Inside Revolution: Grid Man Sam

Friday 18 November 2022

Head up to Hunts Kart Racing Club on any given weekend and you’re likely to be greeted on the dummy grid by Sam – or Grid Man Sam, as he is known by his social media

Based at the Hunts Kart Racing Club, Kimbolton, near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, and one of only a few registered marshals with Down Syndrome in the country, 21-year-old Sam has become a well-known figure in the karting community for his friendly fistbumps, as well as his dedication to his role of waving the flags at the front of the grid.

With younger brother Charlie out on track, dad Nick helping as mechanic, plus mum Mandy marshalling too, the Ellis family’s passion for motorsport has turned into a way of life
that they are all able to take part in and enjoy.

“Our karting journey started six years ago when Charlie began racing, and Sam has always been trackside as part of that,” explained Nick.

“I hadn’t really thought of Sam becoming a marshal before, but after it was suggested, we said “yes, let’s give it a go” and he registered with Motorsport UK.

“With Charlie competing in the British Kart Championships, we were travelling to events around the country, and I was never afraid to ask if Sam was able to help out.

“But for us, Hunts Kart Racing Club has become our family home. They have been absolutely superb. Sam’s now in his second year of marshalling full-time, to the point where we’re still here for events even if Charlie isn’t racing in them.

“Sam is predominantly an assistant grid marshal to Andy Lucy, a marshal also on the dummy grid. We couldn’t do this without Andy; him and Sam have built a brilliant relationship and work so well.

“Although we have the traffic light system on the dummy grid, Sam still backs that up with flags, which becomes very handy on the occasions when the lights don’t work. He even
has his own flags at home which he practices with when there’s racing on TV!

“Andy has other jobs on the grid, but he knows that Sam’s there at the front, so he hasn’t got to rush back down when it’s time to go.

“Previously, Sam was my right-hand man in the pit, and he still helps me out when we go to other tracks where he doesn’t do marshalling.

“He changes the wheels, takes the kart down, puts the trolley away; once he knows what he’s doing, we don’t have to ask, because he loves what he does.

“It’s his 21st birthday today and he’d rather be here than anywhere else.”

Sam supporting his brother Charlie in the British Kart Championship

With Sam becoming such a staple feature of weekends at Kimbolton, it means Nick and Mandy are safe in the knowledge that he’s able to go off by himself and do what he loves.

“Sam has certain medical conditions that require him to have 24-hour care, so usually he’s pretty much by the side of me and mum for most of the day.

“But a kart track is the first place where Sam’s got that independence. As a parent, I’m happy that everybody knows him and it’s safe for him.

“Sam’s abilities are slightly different to our own, but he’s not afraid to give it a crack, and neither are we.”

Grid Man Sam’s social media profiles read ‘promoting diversity and inclusion in motorsport,’ something that is important to Nick as he aims to show that it’s possible for anyone to follow their passion in the same way that Sam does.

“Everyone has different abilities, and it doesn’t make one of us any better than the other.

“For us, there’s no “I can’t” because Sam proves that you can.

“We want to promote that motorsport is open to everybody. It doesn’t matter your ability, there is something there for you to do. That’s the message we want to get out there.”

Giving the dummy grid his thumbs-up of approval

Sam’s drive

This month, Sam got the opportunity to drive a kart for the first time, courtesy of Mr Karting in Warwickshire – owned by Stu Stretton and his family – and TB Karts who have built a special dual drive kart.

“It was one of the best days we as a family and a team have had,” said Nick.

“Sam driving a kart was never on our radar, but to see him steer around the track, joined by Charlie in his kart, and then Mandy as a marshal, was one of the best sights I’ve ever seen.

“Over the last 21 years I have learnt not to be afraid to try things with Sam; Downs Syndrome does not define Sam’s limits, Sam defines them, and we have yet to find what that
limit is.

“In short, with the right support and equipment Sam, has shown anything is possible.”

For Nick and the Ellis family, it’s proof that the motorsport community is like a big family, and the appreciation for Sam not only means a lot to them all, but also means his
opportunities in the sport aren’t limited.

“I’m not a vain person and I never wanted to be the popular kid in school, but as a dad, seeing the love for Sam, it’s absolutely brilliant,” reveals Nick.

“For example, Jez Williams, one of the karters in Junior Rotax, gave Sam his trophy earlier this year. When someone comes up and says to Sam, “I want to win this weekend so I can give you a trophy,” it’s just wonderful.

“This journey started with Charlie in karting, but as his career progresses, I would love to see Sam progress as well, and because of Motorsport UK and the community we’re in, I can see that being possible.

“I can see Sam standing on the side of Silverstone, Brands, places like that.

“There’s just a lot of love for the guy everywhere we go and we’re very fortunate for that.”

Discover more from Revolution

Marshalling opportunities are inclusive and are an opportunity for everyone to participate in motorsport . To find out more, click here.