Written by Andy Lawrence
Did this really happen? Writing this two days on and I still can't quite believe what unfolded at the Wacky Races in Shrewsbury this Bank Holiday weekend... Slightly mad ideas clearly pay off occasionally it seems!
Sometimes things happen for a reason.They simply must.
Karma/cause & effect/fate, whatever.... Now I'm not getting all Stonehenge on you here but what unfolded this Bank Holiday weekend was just incredible! I'll explain:
Sometime last year Sarah Belcher released plans to hold the first Shrewsbury Wacky Races soap box derby in the Quarry. Fellow Severn Business Network member Stephanie Henson relayed this information to our group as a potential fundraiser for our nominated charity the Midlands Air Ambulance.
A collective 'yes' was instantly forthcoming and our entry immediately placed.
"We have to build a Vulcan bomber!" I said. I don't really know why that was my first thought - it just was. A few furrowed brows and contemplative chin strokes among some of my fellow networkers eventually gave way to one of those collective "what are we getting ourselves into, but ok Andy?" types of consent..
Roll forward about five months and around 90 combined hours of build input alongside my colleague Dave Morgan and fellow SBNer Steve Longland, and we had ourselves a pretty credible replica soap box Vulcan. With scrutineering passed (without issue I must add) at event sponsor Hatfield Landrover/Jaguar's place in Shrewsbury, it was onto the main event ten days later on the 26th May.
Now what I didn't know at that time was that a member of one of the other teams waiting for scrutineering, (Flozzas Trotters) had taken a picture of our racer and sent it on to his good friend Ian. In fact, it was only when everyone was set up and ready for the first run down the hill that he (and I apologise profusely for not remembering his name because I'm eternally grateful to him!) came over to me and explained that his mate might pop in during the day to see the Vulcan we'd built. Oh, and also dropped out that this was a real life retired RAF VULCAN PILOT!!!! Now to say this caused a little excitement is a bit of an understatement. We tried not to get our hopes up too much though so got back to the job in hand…
And onto the race… Following our first run down the hill, which saw a reasonable time posted, despite a few seconds lost through a wing clip on the chicane, I began to mentally prepare for a cleaner & faster second run with a view to booking a space in the final. Echoes of Port Stanley were running through my mind!! : )
And then quite literally, the whole day changed! An understated and incredibly personable gentleman came to our paddock area and introduced himself as Ian Prior - ex Vulcan pilot. He and his wife Sue had called by just to have at look at OUR Vulcan! This is a man who'd flown every operational MK2 Vulcan including the very famous XH558 (ours was SBN558!!) and had sat hour after hour poised to be airborne within 2 minutes and set to deliver a pretty unpleasant package - and he'd come to see us!! Talk about an honour and an absolute mind bender. In terms of what the day could bring, this would never had entered anyone's mind, why would it?
After regaling us with numerous fascinating stories I simply had to ask him (I think I might have begged but memory is hazy) if he'd be prepared to take on our second run down the hill. It simply had to happen. I mean, this sort of thing is truly once in a lifetime isn't it? Who cares about the timing or top ten accolades, right? I wouldn't have cared if he'd taken 20 minutes to get down at that point!
A little consultation with his very good lady wife, a hastily completed driver registration form and a quick sizing up for the compulsory attire later and we had us a very special moment about to unfold!
It also just so happened that at the time a Midlands Today film crew were in the paddock area, and they quickly learned about events occurring. Needless to say they were straight on it!
So the crowds had really started to amass leading up to our start and word was fast spreading amongst the crowd, fuelled further by the PA announcement of a last minute change of driver - and who said driver was.
We had a little stage act before the start, which our ground crew duly performed, and then a swift push saw our pilot heading towards a huge sea of faces either side of the track.
Now ok, it didn't go quite as smoothly as it could have. One of the folding wing mounts broke and Ian’s instinctive piloting skills were at opposite to the steering set up on SBN558! But following three close 'fly-bys' with the crowd, he managed to take it all the way down the hill past an applauding and appreciative audience.
This story has since been featured on Midlands Today, the BBC News national website and has made the front page on our local Shropshire Star newspaper as well as exploding over social media – and has clearly touched the hearts and captured the imagination of many.
For Sarah, a fantastic piece to truly round off an incredible first event and promises a huge following for the 2020 races. For me and the Severn Business Network team, incredible moments we'll no doubt re-live forever.
We truly hope Ian enjoyed the day too. The smile on his face while he sat in the seat of a Vulcan again (yes, ok, only a soap box Vulcan but just roll with it though, it’s good for the storytelling!!) was absolutely priceless and I hope it forms part of his own ongoing storytelling for years to come!
So you see, I’m sure things genuinely do happen for a reason every now and then. (Now where's a tree. I need a hug!)
I have to add credit in the making of SBN558 to: Andrew from SBC Training for preparation of the brake hubs and discs, CVL Group Ltd for donating the body and fuselage material, Jason King from Bayfield Vehicle Hire for the logistics of transporting this thing around everywhere, Dave Griffiths Racing for welding the brake assembly in place, Frank Smith for the stunning paint job, Graham Chidley for the sound system (yes the engines were speakers which played out the famous Vulcan howl as it went down the hill) and of course our intrepid ground crew including David Hill and Rob Tolley. Numerous further SBN members for their charity fund raising throughout the day too!