Banger Racing

Banger Racing survives against all the odds. A beautiful and subversive world in this age of digitalisation.

This visceral beacon from decades past still remains and thrives; with all its characteristic rawness and eccentricity. The customised cars – works of art in their own right – are smashed and crashed in the violence of the hard races, to be reworked and rebuilt to fight on. The wonder of these metal monsters and the pride and passion around the community is enthralling.

Banger Racing is not just a sport, but a culture that is rich and vibrant, as much as it is, pure and unpretentious.

The crash, bang, wallop of a Banger Racing meeting is the hook for most people. This glorious carnage is a hellishly colourful cacophony of crashes; coupled with mad driving with maximum thrills and spills. But there is more to it than just smashing stuff up.

Race tracks are mainly oval, although on some occasions, they change them to figures of eight and the cars used for racing generally start out as simple road vehicles but through whatever reason are scrapped. This is where the banger racers get hold of them. They gut them, modify and strengthen cars, with improvised roll cages and a few metal plates. Then, finally, the cars are ready. Some paint them up with their team colours or their own renegade combinations, some just daub numbers on the side, but either way they are ready to go.

The best drivers use some great skills to win their races; there are tactics at play as well as a large dose of bravery…Oh and madness.

Every driver in the race wants to win, to complete the allotted amount of laps of the circuit, getting out in front of the pack and crossing the finish line first to take the chequered flag. However, unlike less robust racing formulas, you can smash the fuck out of your opponents to stop them from winning (apart from the lighter contact ‘Rookie’ formula).

The racing is furious, brutal and the damage is exceptional. This is taken to the extreme with the ‘DD’ (Destruction Derby) the last race of the day. After all the heats and the competition finals have been run, the DD takes things to a whole other level. Unlike the rest of the races, the DD throws away the notion of crossing the line and winning. Instead, the last car moving wins and destruction of your opponents ride is the objective. It produces wild moments of showmanship as well as terrifyingly smashing collisions. There isn’t anything like it!

Prizes and glory, well it’s not about the money, this ain’t Formula One. There are some meetings that have larger amounts of prize money to win, but in general it is the competition and the ‘doing it’ that spurs the racers on. Race victors do get trophies but I’m not sure how solid some of these silver looking cups really are, however, it’s what they represent that counts.

Often on the race days there are different categories that are invited along in support of the main Banger Races. It could be non-contact Stock Cars or even formulas that allow kids to race. It’s good that the young un’s are also getting a piece of the action. How exciting that must be for a kid!

I have childhood memories of Banger Racing. Not racing, but going along as a spectator, to the old track at Rayleigh Weir in Essex. Watching the races from my dad’s shoulders, this was years ago but the memories have remained with me.

I decided to find out what had happened to the sport between then and now. Had the powers of mediocrity neutralised and sanitised it? Had the laws of Health and Safety taken away this visceral and appeal ? Had it hell! It’s pretty much exactly the same, ok there are a few more safety fences to stop the cars from catapulting out of the track onto the spectators but…the smell, the taste and the spectacle, the danger and the thrill are all still there.

Have you been? If you have, you will know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, well you really must go.

Banger racing is about primal pleasures, a spirit and a notion of belonging and family. Getting close to the racing, the pits, the characters, the smell, sound and taste immerses you. This to me is pure fun; it is a very down to earth honest thing. There is something undeniable about it.

An Orwellian background drone voice describes the race action and making public announcements over the tannoy, creates a strangely comforting undercurrent throughout the day.

Most mornings when the cars arrive at the track it is bitterly cold. On days like these I have a bit of a ritual, straight in the queue with the drivers and crew to get breakfast, a bacon and tomato sauce roll, washed down with a polystyrene cup of coffee. Don’t even turn your nose up at this – as this is the moment you realise, that in actual fact if you are talking about the current obsessions with food, none of the Nouveau coffee shops can come near to this moment. The old ladies that serve up this grub have totally nailed it. Step aside Jamie, Gordon and Heston. This is perfection.

On hot dry days, the dust gets in your teeth, behind your ears and up your nose. You can feel it on your lips and as cars manoeuvre, clouds of dust covers everything. On wet days you feel the water dripping down and running off your hands. On the ground the puddles are dirty with oil and all manner of lubricants creating psychedelic oil well patterns. In a way, it can feel like you are in an automotive Battle of the Somme with the sheer physicality of it.

As the cars are worked on, spectators, family and friends as well as the pit crews of the racers, gather in the pits. People will stand around barracking each other laughing. That is until a car comes in that is in need of a fix, then it’s ‘all hands to the pump’.

When the cars return from their race and enter the pits for repair things get really frantic. Hammers banging, angle grinders searing and sparking, high pressured hisses and wheel nut drills clatter. Cut down exhaust pipes omit deep throated guttural sonics from coughing and spluttering battle wagons as they blast around the race preparation area.

The brutal manner that the grease covered pit crews use to resurrect the damaged cars, race after race, can be easily underestimated. It might look like they are just smacking the cars with big heavy tools, wrenching and yanking out the vehicles vital organs in a violent uncontrolled way. Actually, what you are seeing is practical physics at work. Within minutes a car that looks like a broken concertinaed hulk has been straightened out, rebuilt and it’s ready to race again. Admittedly these brutal repairs leave their marks but aesthetics and any value systems employed by other racing formulas are left at the entrance gate, this is banger racing.

Some drivers go solo but there are several teams that race too, as you can imagine there’s a lot of camaraderie and bonding. There’s a fair bit of baiting the other opponents too, mostly it is good nature. Only rarely does it boil over. In general, off the track crews really help each other out, even lending opponents parts to help them to fix their cars to get out and race. On the track however, it is a different matter. On the track it is war!

- Dean Chalkley

Thanks to:

Arena Essex : All the still photographs were shot at Arena Essex

Spedeworth Motorsports : ‘The Arena’ Short film was made at the raceway in Aldershot with kind permission from Spedeworth Motorsports

Thanks to all the racers in all the formulas, spectators and organisers of the meetings and tracks, big respect to you all.

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