The Belchford Downhill Challenge 16 September, 2012.
We are Leire & Dunton Scouts from South Leicestershire; building a Scout car seemed like a good idea, but one you push downhill fast – even better.
So last December four Scouts, Emily Smith, Oliver Fletcher, Carter Molyneux and Tom Hill, assembled an assortment of scrap push bikes. A donation of wheels from Bikes4All in Leicester, and some old village hall chairs and they were off. Scouts, angle grinders & a bit of welding (thanks Bill the Weld ) – risk assessment hell, but great fun. A few testing mishaps were resolved with a winch and hammer – and we finally have a competition downhill gravity cart!
The Belchford Downhill Challenge is a soapbox cart race in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Beauty, attracting over 3000 spectators. With a 50m drop over the 650m of the course, carts reach 45mph and with the chicanes, it is very exciting. There were 50 competitors, including teams from Triumph Motorcycles, BBC Radio Lincolnshire, Formula Gravity / Gadget Show, as well as Lincoln Wayfarer Explorer Scouts (who were extremely welcoming). The cart had to pass race scrutineering on Saturday night – and after a few tweaks to the brakes we were certified as fit to race. Leaving just enough time to visit Skegness for Fish & Chips and see the Skeggy Illuminations. Over night our Scouts families and grandparents made their way to Skeggy, great to have their support.
Race day started at 7am with a quick get away from Tom Thumb Holt Scout campsite, to be at the drivers briefing for 8am, but the Scouts excitement was so high that this wasn’t a problem. Each team had three timed runs of the hill to try and win. We started 9th and Emily was the first driver to go, and as she waited in the start queue a local media crew turned up and strapped a camera to the cart, it suddenly felt very serious. A quick push start and she was off with a good steady run down to the first corner, then a clean drive through the first chicane. Emily straightened up and started to pick up speed down the straight, about half way down the cart looked very unstable, weaving from side to side, “I just thought this is getting interesting, and held on to the steering until it stopped wobbling” said Emily. The cart kept going and Emily had a penalty free finish through the second chicane, with a finish time of 106 seconds. A huge sigh of relief from us leaders, only 3 more to go.
Our second driver was Carter, a good start through the first corner and into the chicane, turn one, turn two, crash, bang and a few nervous seconds as Carter is unstrapped from the cart, helmet removed, and a big smile. But the cart hadn’t faired as well as Carter, the steering and brakes were damaged and we had an hour before the third start.
Lunchtime was lost to frantic repairs but we did it and got Oliver to the start line. Oliver is very competitive “I’m not going to go faster” he told us, but seeing the crash he’d decided to go for less haste and more speed, well at least to get across the finish line. With the lead carts now finishing in 50 seconds, Oliver’s run looked like slow motion as he crossed the line in 160 seconds – but he’d done it and got a huge cheer from the crowds.
The final run is a head-to-head race, and Carter was challenged by the Ferrari styled “Red Mist”. “I’m just going to brake all the way down so I finish” declared Carter. But racing a Ferrari proved too much to hold back, and Carter dropped behind Red Mist to clear the first corner, and make his way down the straight. The Ferrari moved away and as Carter pursued he caught a rut in the road, took a sharp turn into the bale wall and rolled over, sliding down the track. It looked horrific and as St Johns Ambulance staff started to run towards the cart, us leaders and Carters family set off fearing injury. As we approached in near panic, we saw the cart starting to go down the hill again, surely not we thought… “they told me not to move and that the ambulance people were coming; I said I’m not hurt, can you push me” and so he finished the second half of the track to the biggest cheer of the day.
We had the slowest time of the day and most crashes, but it didn’t matter we had all had a fantastic day – I’d had probably my most stressed Scout weekend – but the Scouts had an amazing experience making it all worthwhile. On the way home they were already planning next years cart!
It’s not an activity to take lightly, even following the rules you have to do a lot to make sure its safe, but it was all worth it. But maybe next time we’ll stick to National Scout Car racing and use pedals! To see the video search “Belchford Downhill Madness” on YouTube.
Alan Hill, GSL, Leire & Dunton, South Leicestershire.