I felt the cold bite as I lifted the duvet to silence the alarm. I usually like a lie in on a Saturday morning but today, it was not to be. Stephen Boden, a fellow racing enthusiast and classic car buff had been trying to persuade me to double drive at a Sporting Trial (commonly known as a Mudplug) for a while, and I had finally relented. Not my best decision, I thought as I showered and donned various thermals and layers of clothes. Unsurprisingly, it was not the last time I would visit the shower on this cold January day.
— Leo Nulty (@TopOfTheTower) January 9, 2016
I cranked up the car, loaded up a change of clothes and the trusty GoPro and headed towards Stephen’s house in Knocklyon. The outside temperature showed 3 degrees and I watched the sun rise over the Dublin mountains and once again I thought I should have substituted Jake Byrne or Nicole Drought or someone in my place and written about their experience from the warmth of my office. I arrived at chez Boden and there was our mount for the day, a state of the art Wilson-Suzuki alreaded loaded up and hitched to his Audi. After a quick coffee we hit the M50, Wicklow bound, having our usual banter- half classic cars, half Motorsport. The journey ended far too quickly as we arrived at the chosen venue- a muddy field just outside Rathdrum in County Wicklow!
First things first- on with the wellies and waterproofs, then we unloaded the car off the trailer and headed to race control. Ok, well maybe not race control, but we queued up with the rest to pay our entry to the lovely man in the Land Cruiser. One day licences are available for these events and having not raced in 2015, I took this option- at just €25 and paid my entry, also taking the opportunity to join the M.E.C. at the same time.
Stephen then pointed out a practise area and suggested I have a go on that one before we began. I promptly almost rolled his pride and joy! Let me explain, most Mudplug cars have just two pedals, clutch and throttle. There are two levers, easily visible in the pictures, called fiddle brakes. The left one operates on the left rear wheel and the right on on the right rear wheel. On Stephen’s car, there is also a third ,smaller, lever between those two, which operates the front brakes, for downhill sections. Confused? So when I tried and failed to climb a particularly steep slope, I began rolling backwards and instinctively pulled both fiddle brakes, causing a massive reverse wheelie and an even bigger intake of breath from those around me. Luckily I released the levers and my beast came back down onto all fours. Panic averted, we headed off to our first section…..
Having struggled just to get to the startline, I wasn’t expecting to be able to trouble the regulars on my debut and my first section proved me right. Through the first gate, Stephen had warned me to keep momentum up at all times or risk getting bogged down. On a particularly easy turn before the second gate, I slowed too much and that, as they say, was that! Despite plenty of vocal encouragement and copious applications of both fiddle brakes, I was going no further!!
I’d love to say I got better immediately, but that, unfortunately, would be a lie! In these waterlogged conditions, a VW engined machine seemed to have better traction- and in my case, they were being far better driven too! Siobhan McCann was in our group of cars- you accompany the same cars to each section as you rotate around the course- and she seemed to have no fear as she continually attacked the sections- her face showing no emotion as she launched her car skywards…..
By the time we got to to the lunch break, I was slightly less hamfisted and beginning to really enjoy it.
Stephen, unsurprisingly, had everything covered, lunch included. We stood round the trailer and ate sandwiches and Jaffa cakes and drank coffee, while Stephen slagged pretty much anyone else who walked by! As everyone finished their lunches and returned to the sections for the second lap, John Alvey’s car refused to start. Stephen simply hooked it up with a rope and tow started it, before continuing on. I was much happier with my driving after lunch even getting a 2 on the same test I had a maximum on earlier. Let’s be clear about this though- I was still brutal! Joe McCann was in our group again and along with Stephen, was a great help to me with plenty of tips.
There is plenty of technique involved and watching the best at work (it is easy to walk alongside them on some sections) you can see that they are proactive on the fiddle brakes, using them almost constantly to control wheelspin as well as changing the car’s direction. I found it difficult to strike the balance between wheelspin and losing momentum completely and then bogging down- but I was assured that conditions were worse than usual after the heavy recent rainfall.
There were many Mondello faces seen over the day. Liam Ruth, Johnny Flynn and Des Quinn were all observing, whilst John Mahon, Kevin Sheane, Enda Byrne, Frank Nuttall and Jonathan Fildes were all competing. Jimmy Cleary was CoC and the inimitable Dougie Hughes was MI steward. Dermott Quigley was also competing and his wife Romaine was observing.
Did I expect to like it? Honestly, no. Did I like it? I loved it. Great craic, great atmosphere and enough of a driving challenge for me to want to go back. I currently have WAY too many cars but if I ever get round to the task of thinning down the collection, I will definitely add a ‘plugger to it afterwards! to Stephen Boden, thanks for the drive, and the banter- it really was a great day!