So my Stag Weekend had begun. It began at 5.30am when I got up to go the airport and catch my flight down to London. Glasgow was grey and wet when I left, whereas the weather at Stansted was hot and sunny. A nice way to start the weekend - my jacket was packed into my large bag and didn't come out again until my return on Sunday evening. Magic!
After a seeing a bit of London and eventually picking my car up at Gatwick we went karting on the Friday night in Crawley, having a superb time. I can now highly recommend karting as a group activity.
It ended up with twelve of us meeting for a one and a half hour race. It was the first time I had ever been karting at such a venue, so along with my team-mates (Nick and Pat) we took the rookie positions as the "Skoda Chasers".
We were racing against "Palace" (made up of the just-met Gavin, Martin and Gary), "The No-Hopers" (made up of legendary Palace fan Alan Russell, my old mate [and sooner to be Formula Ford racer] Dave Goodhand and one of Dave's mates, a guy called Ash) and "Bankrupt Racing" (formed by a guy called Jason, although I didn't get to know any of the team which eventually turned up).
The drivers briefing was delayed because Pat wasn't feeling too well, but eventually we started (without Pat, who turned up mid-way through it). After getting a bit of practice in the race started, and ominously Nick had been left out there with very little practice. It wasn't long before we were being passed over and over by just about everyone.
Nick came in and I replaced him, and after an exhausting stint Pat replaced me. I didn't have any idea just how hard it would be on the arms, or indeed on my quickly drying mouth. Ten minutes in a kart seemed like a long time, especially when you were literally finding your feet as you went along.
Pat came in (causing carnage by not putting his hand up as he did so), and was replaced by Nick. I suggested to Pat that we mix up our order so that we drove against different people. He agreed, and asked if it was okay for him to get his camera. As Nick had only just started driving I okayed it, as Nick wouldn't be in for about eight minutes yet. Small problem, as a few minutes later I saw Nick coasting in with his hand in the air. We were meant to be changing drivers, and our new driver wasn't even in the building! I scurried for my helmet and gloves and ran to the kart, at which point the marshal told me I needed to be ready quicker. However at the pre-race briefing they said it was better for a tired driver to come in rathern than continue, so I fully supported Nick's decision to come in.
Out I went and with the surprise of catching up to someone I hit them in the back when a red light came on. Not a big concern, I apologised and tookt the opportunity to have a breather. However it was a difficult stint, as I started to develop a cramp in my right foot. I was trying to keep the car going quickly, but brushed against the barriers a few times. One time down the back straight I got a "No Bumping" board. I did not realise but it was our second offence (both my fault I believe), putting us one more offence away from a 30-second stop and go penalty. However I felt a lot better when I actually stuck an overtaking move on someone - needless to say that felt great!
I came flagging in, barely able to lift my right arm to indicate that I was doing so. I was told I needed to keep my arm up longer, which almost made me crack up with laughter as it was so difficult to do. Pat took my place as I tottered away from the kart, exhausted and very, very thirsty.
Before long Pat had hit something else, and we were in for our penalty. Again we were at a disadvantage because Pat had missed this part of the briefing and processed to:
1) Park in the wrong place.
2) Leave the kart, making a 30-second penalty a two and half minute one!
In various shifts we came up with a few ideas to help us along the way (we were a long behind in last place), including giving a five-fingered sign that we were half-way through a shift to help us pace ourselves. In my first shift after we started using this method I felt a lot better and felt like I was competing at a better pace. Indeed I was now clocking laps at just over 22 seconds, much better than my early 26 second efforts.
The more we drove the more enjoyed ourselves. We got better and faster, while Nick kept other drivers behind him in determined (but not dirty) fashion, while Pat was slinging the kart around in a far more effective fashion and waving every time we made a signal to him (in a manner becoming an English gentleman - I was cracking up at his every move). Time was winding down, but I got one last shift in. At times I wondered if we had got an extra thirty minutes, but thankfully I achieved my aim of my last shift and got one lap in at 21.85 seconds. Not blindingly quick, but I broke 22 seconds as I had hoped to do.
So one sub 22 second lap, a couple of passes and lots of fun. Oddly as fourth placed finishers we got a bottle of champagne (sorry, cheap fizzy white stuff) first, and I had great fun spraying it around. Naturally I got somewhat doused myself, but thankfully I was wearing an old t-shirt and had planned for that to happen.
A great night, rounded up by meeting Neil in The Snooty Fox pub in Crawley afterwards. The weather was lovely, and it was nice to be able to enjoy a drink outside at 11pm on a Friday night. A great start to what I was sure would be a great weekend.
(Karting link gokartingforfun.com)