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Tony Dron, April 2011

It’s time to follow the American way

Tony Dron

If the superb organic food produced on the Goodwood estate is beyond his pocket, maybe he should try the Pukka Pies at Harewood
Americans are wonderful people and that includes their historic – or ‘vintage’, as they call it – racers. Many Americans speak better English than we do now and much of their social history is shared with the British. So much so that it sometimes feels quite odd, when I visit the States, to be treated as a foreigner. Many pockets of their country seem curiously linked to a long gone old England.

The hospitable Americans, ever helpful towards the British visitor, do strange things to make us feel at home, ignoring the fact that when we are there we don’t have any strong sense of being in a strange land. Many Americans, with kindness in their hearts, have tried to convert miles to kilometres for me. When I ask them, equally politely, where they think they got their miles from, they haven’t got a clue.

Whether we like it or not, and I don’t care for it much myself, we British are shifting to the metric system. It’s all quite odd and mixed up at the moment, this metric thing. Car journeys are always expressed in miles but yards are slipping out of fashion. It’s already common, for example, to say that a fuel station is 500 metres down the road. We have pints of beer but litres of petrol, yet still we talk of miles per gallon even though I’m sure the gallon ceased to be an official measure of volume in the UK on 1 January 2000.

Until recently, I had thought it quite rude of the Americans to have their own, independent volume for a gallon. Now I find that they were right all along. Today’s US gallon is actually a traditional British gallon. We invented the Imperial gallon, which was 1.201 times the volume of the old one, more than a decade before Queen Victoria was crowned. Quite why we decided to do that, 48 years after the United States Declaration of Independence, I don’t really know, but I can quite understand why the Americans took no notice of us whatsoever.

This train of thought was sparked off by a rather bizarre letter. I’m not sure who wrote it but it was sent to an American friend of mine, who forwarded the text to me. As it amounted to a violent attack on every aspect of historic racing in the UK, my American friend wanted to get my views. He got them, in terms that I cannot really repeat here.

This man criticised everything, including the spectators at one of our most outstanding events, whom he described as disgusting people who have no interest in motor sport but just want to latch onto an event where they can dress up and drink. Ticket prices are too high for this chap and he finds he gets pushed around by bouncers at British events.

Perhaps he should try joining in and dressing a bit more smartly? The sad fact is that the world has been sold a pup by American sportswear manufacturers. When the security people spot this curmudgeonly bloke approaching, they probably take one look at each other and say ‘We’ve got a right one ’ere’. No doubt they deal with him appropriately.

His vitriolic tirade did raise one good point: the creeping menace of unreasonable noise restrictions. I would agree that we have to fight back on that one, albeit in a logical, calm manner.

Vintage racing in the States, of which I have done quite a bit, is great but I found this man’s rude attitude to British historic racing ludicrous. We are lucky to have the most fabulous variety of race meetings, rallies, hillclimbs and sprints in Britain and we are spoilt for choice almost every weekend right through the season. If our friend finds the superb organic food produced on the Goodwood estate beyond his pocket, maybe he should try the Pukka Pies at Harewood. They are excellent, too, in my humble opinion.

The one thing this chap could have attacked, but didn’t, is the driving standards question. The Americans have got this right. Over there, any contact between ‘vintage’ cars is deeply frowned upon and thoroughly investigated by officials and drivers’ committees. Offenders get booted out, on the double.

This subject isn’t new but, despite much worthy talk, things have got worse. I reckon there was more panel-bashing and wheel-tangling in our historic races last year than ever before. We pay this matter lip service and then gloss over what are euphemistically referred to as ‘racing incidents’. Maybe it’s time to follow the American way.


Having started his racing career in Formula Ford, Tony made a name for himself in 1970s Touring Cars and since then has raced an astonishing variety of sports and historic machinery. He is also a hugely respected journalist.

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