BANGER BOYS OF BRITAIN
Amid a thick haze of exhaust fumes and the scream of revving engines, a pair of clapped out cars ram headlong into each other. The bumper hangs off one, whilst the other has lost both its rear wheels, barely recognisable as the Vauxhall Astra it once was. The race is over and Pikey Mikey's is the only car left moving. He can now disengage his victim, pick his way through the wreckage of his adversaries, and begin his victory lap.
Throughout south eastern England, Banger racers meet regularly to smash up the cars they have been working on all week. Stripped of normal features and fitted with re-enforcements, the cars are daubed in colourful paint and scrawled in slogans advertising junkyards, hair salons or messages to girlfriends. Racers travel from Eastbourne to Yarmouth, from Aldershot to Ipswich to take part - all with a banger strapped to the back of a truck. Drivers pour hard-earned cash and hours of physical labour into resuscitating a car to compete with and as the week progresses, excitement builds.
The infamous Destruction Derby epitomises the banger spirit. In this final race of the night, the oval track is turned into a figure of eight and the winner is the last car moving. This gladiatorial contest leaves the audience roaring with applause and falling about in hysterical laughter. Both driver and spectator visibly lust after this violent and explosive moment, which seems to satisfy a fundamental human instinct for destruction.
However, behind the reckless bravado is a surprising resourcefulness, entirely at odds with the 21st Century draw of consumerism. Whilst European governments are initiating schemes to encourage the purchase of new cars to kickstart flagging economies, this community bashes the dents out of misshapen door panels and reuses auto parts time and again in the most innovative ways. The lovingly painted vehicles look like relics from a traditional fairground as they are winched off the trucks with cranes - gaudy, joyful and quirky.
You only need to spend a couple of minutes in the pits to become aware of the codes of conduct, social hierarchies and strength of community that exists between racers. Many have started in childhood, growing up watching their parents race, and proudly continue the family tradition. Gang rivalries and feuds that fester between the teams are generally countered by an overall sense of camaraderie.
Some drivers say that the sport has kept them “off the streets” and it's easy to see why. Banger racing offers all the danger, machismo and gang mentality that a young person could want. Certainly, despite its costliness, the drama and violence that goes on inside the stadium allows the drivers to vent their frustration and exorcise a deep-seated need for combat - something that's probably inherent in all of us.
When I asked a number of racers whether they saw their sport as simultaneously creative and destructive. The response was always the same: “Nope. It’s just a good day out”.