Our latest latest Q&A is with former autograss racer, Emily Empson. Hopefully she will be returning to a race track soon but in the meantime here is her Q&A.
Number of years racing: 12 behind the wheel but been attending since a baby.
1st race car was… Junior Saloon Mini
Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): I’d say a 7. I trained as a mechanic and work full time in a bodyshop so I know a fair bit but nothing too fancy.
Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): 7. I’ve had a couple of nationals trophies and was up the front at BAS until selling the car.
Favourite track to race on is: South Wales. I’ve had some of my best results there, it’s a quick track and you really have to know how to drive to get on well. (Plus the location near the beach is fantastic!)
Favourite gate to race from is: It’s got to be 8! Some people love it, some hate it, but full on committing to the outside is usually the way I choose to go.
Your proudest autograss moment was: It’s a split between my second at the National Championships, as I have never felt joy like it or my sister and I both bringing a trophy home as a present for Father’s day from CWMDU BAS – he had supported us all weekend and the smile on his face made everything worthwhile!
Your most embarrassing autograss moment was: My first time out in a Class 3 or rear wheel drive anything for that matter. It was terrible. Also, no-one told me that if you spin and then boot it after you continue to spin! I couldn’t face a doughnut for a while after that.
The toughest rival you have raced against is: Beth Tonkinson. We were so evenly matched in Class 2 that we regularly crossed paths. It made for some eventful racing though.
The driver you love to race against is: Vicky Sole. She started racing the same year as me, in the same club. So we’ve pretty much grown up alongside each other. We’ve had a few… moments.. but every time we have managed to shake it off and have remained great friends. It’s a shame to not be racing against her still.
You couldn’t race without: My Family (and my gloves). My Dad has stuck by me every year of racing, even when he says he’s “never doing this again.” The tap on the roof before I drive up to the line, and hearing him say “Drive it like you stole it” gives me the boost to go out there and do him proud. Mum is always there too, making sure I’d have everything I needed, cheering me on from the crowd and sometimes cheering me up in the pits. She raced class 2 long before I did so she knew the right things to say (and to not say). I certainly couldn’t have done it without them.
Before every race you must: Eat an apricot.
Meeting of the year is: Nationals! It has got to be nationals. No matter how my year has been going, Nationals is the big one. It’s the race meeting that the most preparation goes into and I always have the most adrenaline for.
Best car you have raced is: Not yet finished!
If you could race in the 2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be: Hopefully my own, but we shall see.
The best part of racing in autograss is: The sportsmanship! There isn’t many other sports where you would find direct competitors lending spares, tyres and other vital parts like fuel to their opponent so that they could potentially be in a race together and beat them. I’ve seen people drive hundreds of miles to collect parts for people they don’t even know, also people removing parts off of their own car to help someone out.
The hardest technique to learn in autograss is: Going faster makes it easier. Bizarre concept and when someone first said it to me I would never have believed them. Then I gave it a go, the car got lighter and I could control it better.
Emily on Track
Q1. You have had the pleasure of racing junior saloons and in classes one, two and three. What made you race saloons over specials? In a word.. Mum. She’s terrified of the day I say “I’m getting in an open wheeled car.” So for now, what mum says goes.
Q2. When you started off in junior saloons, you will of course not have been old enough to have a license to drive on the road at that point. Where did you learn to drive and how prepared did you feel you were when you first lined up on the start line? I’ve grown up around cars and garages so I couldn’t actually pin point the first time I learned to drive. I have however seen a video of my first go in the junior Mini. It was on a farm and I stalled, multiple times. My birthday is halfway through the year so I waited until I was 13 to get my license, that way I had a little bit more practice before getting onto the start line
You also experienced racing with your sister in those early junior and class 1 days. How did you find this? Extra incentive, a distraction and/or helpful to have a team mate? Initially it was great to look around and see her out there with me, I enjoyed racing against her as she was only just starting out and I’d been racing a few years by then, so we weren’t in each other’s way and we’d give each other the thumbs up after the race. Class 1 was slightly different, we were very well matched and she had got good by this point. We had a few close calls (and safe to say it wasn’t a thumb that went up after the race) so we decided it would be best if I went back into class 2. We race well together, when we’re not racing … together.
There is a fair amount of difference between class 1, 2 and 3 in terms of both style of driving and the associated racing. How did you adapt, what differences did you find and what did you prefer? I only did the class 3 for a couple of club meetings so never really had to jump out of one seat into the other. It was hard racing the 1 and 2 at the same meeting as there wasn’t much time in between so you might be in the class 2 mindset but only have the class 1 power.
You raced for St Neots Autograss up until two years ago and St Neots now no longer have a track. It has been mentioned in previous Q&A’s that one of the future problems for Autograss is the potential loss of venues so as someone who has been through this, what is the impact on the club? [e.g drivers moving clubs, drivers stopping racing, impetus to find a new venue reduces over time, issues in finding a new venue etc]. Finding a track is a number one priority for St Neots, but finding the land with a decent water supply and no neighbours to disturb is a pretty tricky task. I decided to move to Cambridge club as they were struggling for members and support. We have since built up an amazing committee who is determined to improve the club and encourage visiting members to try it out. They hosted a UKAC round to raise publicity and hopefully boost membership.
Q1. The FIA made not the most popular appointment when it appointed Carmen Jorda for its Women in Motorsport Commission. Carmen then promptly said women drivers struggle with the physical demands of F1 and are at a disadvantage. Autograss is unusual in motorsport for having separate racing for women but do you agree with Carmen’s theory in the world of Autograss that women are at a physical disadvantage? Discuss. Obviously having never driven a F1 car I cannot comment on how easy or hard they are to drive. However, I can say that there are many different shapes and sizes in the Autograss community, and there are some ladies that could put men to shame when it comes to their physical ability. Whilst saying this, just because you aren’t as strong or as powerful as someone else, does not mean you cannot drive smarter than them. Some Autograss races are less than 2 minutes long and in a car that is specifically built for the driver, how could a woman be at such a physical disadvantage.
Q2. There are some very quick ladies racing around UK autograss tracks but numbers are down from when I first started watching autograss. What can be done to encourage more? It is a question that has been asked over and over, perhaps starting with the younger ages, advertising in schools or youth clubs. My sister got her Duke of Edinburgh award in motorsports and that seems like much more fun than trekking up a hill.
Q3. One woman doing something to promote women in motorsport is Susie Wolff with her Dare to be Different initiative. Should autograss be offering itself to Susie to help get women interested and, if so, how would you do this? I don’t think it would be a bad thing to get her involved, that’s for sure. Any publicity would be great. We need more people to see and appreciate the sport.
Q4. For a young girl looking to join at junior level, what would your advice be? Go for it! Don’t hesitate when filling out that licence form. Autograss has been at the centre of my life for years and it isn’t just about the on track time. I have met some of the most wonderful people at racing, it’s bought my family closer, it’s taught me skills that I transferred to school and work. Yes it takes up a lot of time but I wouldn’t change it for the world! Oh and holding a trophy feels awesome!!
Q5. Holly Downing made a fair point in her Q&A last year about the running order of an autograss meeting with ladies always racing last and switching it so they race first now and again. What are your thoughts? I think that would be a great idea at some meetings, but at others the numbers would drop significantly. There is no way I would go out at a Men’s National Qualifying round, in a 3 car race and risk something happening to the car before Mike even got a chance. I think making ladies race a minimum number of club rounds before nationals would help the clubs out as well as raise ladies numbers.
Q6. Ladies racing can suffer with a lack of numbers so drivers race against cars from other classes which they have no chance of beating them. Should ladies racing be directed at certain classes to get bigger grids? Discuss. The issue here is that a lot of ladies share the cars, you would have to persuade two drivers to move class to achieve this. It would help if there was a structured rule for staggering of the multiple classes. At least then if you are combined everyone has a fair shot.
Q7. To prove how good you are, do ladies need to race against the men to show they are the best? Another option could be to have say a BAS race off, Men’s class 1 champion v Ladies class 1 champion etc. Discuss. I would love a meeting where ladies and men are mixed. It could be done by splitting the class into 2 sets of heats that way shared cars will still get a break. (I don’t have a clue how finals would work, just fight it out I guess). Then we’d settle the dispute once and for all.
Another thing I have always wanted to see, and something that might raise attendance to the ladies and juniors national championships, is an Ultimate National Champion of Champion’s race. A race at the end of the ladies and juniors nationals made up of the Champion of each men’s class and the Champion of each ladies class, they all go head to head to see who really is the Champion of Champions.
Q1. As you are not racing at the moment, what would get you to put your helmet back on and how is it as an ex racer spectating? I love spectating and the people I do it with, but I’m desperate to get back in the seat now! I sold my car to buy a house and it is just a matter of time and money before I am back out there again.
Q2. In other Q&A’s we have looked at what other drivers would change. Any element (safety, race format, spectator experience etc.) you would change if in charge? There is one rule that I personally would like to see come in, and that is removing goggles during and especially after the race. I understand that in wet conditions it is sometimes impossible to see but if you knew it was a black flag offence (which is apparently so much worse than going blind) perhaps you would take a rag with you or find another way to prevent it. I wish people would remember that eyesight is more important than any trophy.
Q3. What do you see as the most important issue facing autograss in the short, medium and longer term? We have seen a number of well established circuits close down recently, and that’s only talking about the ones outside of autograss, hopefully we can hold on to the last few remaining tracks and keep improving our sport so that the public enjoy it as much as we do. The availability of cars can be avoided by the introduction of new makes and models, for example class 1 allowing the Micra and the Yaris. It would be helpful if you could fabricate parts to build for other classes also, if not we really are going to see one type of car in each class, and that’s not fun for anyone to watch. The great thing about our sport is the diversity, I’d like to keep it that way and hopefully the people at the top do too.
We hope to see Emily back behind the wheel soon.