Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Damon Hill's babysitter

Motorsport has always been close to my life. I can remember having a Dinky Toy of Stirling Moss's racing car in about 1958 when I was 3. I was a passionate enthusiast for Jim Clark and will never forget where I was when he died at Hockenheim that day in 1968. I was just 13 and he was just gone.
Then I followed his team mate, the gentlemanly Graham Hill.

In fact, I followed anyone who drove with Ford power - my Dad worked for Ford all his life and together we got wrapped up in motorsport from when I was very young. He actually taught me to drive when I was 9, on disused airfields. Until I could reach the pedals, I would sit on his lap steering & changing gear.

Motorsport is actually a very small world. And, despite the short lifespan of drivers in the early days, a lot of motorsport people never stop until they are very old. Hi Bernie!

In fact, every time I watch a GP I see Charlie Whiting doing his extremely important job running the races. Charlie used to be a mechanic at his brother's tuning shop just outside the gates of Brands Hatch in the 70s & 80s.

When I was 14 (1969) my Dad took me to Mallory Park in Leicestershire for a race meeting sponsored by Ford. These meetings had enormous crowds - all members of the official Fordsport Club. And they were largely enticed to attend because Ford's top drivers like Graham Hill and, from rallying, Roger Clark would do demos and sign autographs.

Graham, or Mr Hill as I knew him that day, was there to demo the Lotus Ford F1 car around the short oval + hairpin circuit. There were probably 30,000 fans there too. My Dad asked me to do something "important" for him and introduced me to a couple of kids. A boy and a girl. The boy was called Damon and I was to be their babysitter whilst their Dad did his job.

Damon was 9. And I will find the picture I have of us on that day.

Fast-forward a few years. 1978. Damon now 17 and keen to be a motorcycle racer. When he was just 15 his Dad had been killed in a plane crash, and Damon was being raised by his Mum, Bette. Bette didn't want Damon to go bike racing. So she organised for him to take part in his first ever car race. It was a one-make saloon car event at Brands Hatch. It featured racing and other "names". Frank Williams & John Surtees were in it. So was I.

The babysitter won. Surtees was 2nd and Damon Hill came 3rd.

Someone, somewhere has the photos to prove it.

I could go on and tell you the tale of how I poisoned the Ford Rally Team. How I was the opening titles of "Grandstand" for 6 months. And what it is like to have suspension collapse at 180mph.

But we'd need a big fireplace and some drinks.

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