Auto club enjoying life in the fast lane
There are thrills and spills a minute at thriving car racing club North Shropshire Autograss.
Autograss is a form of racing that takes place on a natural soil oval racetrack. It’s action-packed, dynamic and accessible.
And one Shropshire club has enjoyed a busy opening to 2019 with two successful home race meets in April.
The club wowed crowds with some competitive racing involving some of the best autograss racers from Shropshire, the wider Midlands and further afield.
The meetings, at Moortown Airfield, High Ercall, were significant to the club as they are were the first events away from its Whitchurch origins.
North Shropshire Autograss Club raced at Black Park from its 1973 formation until moving across Whitchurch to Hinton Hall in 1996.
But the move, facilitated by one of their star racers Andy Pipe, has been a roaring success – but the club are aiming to keep things on the quiet side, so says long-serving chairman Ernie Ashley.
“Andy knew the farmer Philip Davis, and we’d been trying for a track. Philip said ‘come down and have a look’,” said Ashley.
“It took us eight months to get it finalised and all together, but Philip’s been brilliant to be honest.
“We would have been without a track for 18 months otherwise.
“It’s been going well, we’re keeping the neighbours happy with noise and things. But they’re surprised at how little noise there is at meetings.”
Ashley, who has been chairman since 1983, is part of a hard-working committee that ensures registrations, testing, results and safety are all inspected to the nth degree.
But the club, and indeed the sport of autograss, prides itself on its inclusiveness – with varying members from all walks of life committed to throwing themselves (quite literally) around muddy fields in cars powered by hundreds of brake horsepower.
North Shropshire AC have racers ageing between 12 and 77.
Ashley added: “I’ve been racing with the club for 45 years, was asked on the committee in 1981 and became chairman in 1983.
“There are 13 or 14 of us. We all look after individual jobs. My wife Pat has been secretary longer than I’ve been chairman!
“We’ve got lots of young individuals racing. More than there ever used to be. Maybe I’m old fashioned but there are some things they can’t do. We have to keep a grip on it.
“The only thing that has changed are the cars and that sort of thing. We still race in the same sort of conditions.”
There are changes afoot in the world of autograss – but it is clear the flame never goes out in many racers.
Ashley continued: “The junior class is aged 12 to 16 at the moment. But next year 10-year-olds are allowed to start.
“The biggest problem is getting a car to fit the kids.
“Some kids are quite big but the problem is policing it and making sure the drivers are responsible.
“It helps them learn to drive and handle a car, especially in ice and snow. It’s instinct and natural. If you’re driving a wet meeting it’s like running on ice.
“We’ve got one who is 77. Alan Myles, from Stoke, he’s been with us since the 1970s. He’s got a Cosworth in Class seven.
“The trouble is there are one or two concerns from people that he’s getting in the way! As long as he’s allowed to drive on the roads there’s nothing we can do.”
There are 10 classes permitting various sized engines and chaises. Class one tends to see smaller cars, such as Clios and Micras, compete.
But these are no ‘normal’ engines. Racers and their teams fine tune the engines to make them super-charged.
The powerful class seven features saloon cars with twin 1,000cc engines and a boosted gearbox that funnels out more than 600bhp.
Ashley, 67, who races a two-litre Vauxhall engine in an old Toyota shape, added: “I’m still driving, you start to slow down. In the Class eight special the younger ones driving fast and light cars win all the meetings. You have to be switched on and aware in that class.
“We used to have cars that were called bangers. You’d knock out the window, put in a roll bar and bolt or weld the front door.
“I brought my first car from a scrapyard in Whixall for £20 and it lasted me for years, but I got rolled over and wrote it off.
“Through the classes the engines are tuned to the maximum.
“There are two motorbike engines in the higher classes. It’s amazing, a hell of a lot of power.
“The class 10 specials are the same and there are still some V8 engines.”
Racers compete regularly all over the UK. North Shropshire’s next meet at High Ercall is June 30, a national qualifier.
Events make for popular spectating due to the family-friendly nature of the sport.
Ashley, whose grandson Matt races and flipped his car at a recent meet, added: “What helps with families is that mum and dad and son and daughter all race one car. They can race in junior and senior men’s and mum can race in the mother’s race.
“A lot of families do that. That’s what separates us to other sports, the inclusiveness.
“You know people all over the country and further, I know a lot of people in Northern Ireland. It’s like that, you meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends.”