceway in Birmingham. Dave Carter, a long-time reader of the Trackchaser Report, works in race control at the track. Dave had arranged for complimentary admission for P.J. and me. That was a very nice gesture on Dave�s part. Thank you! I got to meet Dave up in the control tower and he also arranged for a great interview with the announcer and meeting with the track promoter.

      As we continued on the trackchasing trip other tracks gave us free admission, programs, racing magazines and recognition. Just before going to bed on Saturday night I picked up a text message on my cell phone. It was from Colin Herridge. He was reminding us that British Summer time (aka Daylight Savings Time) would take effect over night. Had we not gotten that message, we might have missed the action at our first Sunday track.

      The event at Yarmouth was special. Please make sure you read about it in the Yarmouth track section. For the first several races of the trip, P.J. was content to operate behind the camera while I took the point in sharing the trackchasing story with as many people as possible via track interviews and personal meetings.

      By the time we reached Yarmouth on Easter Sunday it was time for P.J. to take what he had learned and go in front of an estimated 2,000 people. The occasion was P.J.�s 800th lifetime track and he did a great job in a personal interview with the track commentator, Jim Gregory.

      Our last day, Monday, had us meeting up with the aforementioned and certainly famous Colin Herridge. Colin joined us for the Grove Farm autograss program and then led us over to the Grimley Raceway banger fixture. These two races raised Colin�s U.K. total of tracks to 100. Congratulations Colin on reaching the century mark. Thanks also for your heads up during the trip via your text messages. Good luck following May 13 and again, Happy Birthday!

      Just a couple of things to wrap up the �People/Travel� section of this report. First, petrol (aka gasoline) is expensive by American standards. In the U.K. petrol goes fro between $6.00 and $6.50 per gallon. Next time you fill up for gasoline in the U.S. don�t worry too much that it�s costing you about $2 per gallon. We drove nearly 1,000 miles on the trip. We only filled up twice. However, when we did fill-up, a tank of cost $84 the first time and $96 the second time! Our French Renault Megane, in addition to looking like Gary Balough�s outlawed Lincoln, got more than 37 miles per gallon. It also had a credit card shaped key and a push button on and off button for the engine!

      This trip was pretty much drive, eat, race and sleep. We did have a complete afternoon to tour Oxford, England home of the very famous university. We had a very delightful lunch in an outdoor caf� where P.J. and I dined on marinated garlic cloves before our Italian lunch was served.

      P.J. hosted our Easter Sunday supper at a very quaint restaurant a few miles from the Yarmouth track. P.J.�s three pork chops were huge and I enjoyed a delicious steak dinner. I was able to introduce P.J. to the fine world of cr�me boulet which we enjoyed for dessert.

      Finally, on our last evening at the Reading Travelodge we asked the clerk if there was a local English pub where we could share our last supper. Recall, now that the Travelodge is located in a Welcome Break along the interstate in a relatively remote area. The clerk told us the pub was just a 10 minute walk or so from the hotel, although it might be a �little dark� on the walk back to the hotel after eating.

      This was one of our wilder adventures of the entire trip. It was nearly dark when we began our walking journey for some English pub food. First, we had to walk through what seemed like a garbage dump. We then came upon a two-lane road with a surprising amount of vehicular traffic. We had to walk along this curving road for almost two miles. There were no sidewalks and each time a car came by we had to step into the bushes. I could only imagine the hotel clerk being on his cell phone to his buddies waiting in these bushes to remove what few valuables we had (Editor�s note: I can think �East Coast� when I have too).

      We finally made it to the restaurant where P.J. enjoyed a traditional fish and chips dinner. The walk back to the hotel in total darkness with right out of Laurel and Hardy. With the cars driving on the opposite side of the road from what we were used too, total darkness and only wet underbrush to hop into to avoid becoming a flattened bug, we worried the calories off.

      On Tuesday morning, we returned our car to the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel drop point. From that point we upgraded to having a private driver take us to the airport rather than riding a public bus as we had done at the beginning of the trip. Because P.J. had picked his travel partner wisely, he was seen bypassing the long line of harried coach passengers and checking in at the first class desk. Shortly P.J. was leaning back in a leather chair in the American Airlines Admirals Club. After a couple of drinks with shortbread cookies we parted ways for our respective homes back across that big old pond.

      An outstanding time was had by all. Thanks to P.J. for being a great trackchasing companion. Thanks to our U.K. friends for helping make the trip so much more enjoyable and thanks to readers of the Trackchasing Report for coming along on this word picture.



      We arrived at Ringwood exactly at the 2 p.m. start time. I had left home at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time and was arriving at 4 a.m. Pacific time exactly 23.5 hours later. I think I slept about 2 hours during this period and had to stay up an additional eight hours to watch the race and get to our first night�s hotel.

      The Ringwood Raceway was one of the best racing venues from a facilities point of view of any we saw on the trip. Directions to the track were very well signposted (American tracks could learn a lesson here). We were somewhat surprised at the 12 pound (as in British pounds) admission price. That is about $24 U.S. with an exchange rate of one British pound for two U.S. dollars. It would not be the first time we would be shocked and dismayed, yet happy to be on the trip, during our visit.

      This is what was printed about the beginning of the Ringwood Raceway in a local piece, �The first cars to compete on the new Speedway track were the Midget racers on August 20th 1950. Four years later when the sport of Stock Car Racing first arrived in England, from France via the USA on Good Friday 1954 at New Cross Stadium in London. During the remainder of the 1954 season, the new sport spread like wildfire across the UK and events were held in every available stadium, as well as a few farmers� fields, Ringwood staged its first official meeting during October. The 10,000 people that did manage to see those first races that day were the lucky ones, many thousands of other prospective viewers never arrived at the Stadium...they were caught in miles of bumper to bonnet queues of traffic that clogged all the approach roads!�

      During 1958, the track surface was tarmaced, and now enters the record books as the longest running tarmac oval in the UK. In fact, the only other Stadium still running as long as Ringwood, on a continuous basis, is Coventry. Today there was a large crowd on hand. The weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of about 55, which made for a nice afternoon.

      There were four formulae (classes) racing. These included the Formula 2 stock cars, stock rods, saloon stocks (P.J.�s favorite and one of mine) and vintage cars. The car counts we experienced at each of our eight tracks dwarfed those of their American counterparts. There were about 60 F2 stock cars, 35 hot rods, 30 saloon stocks and about a dozen vintage cars.

      The formulae were handicapped for each race. Cars are staggered at the start and don�t all cross the starting line at the same time (similar to outlawed west coast off-road racing � but I will leave that discussion for a later time). The slower cars start up front (also different from the track�s American cousins�..and better). The cars have their roofs painted based upon their grading. The slowest cars have white roofs, followed by yellow, blue and red. The �superstars� start behind the red roofed cars. Superstars have red roofs and flashing lights on their roofs and/or wings.

      The seating was in the form of poured concrete �steps� that you could sit on. P.J. and I sat on three legged collapsible golf stools. They were light to carry and very effective. The program ran smoothly. There was no interval (intermission � again beating their American cousins), very few yellow flags (continuing to beat their American counterparts!) and they started on time (now beginning to smother those damned Yanks). There were about five �corner� flagmen stationed around the oval. If a car spun and came to a stop on the track, a corner yellow was thrown but the overall race was not stopped.

      The drawbacks I noted is that many of the audio speakers didn�t work well. The announcer sounded good on the few speakers that worked but overall the sound system was a disappointment. This nullified the effect of his trackchaser mention. The track could have used a lap counter. Surprisingly, there was no admission to the pit area from the grandstand. In my entire 36 U.K. racing venues, this is a first. One person did tell me this limitation was not being enforced but we didn�t push the idea of getting into the pits.

      We stayed for the entire program from start to finish, as this was our only location to visit on Good Friday. Heat races started some 25 cars and ran 15-20 laps. The action was close in all classes and it was an excellent beginning to the trip.


      This might have been my favorite track of the trip. There were three formulae racing including Lightning Rods, 2.0-liter bangers and Incarods. The racetrack facility itself is a bit rundown. This track, like many others, has a pace car. What�s most unusual about this pace car is that the pace car driver leads the racecars out of the turn at full speed and with the racecars only one car length behind the pace car! At the very last moment, the pace car pulls into the infield and the race is on. Most all of the racecars have the driver�s name in huge block letters printed across the top of their windscreen. This is a helpful touch that makes everything a bit more fan friendly.

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