Giving Something Back

Sunday 11 October 2020

How motorsport from the grassroots to the elite supports the communities in which it operates and builds bridges to the wider world for the good of all, by Phill Tromans

From the outside it could be easy to get the wrong idea about motorsport. With an image dominated by fast cars, loud noises, daredevils and glory hunters, you can see why some people would assume it is more about self-aggrandisement than giving and sharing. As anyone in the motorsport industry knows, however, that image is a long way from the truth. But perception is important. Motorsport is an industry of thousands of people and organisations around the UK, each surrounded by their own communities.

For many, working with and in those communities is an essential part of the business. Whether liaising with local groups or raising money for charity, giving something back is a win-win for everyone. For some, community involvement is an integral part of their operations. Since its inception in 1963, Cumbria Kart Racing Club’s Rowrah Circuit has established itself as far more than just a place to race. The club raises money for a range of charities and works closely with local organisations, the Women’s Institute making use of the circuit café for its meetings while the nearby cycling club uses the track for kids’ cycling training sessions. There are also two on-site ambulances, which the club lends to local speedway teams.

“We visit primary schools to encourage kids to come to the track, be around a racing car, sit in it and not make it so exclusive”

Malcolm Fell is the kart club president. He says that while such efforts might not bring in money to the club, they foster invaluable goodwill. “It shows that the sport does give back to the local communities,” he says. “We get good press and because we’ve got a really good relationship with the local parish council, we don’t get any hassle.” In Lincolnshire, Cadwell Park’s circuit manager Paul Woodford is passionate about reaching out to the local community. The track conducts charity auctions for the regional Air Ambulance service and organises visits to schools. Indeed, one recent venture saw local British GT team Race Performance and signwriter Allen Signs join forces to recreate the winning design in a schools’ colouring competition.

“We want to inspire the next generation,” he says. “We’ve begged, borrowed and stolen whatever racing cars or rally cars we can, we take them to schools, show them the safety car, and talk about jobs in motorsport and how that relates to the things they’re doing.” PDC Racing was founded in the North West in 2016 and competes in several national and club championships nationwide. Several of the team have children and wanted to find a way to engage them with their racing. “Motorsport can be quite exclusive, quite closed-door,” says Gavin Johnson, one of the team’s drivers. “When Jason Wood started the team, he felt that if he could do it, anyone could, and we should include as many people as we can.” Gavin had already done a few school visits with his own car.

“We just put a bit of a structure together to do the education element,” he says. “We visit primary schools to encourage kids to come to the track, be around a racing car, sit in it and not make it so exclusive. We tell them they can be the driver, the designer, the mechanic, they could be anything.

The team’s efforts caught the attention of multiple British Touring Car Champion Colin Turkington, who donated a training kart for PDC Racing to restore and use during its school visits. But Colin is far from alone when it comes to individual efforts, which are reflected at all levels of motorsport. Oliver Stewart is a 13-year-old kart racer from Scotland, racing in the British Kart Championship’s IAME series.

After his cousin was treated for cancer last year, Oliver became an ambassador for the ARCHIE Foundation, which provides parents of ill children with accommodation near hospital. “My cousin had a very hard time, and I’m thankful for all that the charity has done for him,” Oliver says. “A lot of this is to promote the charity and to help the kids that don’t have very much time left, to inspire them to try and fight. Yes, my main goal is to do well in karting, but one of my other goals is to inspire and help others.”

“Ben has subsequently installed yellow ‘Ben’s Bins’ at events to collect used cloths from teams”

Karting has also inspired another example of good deeds being done through motorsport. Ben Clark is the 10-year-old brother of a young karter from Leicester, Archie Clark, and regularly accompanies his family to watch him race. Ben noticed that a lot of teams were using microfibre cloths to clean karts during events, and when he learned that many of them were thrown away and were not biodegradable, he decided to act. He started collecting used cloths from teams, taking them home and washing them, and then selling them again at events.

The donations go to charities, including toys for Leicester Royal Infirmary, where Ben had been treated for asthma, and specialist beds for the Rainbows Hospice for children and young people in Loughborough. Ben has subsequently installed yellow ‘Ben’s Bins’ at events to collect used cloths from teams. Supporters include several motorsport teams and companies who send in all their cloths, as well as former F1 driver David Coulthard. Ben regularly auctions off donated memorabilia and driving experiences on his Facebook page to raise extra cash.

Ben’s mum (and chief washing machine operator) Debbie Clark says it is something that Ben himself has driven, and has surpassed all their expectations. “He’s the happiest 10-year-old ever. He’s so excited about what he’s going to do next and all his plans for Ben’s Bins,” she says. “We’ve raised over £15,000, but what we’ve aimed to do, rather than look at the total, is complete the wish list. If the hospital needs £500 of toys then that’s what they’ve had. We don’t want it to be a financial thing, we want it to be about the goods.”

On a bigger scale, events like Wales Rally GB can span several communities. Event manager, Iain Campbell, says that the nature of a major global sporting event like this makes it even more important to give something back. “We need to ensure we’ve got the support of the towns and villages and strive to keep any disruption to a minimum,” he says. “But, also, we want to make a positive impact on the places we visit. We recruit the local clubs and community organisations to look after the spectator car parking for us and in return they get a percentage of the revenue from spectator ticket sales. In total, we’ve raised over £265,000 for charities and community groups since we moved to north Wales in 2013.

These include local round tables, school groups, rugby clubs, parent and teacher associations, and the Welsh Air Ambulance. It’s a real mix.” Having a community focus can also bring wider elements of the motorsport world together, as evidenced by Abingdon CARnival. This annual two-day event is organised by three motor clubs – Craven, Farnborough District and Sutton and Cheam – but is attended by some 30 more. It takes place at an Army airfield in Oxfordshire and raises money for a nearby assisted living facility for people with special needs, as well as the Army Benevolent Fund and the local barracks’ welfare fund. It began when a Sutton and Cheam club member, who was also in the Royal Logistics Corps at the airfield, persuaded the commanding officer to help the army reconnect with local people. “You’ve got to be very cautious that the charity you’re fundraising for has a relevance to the local people,” says event organiser Barry Guess of Sutton and Cheam Motor Club.

“The success of CAR-nival is because we work with local people and the people that could object know that we’re putting something into their own community.” This passion is reflected at all levels of motorsport. Williams has an official charity, the Spinal Injuries Association, and holds events for them at its factory in Oxfordshire throughout the year. “We support local charity requests and we provide auction prizes – such as signed posters, caps, autographed cars – to the RAF and local schools,” says press officer, Emma Carden. Up the road at Brackley in Northamptonshire, Mercedes-AMG F1 changes its official charity each year (currently Alzheimer’s Research UK), and the team works with organisations near the factory. It teams up with local authorities to organise an annual firework display, as well as Brackley Community Carnival and a Soapbox Festival. That is in addition to support for local charities, schools and other community organisations, the donation of prizes and memorabilia for fundraising and visits to schools in the area. But with all that said, could the industry do more?

Paul Woodford of Cadwell Park thinks it can. “I don’t think as an industry that we do enough,” he says. He understands why community engagement is not at the forefront of everybody’s minds but stresses the importance of finding a way to reach out to a wider audience. “When the focus is on selling tickets and track time and not necessarily on outreach projects, I think you can get lost,” he says. “I think we just all need to share that passion a little bit wider.” Jeff Stewart, father of kart racer Oliver, says putting more focus on the community can only help motorsport’s image. “I think it is important that motorsport gives something back,” he says.

“People see it as an elite sport for rich people and they only care for themselves. Motorsport needs to be less elite-looking from the outside and it could do with engaging more with the public.” Malcolm Fell of the Cumbria Kart Racing Club agrees. “Any club that builds a relationship with the local community is for its benefit. We’ve found that if you work with people it gives you better results.”

Inspiration enough for everyone in the sport, from grassroots competitors to the very biggest teams, to consider how to present a positive image while also inspiring engagement from those who might not have otherwise come into contact with motorsport, its people, its amazing machinery or its incredible venues. Sustainability is an important topic these days and putting motorsport at the heart of the local communities in which it operates and doing some good along the way is a winning strategy for all concerned.

“Motorsport needs to be less elite looking from the outside and it could do with engaging more with the public”