25 July, 2014

The Petrolhead Pensioners go Go-Karting

 by Jack Adams 

Jack and Geoff Bowman, at Jack's wedding
The Butterwick Hospice advertised in our local gazette for volunteers for a sponsored go-kart endurance race in February 2012, so I thought it would be a good idea to make up a team of geriatrics, the youngest being a mere slip of a lad of 65, the other three being 70. We named our team the “Petrolhead Pensioners”. After a postponement due to icy conditions on the track it was rearranged for 16th March. On the night, the Petrolhead Pensioners arrived at the circuit suitably equipped with walking sticks. Little did I know at the time this was tempting fate. After a safety talk it was off to the start of a 20 minute practice.

When you leave the pits, you are supposed to follow the track to the left; unfortunately a couple of drivers had not been paying attention and cut out right. If a marshal had not run out and turned them around, there would have been a head-on crash. “Young” Ron was first out, but after one lap he was back in the pits looking very shaken. Ron has pretty poor eyesight at the best of times but due to the circuit having floodlights only on the outside of the circuit, he had great difficulty picking out the corners on the inner parts.

Being the team leader (well, it was my idea), I suggested in the interests of safety that Ron would act as our pit board marshal. We were now down to three drivers who were due to change every 12 to 15 laps. My old mate Geoff Bowman had twisted his ankle a few days earlier and was very dodgy on his travelling gear, his legs, so I suggested he stand down after 45 minutes. This left Bob and me to carry the flag. Five minutes later, Bob took a nasty shunt and damaged his ribs, and then there was one. With only 25 minutes to go, I felt fit enough to stay on track for the remainder of the race.

There was one driver whom nobody was able to catch; it turned out he was the UK and Lemans endurance champion. He thought there was prize money at stake, and was most annoyed when Laura the organiser informed him it would cost £10 per team member, plus every driver must raise at least £40. I don’t know if this put him in a bad mood, but he wiped the floor with the rest of us. By now the PPs were at the bottom of the board, as it had taken 5 minutes to get Geoff in and out of the kart at every one of his pit stops.

I decided to try and keep up with the faster drivers and was doing quite well until I was on the back straight going flat out when this kart overtook me and cut across my racing line. I learned that one from watching F1 on TV. At the safety talk we were told all the karts were equal but it was obvious that some were faster than others. The kart that passed me was, I think, driven by a female. This was adding to my frustration, and I gave chase through a series of tight bends until I came to the tightest hairpin on the track. Every time I came to this point I had used the grass to go around; this time three karts had slowed down and were spread out with no way through. I clipped one kart, and then some idiot rear-ended me, propelling me into the safety barrier. I must have still been doing about 40 mph when I hit it head on. There were two rows of tyres in front, but they did nothing to slow me down.

I could not move my right arm without it causing me great pain. No, I did not cry; what a brave lad I was! As instructed, I sat in the kart and raised my left arm to show I was in trouble. In a few seconds a marshal (or he may have been a sheriff, ha ha), came running over and asked if I was ok. Was this bloke for real? I was sitting in a kart that by now had almost no steering gear that wasn't twisted, and I was in a world of pain. No, I was not ok! My main concern was the fact that our kart had been running for over one hour and the exhaust was still very hot. If the crash had fractured a fuel line, I could be barbecued very well done. When his mate arrived, he asked me the same stupid questions.

I told them in no uncertain terms to get me out of the kart and not to worry about my screams or bad language. After they got me out I tried to stand but the pain down my right side was so bad I collapsed in a heap. They asked if I had relatives in the pits so I gave them Theresa’s name. When they located her, they told her to be prepared for the worst as they thought I may have suffered a heart attack or a stroke. When she arrived she was in a worse state than me, but when she saw me she said, “You stupid b-------! He has not had a heart attack or a stroke!”

I assured Theresa that there was nothing broken. They then said they had called an ambulance, but if it couldn't make it quickly enough they would call in the air ambulance. Great! I may get a lift in a helicopter. When the paramedics arrived, they checked me over again and then loaded me and Theresa into the “meat wagon” and off we went to the James Cook hospital. I got talking to the paramedic, who informed me they were called out to that track every week and there had been two fatalities. Nobody mentioned this fact when I volunteered!

In the waiting room there was a strange collection of people: one was handcuffed to a policeman who looked a very unsavoury character. The prisoner looked dodgy as well. When my name was called they wheeled me in for inspection. The most painful part was getting me out of the overalls, but after a lot of screaming (again, I did not cry), I was down to my underwear and off for an x-ray. Now, I have been x-rayed many times but this guy covered everything, and I mean everything. I must have been in there well over half an hour.

When they had finished with me, Theresa and Bob wheeled me back to the cubicle. I must explain at this point that neither Theresa nor Bob have any sense of direction, and as Bob suffers from short-term memory loss, it took three attempts to finally find the right cubicle. While I was waiting for the results, they wheeled in a speedway rider from the same venue as me. Theresa got chatting to him and found out he was from Prague. Suddenly I was forgotten, but only for a few minutes... Again, I did not cry! What a brave lad I was.

The doctor popped his head round the corner to inform me that there was nothing broken. I turned to Theresa with a rather smug look on my face that said “I told you so.” He asked if I needed anything so I asked for a pair of crutches, as I was determined to make it to the club on Saturday night. Bob and Val, who had been great with me all night, brought the car almost to the door and after a great deal of bad language, managed to get me into the car and home. Getting out at the other end was a different kettle of fish; once out, I tried to get moving, but the stupid crutches refused to work. Val suggested that I try to hop on my good leg. Theresa looked her in the eye and said, “Val, 70 year old men do not hop even when not injured!” I am afraid I did cry, but it was with laughing so much. With all the laughter and screaming going on, it was a wonder all the road was not out, bearing in mind it was now 0030hrs.

The next problem was the stairs: with advice coming from three directions, I disconnected my hearing aids and after half an hour managed to get upstairs on my backside and drag myself into the bedroom. Bob undressed me — Yes, I made sure the curtains were closed — and left me in Theresa’s capable hands. I spent the next three days in bed with Nurse Theresa tending to my every need.

Though we did not win a team trophy, I did receive a trophy from my mate Gary announcing me as “The Crash-Kart King.” According to Gary, my team was not the slowest on the circuit: the ambulance was slower by a few seconds. Ha bloody ha. After three days, I was getting stir crazy so I got Theresa to bring in an office chair on casters. This gave me more freedom and I could manage to get myself into the bathroom using my crutches as a propellant. It was another couple of days before I was able to use the crutches, and then I was up and running. Well, not quite running. The next step was to manage the stairs. This I had to do while Theresa was downstairs as she had strictly banned this manoeuvre. She went ballistic when she caught me half way down.

Nine days after the accident I staggered into the club on my crutches feeling very conspicuous, but after a few rums I felt a lot less so going home. The next day was the day I was waiting for: after a lot of pain, I managed to get back behind the wheel of my new car. Six weeks after the accident, I was still in pain from my shoulder, and waiting for an appointment with a specialist for some injections. As it happened, the injections did me no good as it was the capsular that had partially seized up, so an operation was necessary.

My specialist passed me on to Professor Rangan. According to my GP he was sympathetic to older patients when other surgeons were loathe to take them on due to the failure rate. After an interview, the Prof decided to take me on and I was admitted into the private Nuffield hospital. The operation was a success, but the physiotherapy was a nightmare, my “physioterrorist” as I called her was a pretty young lass called Jonquil, and she proceeded to put me through two months of hell. I am glad to say it worked out very well.

Was it worth it? I think so, but I must stop my brain writing out cheques my body cannot pay. I wrote a letter to the company who own the circuit but it was like talking to the village idiot who had loaned out his one brain cell. When I brought up the subject of the lack of lighting and bad marking on the corners the representative said he walked the course prior to every meeting to check everything is safe. I pointed out there is a world of difference between walking the course and driving it at 60 mph. I again broached the subject of the bad marking of the corners but he said they were painted every year! After half an hour of trying to get any sense out of him I was rapidly losing the will to live and terminated the conversation.

On a brighter note, the event looks likely to raise over £3000 for our local Butterwick Hospice, so yes, it was worth it, despite all the pain!

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