Posted by Henry Barnes on 24 October 2013
The sun began to set over Thurrock, staining the clouds pink as it passed them in its daily descent. Ploughed furrows and wild hedgerows hatched the horizon as day became dusk, as dusk became dark, and inevitably the sun gently fell behind the distant curve of the earth allowing a starry night to take the cosmic stage. The myriad birdsong of an autumn’s evening ceased abruptly as the din of a hundred engines roared into life in a deafening chorus. The floodlights of Arena Essex were switched on to illuminate the smooth tarmac of the oval raceway. Banger racing could begin.
Day one saw three classes of banger duke it out on the track; Ford Granadas, Ford Sierras (lightning Rods) and classic Minis. Each class kept separate because of size, speed and agility – the Sierras were fast and would drift around the long corners at each end of the track, the minis would dip and dive between one another, jostling for pole position, and the bangers would occasionally disregard the race, turn around and drive head first into their rivals, leaving twisted pieces of smoking machinery strewn across the course.
Day two was only bangers. There were Granadas of all shapes and sizes; 2-door coupes, 4-door saloons, estates and even one or two hearses, all painted in the colours of the team. The Whiteman/Ford crew in yellow and red, emblazoned with their ‘Suicide Squad’ logo and their rivals, ‘The Condoms’, in their signature pink. There were plenty of independent racers as well, including crowd favourite Pieter ‘Peewee’ Leistra, over from Holland for the race. Many cars were painted with touching messages, pictures and tributes to Maya Ford, in whose memory the event was held. Maya tragically lost her life to meningitis and septicaemia in 2012 at just 21 months old. Since then the family have raised many thousands of pounds to further research into the prevention, detection, treatment and surveillance of this devastating disease.
As the racing began it became clear that for many, today was about having fun, rather than winning the trophy. Some ‘Suicide Squad’ drivers hadn’t been behind the wheel in many years and for a few it was their last hurrah. Races that would begin with 40 cars, often ended with two or three limping wrecks shedding sparks as they pulled themselves through billowing smoke across the finish line. We had the best seat in the house as the balcony overlooked the ‘pit-bend’ which hosted much of the day’s mayhem. Pink car smashed yellow car which in turn was rear-ended by pink car which was sideswiped by yellow car. A light-hearted, good-natured rivalry and a shared love of mayhem; at the end of the race the rivals would help each other out of their mangled write-offs, dust themselves off and shake one another’s hand.
This was the biggest banger racing event in years, involving some 12,500 spectators and over 200 classic Granadas. The many thousands of pounds that were raised for Meningitis Research Foundation help us in our fight against meningitis and septicaemia. Paul Whiteman (car pictured), veteran banger racer, made a touching speech at the beginning of the day and a minute’s silence was held for Maya. The engines were turned off, the voices silenced, and all that could be heard was the gentle chorus of birdsong as tribute was paid to a little girl who was deeply loved and is sorely missed.
Membership and Support Officer
Thanks to Dawn, Louise, Tony, Sally, Denny, Chris, Paul and everyone else who I met and who helped to make the day such a success – you should all be incredibly proud of what you achieved. Thanks also to Arena Essex for their generosity.