Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Reflecting on some of the numbers in my life

I was never really any good at celebrating birthdays. Particularly the 'big' birthdays that all my friends seem to make such a fuss about. In some ways I am sorry that the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries of the day I was born passed by without a party - but I don't really like parties: there are always too many people there. I would far rather have friends round in small doses and be able to have a proper conversation. And that can be done anytime, without the need for a special occasion.

Anyway, as it is in my nature to take a sideways look at things, it fell upon me recently that today is a day that I should celebrate - for exactly 20,000 days ago was the day that I was born. Since then, I have visited 672 race meetings at 35 different circuits in 11 countries (12 if you count Wales). I have probably watched getting on for 5,000 races, and inevitably, have forgotten about an awful lot of them. On the other hand, many of them stick out. I have seen 47 24-hour races, and hope that my 50th will be at Le Mans next year. Among the events I have seen are the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Daytona 500. And I have the raceday programme for every single one of them.

I also seem to have acquired an awful lot of motor racing magazines (although I have disposed of a large number of copies of Motoring News and Autosport). But I highly value the 35 years of bound copies of Motor Sport (going back to the 1950’s), supplemented by 1923 - 1959 in digital format.

At some point down the line (on day 14,296, to be precise), I got married, and now have two wonderful children.

I also have about 120 books with a motorsport theme, but lest I be accused of a single-minded passion, I should also point out that I have watched the England national teams play cricket and football, I have seen tennis (and stock cars) at Wimbledon, show jumping at Hickstead and even seen the rugby league challenge cup final at Wembley Stadium.

There are many things that I would like to have done, that I have not (yet) done, but the passing of the years seems to make some of these less likely. At least next year I should be able to add “Olympic Games” to my list.

And there are various other memorabilia. I have a small collection of model cars, mostly in 1/43 scale, but a couple in 1/18 scale.

Then there is the box in which I store all my passes and the pile of ‘other stuff’, not really valuable, but far too interesting to throw away (just yet). Although I am not an autograph hunter, I do have original signatures from Fangio, Moss, Jackie Stewart and Phil Hill, among others, and enough photos to shake a stick at.

(It being the time of year for such things, anyone fancy doing a "who, what, where" on any of these?)

More valuable than all of ‘the stuff’ though, are the memories. As the years go by, so those memories become more important to me. But I wonder if they interest anyone else? These things are very personal, and a Blog, by its nature, is public. But hey, you don’t have to read it!

I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do in the motor-racing world. A long time ago, I used to go to races (on my own) and keep a lap chart, trying to hear the commentary over the loudspeakers and follow what was going on. And at various times, something really interesting would happen, that the commentators hadn’t noticed, and I really wanted to nudge the bloke standing next to me and tell him: “fifth place should change on the next lap - watch car no. 7!” but I never did, and he probably wasn’t interested anyway.

Nowadays, it is other people nudging me (often electronically) to point out something that I have missed as I am trying to keep track of races. The beauty is that I now have an audience (yes I admit it is only a small one) who is actually interested - and that I find very heartening.

It’s a funny world, the world of motor sport. I suspect it is like many sports, in that it often takes itself too seriously, but on the other hand it is unlike other sports as there are so many aspects to it. The rarefied world of Formula 1 is to my mind as far (or further) away from club motorsport as the top and bottom rungs of any sport. Then there are the pursuits of rallying, sprints, hillclimbs, motorbikes - it is all motor sport. Should I also include powerboating? After all, I’ve been to a couple of such events (consider the different challanges facing the competitors in the offshore event from Cowes to Torquay and back compared to the Formula 1 event at Bristol docks that I attended in the mid-1980s).

But it is a world in which the skill of the driver is frequently overshadowed by the car he is driving. For my money, this is part of the appeal. Less appealing is the fact that as a consequence, the amount of money that is invested also casts a shadow over things. But then again, by investing large sums of money into their activity, some drivers have had the opportunity to practise their art, an opportunity that the less wealthy may not have - but which results in them undoubtedly becoming more skilled.

It is a sport in which participants need to approach, but not go over, a line which separates driving safely from crashing; a line which separates triumph from disaster. Watching someone consistently improving, edging ever closer to that line without going over it, and then maintaining that level of performance, is fascinating and provides an insight into the way that racing drivers, proper racing drivers are.