Pre-war racing a sport for post-war blokes with hefty wallets? Not when it is up to Tom Waterfield en Hughie Walker. Angry young men on the track.
Whoever visited a pre-war classics race in Europe must have encountered them this past year. We bump into them in the city of Angoulême in the south of France during the Circuit des Remparts mid September, Tom Waterfield and Hughie Walker. Two young lads with greasy hair and ditto fingers. Put them in a hot bath to soak and you will be able to run your racing engine on the bath water afterwards. That’s how much Castrol oil and racing fuel these blokes ooze out of every pore. Literally. A canvas back pack with some personal items and a pile of tools and parts underneath a rag, that’s the camp these British gentlemen put up in the paddock. No posh trailers, no crew, no nothing. Simply drive your pre-war racer half across Europe on the road to the next event. No game for the feeble.
Combining two pairs of old shoes to create one wearable pair, a hippie blouse from the salvation army counter, who cares what your appearance looks like, as long as your racing overall meets the safety standards. Most people watching this smudged little spectacle won’t think much of it. Those scruffy boys covered in grease, tinkering away on their vehicles in a seemingly uninterested manner. Cars that look a bit run down to say the least. Well used. For the best of ninety odd years. Or more. Tracks, or should we say scars of nearly a century of heavy abuse on the limits of what gravity allows, leave a knackered appearance. It all looks a little as if someone has no budget, no means at all, but well, still wants to compete anyway.
Things aren’t what they look like, here everything is being put aside to race. As soon as the engines are fired up, these antique marvels start puffing their heavenly fumes, the faces tighten. You can feel the adrenaline rushing, the fanaticism. These guys aren’t here to parade the circuit. When at the exit of the paddock Tom Waterfields GN Dragonfly stalls, tension rises to an incredible high. They look, smell, shout and push. Up until the 95 year old machine growlingly bursts into life again. Just in time. Ready for the heat of the battle on the soaking wet road track against the ramparts of the ancient fortified city.
Hughie Walkers’ Frazer-Nash Martyr is eight years younger that his pals GN. Looking a little smaller and more fragile too, but nevertheless just as capable to bring ecstasy to the audience. Drifting widely both cars tear through the streets of Angoulême. This is pre-war racing at the limit. Of the cars, the circuit, but surely not of these young men driving. They are looking for the limits of their material, asking the ultimate of their tired machinery. As if it were the last thing they’d ever do. Return to the paddock, fists still clenched. Even before they get out of their cars the race is being reviewed. Whoever got in their way gets it. Whatever wasn’t fair is booed. The excitement and adrenaline of half an hour on limit battle. That’s when reality kicks in. Second place. Congratulations are shared. Where grimaces fade into broad smiles. This is the promising future of pre-war racing at its best.
Marc GF Zaan
foto’s: Raymond van der Meij