RAF engineer Norton ready to fly off the start line

Is it a bike? Is it a plane? Well, when it comes to Chester Norton, it could be either.

Picture: Steve Snelling
Picture: Steve Snelling

And that's because the Red Arrows engineer is now preparing to try his hand racing in a full club championship for the first time.

Norton, 31, from Westbury, near Shrewsbury, has now moved to RAF Cosford to focus on being an engineering instructor.

He also has the backing of the RAF pursue his motorbike racing as it all helps him become a better rider, mechanic and engineer.

The RAF engineer will be racing in the full North Gloucester (NG) Road Racing championship, which takes place on circuits up and down the country, most of which will be new to him.

But always being up for a challenge, Norton, who has completed a season flying with the Red Arrows as a member of a hand-picked support team, will be hoping to come away with the championship in his debut campaign.

Norton, who was recently promoted to Corporal, will be racing a 2002 Yamaha R6 in the Pre-Injection class – and he will also be joined at the meeting by his fellow Shrewsbury racers and friends, Jon Wright and James Evans.

"The first race is taking place at Brands Hatch, in Kent. I've never been there before, and then it's Donington Park where I've done one track day," he said.

"Oulton Park, in Cheshire, is our local circuit but unfortunately that's now been added to the calendar this year, which is great.

"Cadwell Park, in Lincolnshire, is probably where I could go best but the majority of the tracks will be new to me.

"I started like most people by getting my road licence but I quickly decided I wanted to go faster – and the roads were not the place to do it.

"I'm friends with James Evans and Jon Wright, so I've travelled around with them to some of the race meetings.

"Then I started doing the odd track day and entered a few races with them, with my first taking place in 2018.

"Obviously we didn't manage to get many races in last year but for 2021 I'll be entering the full North Gloucester (NG) Road Racing championship, which starts next month, depending on what the Government says.

"I'll be racing in the Pre-Injection class and on 2002 Yamaha R6. It's a good class to start in – it's competitive, there's normal quite a few entering that class and it gives you a good of idea where you're at ability wise."

As well as working on his bikes behind the scenes, Norton also spent 2020 flying with a group known as the Circus – a small number of engineers who form the Red Arrows’ travelling support team during the summer months.

They are paired with a pilot for a season, flying with them on transit flights away from the display team’s home base and servicing the aircraft in-between sorties, as well as preparing the jets for performances.

But now Norton, who attended Westbury C of E Primary School and Mary Webb Secondary School – going to study at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College before joining the RAF in 2009 – is focussed on committing himself to a full racing of club racing having relocated to RAF Cosford.

"My first-ever race was in the Open 600 class and I came 18th out of about 20-odd riders," he said.

"My last race was at Mallory Park and I had a best result of seventh out of a field of about 20, so that was quite an improvement.

"During lockdown I've also built a spare race bike and this year I plan to have a really good go at it.

"I'm confident of getting some good results and the plan is to push for the championship. It's the first time I've committed to a full season.

"I've always been mechanically minded and became an air force mechanic.

"A lot of the work I do on planes can be linked to working on a motorbike, and vice-versa.

"I'm being supported by the RAF too because it's all linked to work, so I get special dispensation to race, which is great."

Round one of the NG Road Racing championship takes place at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, with testing, qualifying and racing taking place from April 17-18.

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