COL­UMNS

Un­like the vir­tual world, the cards in my wal­let will al­ways be a real-life li­cence to thrill

Evo - - CONTENTS -

What does Vet­tel’s pad­dle do? Which makes could we do with­out? And has Dickie de­liv­ered his copy?

THIS SUM­MER MARKS MY 30TH YEAR SINCE I passed my driv­ing test. Thirty years! That seems ridicu­lous for many rea­sons, not least be­cause I can still re­mem­ber some of my driv­ing lessons – in a Mazda 323, in case you were won­der­ing – and the mo­men­tous day I passed my test.

As my par­ents and teach­ers will at­test, pass­ing things was not my strong point as a youth. I didn’t hate col­lege – largely be­cause I didn’t spend a great deal of time there – but it’s fair to say if I’d ap­plied my­self as dili­gently to my A-level stud­ies as I did at Driv­ing School my grades would have been rather bet­ter. Then again there al­ways seemed a point to learn­ing to drive. One that al­ge­bra, the works of Wil­liam Shake­speare and the pe­ri­odic ta­ble were so ob­vi­ously miss­ing.

I’m not sure what it is about cars and driv­ing that cap­ti­vated me so com­pletely, but I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by them. It there­fore stands to rea­son that learn­ing to drive would be the big­gest sin­gle thing in my young life. Lit­tle did I know driv­ing would be­come my life, but that’s the beauty of drift­ing through school and col­lege with no fixed plan. A suc­ces­sion of ca­reers ad­vis­ers looked at me blankly when I waved a copy of CAR mag­a­zine un­der their noses, so I kind of made things up as I went along. Thank­fully while a driv­ing li­cence and a lap­top are the tools of my trade a ‘proper’ job will al­ways elude me.

If my driv­ing test re­mains the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant thing I’ve ever passed, hold­ing a race li­cence has been a con­stant source of pride and plea­sure. It’s 25 years since I headed to Sil­ver­stone for my ARDS test – a com­bi­na­tion of writ­ten class­room pa­per and prac­ti­cal driv­ing as­sess­ment by a qual­i­fied race in­struc­tor. If you can re­mem­ber a few flag sig­nals and don’t turn the wrong way down the pit lane, then get­ting your MSA Na­tional B li­cence is like fall­ing off a log, but it opens up a whole new world. One in which you will take new­found pride in your driv­ing and pro­vide you with the mo­ti­va­tion and op­por­tu­nity to work on im­prov­ing your skills ev­ery time you get be­hind the wheel.

Track­days are fun, but rac­ing is some­thing else en­tirely. As much a test of your met­tle as your driv­ing abil­ity, any form of com­pet­i­tive mo­tor­sport is truly char­ac­ter-build­ing stuff. Un­less you’re in the Armed Forces or a first re­spon­der I guar­an­tee the range and in­ten­sity of emo­tions you go through im­me­di­ately be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter your first race will ex­ceed any­thing you’ll experience in nor­mal life. I also guar­an­tee it’s a feel­ing you’ll want to re­peat. On dif­fer­ent tracks and in faster cars.

I hold a third driv­ing li­cence, though it’s not es­pe­cially use­ful as there are but two places on Earth it has any clout: El Mi­rage Dry Lake Bed and Bon­neville Salt Flats. There’s no phys­i­cal piece of pa­per or plas­tic card to show for it, but I’m one of a hand­ful of Brits li­censed by the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Tim­ing As­so­ci­a­tion to drive at more than 200mph at El Mi­rage or Bon­neville. Which ba­si­cally makes me Chuck Yea­ger, at least in my own mind.

It’s this li­cens­ing process – ac­quired by suc­cess­fully driv­ing con­sec­u­tive runs on the salt flats at 150, 175 and 200mph – that then gave me the op­por­tu­nity to chase (and set) a new class record dur­ing the 2011 Bon­neville Speed Week in a spe­cially pre­pared Skoda Oc­tavia VRS. My Bon­neville 200MPH Club ‘ Life Mem­ber’ card has sat in my wal­let ever since, re­moved oc­ca­sion­ally to re­flect on the day I skimmed across Utah’s hal­lowed salt flats at nearly 230mph in a Czech­built sa­loon. I’m not sure I’d ever have the nerve to do it, but this would be quite the doc­u­ment to pro­duce in the event of a road­side in­ter­view with the po­lice. It makes me sad to think driv­ing is be­com­ing less and less rel­e­vant for more and more young peo­ple. Of course I un­der­stand it’s yet an­other pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive as­pect of life. One that you doubt­less feel you can do with­out in an in­creas­ingly con­nected world. What’s lost in all this is that rather than de­liv­er­ing a dig­i­tal ver­sion of re­al­ity to the palm of your hand, driv­ing de­liv­ers you to ac­tual places, peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­ences good Wi-fi and an iphone X can never hope to match.

It might sound a bit lame to some peo­ple – though hope­fully not to any of you – to say my life re­volves around driv­ing and rac­ing cars. That’s why the pink plas­tic DVLA card, white MSAis­sue Race In­ter­na­tional C and Rally Na­tional A Stage li­cence and the slightly dog-eared 200MPH Club Mem­ber­ship card are so pre­cious to me. Much more than mere li­cences, they are pass­ports to a life I couldn’t pos­si­bly have imag­ined.

If you have a road li­cence, cher­ish it. If you don’t, get one. And if you’ve ever thought about get­ting a com­pe­ti­tion li­cence, do it! In my experience ’screen time al­ways beats Screen Time.

‘Driv­ing de­liv­ers you to ac­tual places, peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­ences an iphone never could’

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