A Weekend at Autograss Racing – An Outsider’s View

Have you ever been Autograss Racing? No? Nor us. Life is all about new experiences, right? I (Joel) have a philosophy of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. You don’t really know what something is like until you’ve tried it, like fishing. Fishing looked boring, but I couldn’t categorically say it was boring until I tried it. Trying it confirmed it was boring. Sorry, fishing fans! Ha! I actually tried it a few times, just to make sure.

Anyway, back to what I was saying about experiences. This weekend was a new experience for Stacey and me. A good friend of mine, Dek, races cars in the Shropshire Autograss League. I couldn’t really understand why, and here’s why. He spends only a few minutes on an average weekend racing his car around an oval track. Sounds odd, I thought, how someone can love something so much when there is so little racing. But how can you understand something when you have no experience in it whatsoever? You can’t, can you? So, after countless conversations about trying to understand the fascination behind it, Dek invited us along for a weekend to see what all the hype was about.

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Dek in his Autograss Racing Class 9 car

The weekend cost £60, plus food and fuel. Camping for two nights was £10 and the entrance fee for Stacey and me was £50. A bargain for a tight northerner to enjoy two nights camping and a weekend of racing, I’d say. Would you agree? For the first time in forever, we stayed in one location for an entire day, which seemed a bit odd. Ha! But it was a very good day to stay in one location, with the temperature reaching 29 degrees…it was a hot one!

What is Autograss Racing?

According to the National Autograss Sport Association website, Autograss is motorsport’s best-kept secret. Autograss racing is a form of amateur motor racing in the United Kingdom, with origins dating back to the 1960s. You might also hear it being referred to as grass track racing. One of the benefits behind Autograss racing is that it can be cheap to get involved with, depending what class you want to race in.

There is some fancy tackle at the meetings though, in the form of extravagant motorhomes and finely tuned race cars, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it is professional motorsport. But it all happens in a farmer’s field. The tracks are not fixed, like a normal race track and are either just a grass or mud surface.

If you’re interested in attending as a spectator or getting involved in Autograss racing, you can find out more information HERE.

I also noticed there’s an insane amount of logistics involved in an Autograss racing weekend, by the look of it. It’s not as simple as just turning up and racing around a track if your club is organising the weekend. Everything must be prepared and I think that needs to be appreciated. There is a lot of effort that goes in behind the scenes and what appears to be a lot to think about. There were tractors with bowsers to keep the track moist because of the heat, rollers to keep the track in good order, toilets, food trucks, health and safety considerations and staff to do all the jobs…the list goes on.

Autograss Racing – The Good Stuff

The Social Side

Somehow, I got roped into taking pictures and after an entire day of shooting and baking in the Shropshire sun, I was ready for a rest! And this is where the beauty of Autograss racing comes together – in the social side. On Saturday night, I found myself in conversation with people I didn’t even know. I missed the introductions, you see. Stacey has since told me who they are.

But it didn’t matter, because that’s the friendly nature of Autograss racing. A huge selling point for Autograss is the social side. Despite the competition on the track, there is a friendly atmosphere between the racers and their families and it’s a pleasure to see such a strong bond in a community.

It’s in the Blood…

The social side of Autograss racing is undoubtedly one of the factors that keep people returning and it’s in the blood of the families who attend. Not only does Dek race, but his wife, Ashlea, also races. And Dek’s mum and stepdad used to race. And Ashlea’s dad races. And Dek and Ashlea met at Autograss, as did Dek’s mum and stepdad. You get the point, I’m sure! But it’s this community that really binds the sport together. You can race from as young as ten years old, which is quite impressive…or insane, whichever way you want to look at it! Ha!

Only kidding – the kid’s classes are not the 90 miles per hour cars, you’ll be glad to know. Dek and Ashlea have a little boy who I expect will be behind the steering wheel of an Autograss car at the first available opportunity. Because of the family dedication, we got to meet Dek’s mum, Shiela, and stepdad, Derek, along with Ashlea’s dad, Bri, who had travelled from Cumbria! They all have fancy campers and motorhomes and looked after us for the weekend by plying us with beer and food, which was most welcome. Thanks, everyone!

The Photography

This point isn’t for everyone, but it certainly will be for some. The weekend was a bit of a challenge with the camera. For the first time in a long time, I had to really think about what I was doing with the camera. Photographing cars racing around a track at up to 90 miles an hour is not the same as my usual travel photography stuff. The skills are very, very different. I had no intention to even write a blog post for this, but it seems a waste not to, given I was tasked with taking some pictures.

However, photographing the cars on the track alone isn’t enough for me. It was a challenge, and it was fun, but it’s the other bits that really interest me, both photographically and generally. My curious mind was interested in the car. Thankfully, I had Derek to tell me all about the car. He’s a font of knowledge with the car and kept my curious mind entertained with a ton of information on how he looks after it and how it’s configured for racing.

He has a history of working on vehicles, starting his mechanical life in the British Army as a vehicle mechanic and ended up getting into the world of Autograss racing. Derek was definitely more interested in the car than being on camera and did a cracking job at keeping his face away from the lens, but I did manage one shot of him with Dek, for the record.

Derek and Dek

Thinking about it, here’s the thing with Dek and Autograss racing and probably explains why he loves it so much… he turns up, races the car, thrashes it, damages it and gets all the pleasure from it, while Derek fixes it and Shiela looks after him! Ha!

The Drama

Derek’s phone rings. It’s Dek. There’s a problem. And the next thing you see is Dek and Derek pushing the race car back to the pit. Then starts the diagnosis by removing panels from the car to see what’s going on. Now, I can start to see even more appeal to Autograss racing. Things get dramatic, fast, even in the pit lane. Sadly, after a win and second place on Saturday, the racing ended sooner than planned for Dek. Just before race three, there was a problem on the clutch that wasn’t a quick fix.

Although bad news for the racer and the mechanic, it was dramatic to witness – Dek is feeling the pinch of disappointment and the impact this will have on his season prospects and Derek is thinking about how he’s going to repair the clutch…and how much it’s going to cost. The problem with an amateur sport, I suppose, is that it’s self-funded. But it’s clear it’s all for the love, not the cost.

Thankfully, not all repairs stop play. Although Autograss racing is non-contact, there are often bumps and crashes, and you’ll find the racers taking a hammer to their cars to get the dents out. It’s even more dramatic on the track, too. The races don’t go on very long – only 4 laps each around a 400metre track, but in that short time there are bumps, scrapes, crashes, flips and incredible amounts of noise. Each class of Autograss is fitted with different engines and some of them have the most incredible rip-roaring sound. It’s quite the sensory overload, let me tell you.

Then there are the stones… the cars churn up the track, resulting in the surface being displaced. In some cases, stones are thrown with the mud. One hit Stacey on the leg and another one, measuring two-inch or so in length, flew over where we were sitting and dented the side of the caravan it hit. There’s no doubt it would have caused serious injury to someone… So, readers, motorsport can be dangerous…and not only for the racers! Ha!

After any experience, you ask yourself whether you would do it again, right? Fishing. No. Autograss racing…yes. We will definitely go back and enjoy another weekend of Autograss racing drama with the Autograss family.

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