There isn’t much to do on a Sunday in late September, but a quick look through the internet showed there was banger racing on at Aldershot.
Banger racing is a Marmite form of motorsport in car enthusiast circles. I have a slightly perverse fascination with seeing anything get destroyed, especially cars, and have loved banger racing since I first heard of it.
The naysayers see it as a borderline criminal waste, particularly where classics are concerned – there are some dedicated meetings that attract dozens, or even hundreds, of them. But I have no time for the haters. Every car that’s used in banger racing has come to the end of its useful life and it’s a rare occasion that one could be economically put back on the road. A case in point at the very meeting I went to was a classic mid-Seventies Jaguar XJ – a car that would get the haters twitching – that was so rusty the boot floor dropped out after it took a stout hit.
More to the point, where were the bleeding hearts when that very same Jaguar was in its banger racing heyday 20 years ago? And were are they now for the untold numbers of Ford Mondeos and Lexus LSs that are sacrificed each week?
My main point in favour, though, is that it’s surely better for a car to die in a blaze of glory than be unceremoniously dropped into a crusher, or else just rust into oblivion? Here endeth the rant.
The team from Spedeworth, who operate the Aldershot track, run a very slick operation. There’s a perception that banger racing is slightly scuzzy, but the site was beautifully presented, the toilets were kept clean, and the burger vans weren’t bad at all. The paddock is completely open and there’s very much a family vibe to the place. Meetings start at 1pm and are usually finished before 5pm, so it doesn’t occupy the entire day, as a circuit race meeting would.
Besides the bangers, there were Lightning Rods (2.0 Ford Sierras) and Junior Rods (1.3 superminis driven by 11-16-year olds). The youngsters in particular impressed with their car control and last-ditch overtaking. But the standards were high across the board. Most of the Lightning Rods four-wheel-drifted round in close formation, and some of the banger drivers spent more time going sideways than forwards.
Safety takes absolute priority and the rules are strictly enforced, particularly in the Rods. Rubbing is very much racing here, but deliberate contact is strictly banned. The outcome of the Junior Rods was in doubt while the stewards investigated if a car had been shoved out of the way on purpose; penalties were handed out and, refreshingly, everyone took it on the chin. Even the dads.
But what of the main event, the bangers? A motley assortment of old Fords, Jaguars, Volvos, Mercedes’ and even a couple of Toyota Previas took to the track. The field was a bit thin, and with up to £500 prize money on the line, most of the racers were out to win. But as it became clear to some that they weren’t going to, they started dishing out hits, some of them extremely hard, and by the end of the day at least half the cars were smashed almost beyond recognition. It was a thrilling spectacle.
It’s fun to watch grudges develop over the races, as well. Genuine bad blood is rare, but revenge is the name of the game. One Volvo was just about done but had enough life left to take out the Ford that finished it off. But, for the life of him, the hapless driver couldn’t get the timing right and missed every one of his five or six attempts. Hilarious. Despite the apparent violence on track, though, everyone seemed to part friends.
Even long races on the 400-meter oval track don’t last much more than 10 minutes, so the nine race programme was reeled off in under three hours. Thoroughly entertaining it was, too. And at £14 for entry, good value. You do get filthy, though. Rubber, petrol, oil, coolant, blood, puss; it all gets thrown up.
I can’t recommend going to see any sort of short oval racing highly enough. It is grassroots motorsport at its very best: fast and frantic – and very affordable – on-track, relaxed and friendly off it. Get scouring the internet to find your nearest meeting.
By Only Motors