Interview: With Adam Slater (#214)

F1 Stockcars recently caught up with one of the sports true entertainers, Adam Slater.

Hi, Adam Slater driver of the yellow #214 car. I’m 27 years old, home town Melton Mowbray, married to Libby, and just before Christmas, our first son Andrew was born. I’m a motor mechanic by trade, working in a small garage.

How did you become interested in F1 Stockcars?

I came into Stockcars quite late in life. The Garage where I work; the owner’s son Mark, helps Geoff (215) and Dave Nickols(242). Around 2001 Mark took me along to Coventry and that was the first time I’d ever seen Stockcar racing. Liked what I saw and picked it up from there.

What attracted you?

First off, you could see the whole track. Unlike what motorsport I’d seen before, where you’d be standing somewhere and ‘wooooossssshhhhhh’ a car flies past you and that’s all you’d see for another 30 seconds or so. And quite often, you’d see more if you were watching it at home on TV.
With Stock car racing, once you’d worked out who was who and what was what, you follow the entire race from flag to flag. The more you get into it, the more you see. It’s not just senseless crashing.You can see someone making a charge through the field or setting someone up for a hit. The last bender is just out of this world stuff. Someone’s powered through the field, is leading the race and on for the win and then it comes (if the second place man has set it all up right) ‘bang’ the last bender. The excitement that creates is unique.
Just because a last bender has been launched that doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful. Anything can happen; they both spin out or get hooked up, the leader takes the hit and onto the win or they drag to the line, third place sees what’s going on and gets involved. It can be pure, unpredictable excitement. Nothing comes close in any other motorsport once you understand what’s going on and what full contact racing really means.

How and when did you make the change from being a fan to racing?

The more I got into Stockcar racing, the more I became friendly with Geoff and Dave, and in 2003 I had a go in Geoff’s car (the car I now own) at Skegness when it was still shale. That was the first time I’d raced anything other than my push bike as a kid. At the end of the 2003 season Geoff put his car for sale, we made a deal and here we are today. Same car, same engine.

So you’re still running the same car?

Basically, yes. During  the winter of 2008 we put the down bars on it, shortened the Chassis, put new Cross members in the front, new Fuel tank, Battery mounting and re-shaped the bonnet and tried to straighten everything that was bent. So that’s changed the weight of the car, well more how the weight is spread. And from putting it on the scales it’s near enough the same weight as before, but hopefully a lot stronger with the down bars. And we’ve also had the engine re-built once since Geoff owned it.

So what engine do you run?

Big Block 467 Chevy – Standard but over-bored. Pretty much original parts, not sure on the cam but it’s an old one! Geoff thinks it might be one of Brian Powles. The engine is basically built for reliability rather than custom racing. It’s got quite good power, goes quite well, but for us the reliability has to be the main factor.

Do you remember much about the first time you raced?

I remember being strapped in, and the first bumper shock. It felt like the world had fallen on me, and it was only a little tap! I remember coming off track and thinking No, this ain’t the sport for me, they are too hard to drive and the contact REALLY hurts – and they were only taps, not a proper hit.

Could you explain how they are hard to drive? It’s just a four wheeled car, isn’t it?

No, these cars are like nothing you’ve ever driven or likely to drive unless it’s an F1 Stock car. They don’t go where you point them, they don’t respond how you ‘expect’ them to respond to anything you’re doing. I felt totally out-of-control on the shale. No, the only control I had was this pedal than made it go faster. Driving these cars is totally alien to everything else.

Photo Paul Tully

So nothing like a road car then!

Nothing could be further away. In a stock car you’re sitting pretty much over the back axle, so you get this (amazing) over-exaggerated feeling of going sideways but unlike a road car you can just keep pushing and going, getting more and more sideways, I can’t compare it to anything. When you press the throttle, the car turns right and speeds up! You putting full opposite lock on to drive straight!

Can you describe racing on shale?

When the tracks heavily watered, it’s like driving your road car on ice with your foot full down and randomly pulling your steering wheel fully down one way and another! The first few laps you feel pretty much out of control. Now if you didn’t have twenty-odd cars behind you, you would be able to let the track settle down and get into your groove. If you can survive the first turn without spinning out or being taken out, with you foot down you’ve got half a chance of getting in the top ten placings.
Then it’s a case of learning how to go into the turns; that’s really, really hard. I’ve lost count of the number of times the back end swings out and off I skid backwards into the fence! Every lap the track is changing, too much brake, not enough brake, going in too slow, going in too fast.
Now when I’m not racing and watching, the way the star drivers go in at the same angle lap after lap is amazing. Sometimes I’m more impressed with how a driver gets ‘that’ angle and speed right – increasing their speed as the track dries than the contact element!

How is the contact element?

That’s something else that looks ‘easy’ before you try racing these things. It’s not just when you get hit your body feels the ‘bumper shock’. The first time I tapped the car in front – I was built up, expecting a ‘shudder’ but it felt like my teeth were going to fall out! It really hurt, think of hitting your funny bone and multiply that by about 1000 and that was just from a ‘tap’. The way the top guys can hit going into a turn, send you off rattling round the fence while they and about 15 cars whizz past you is truly a skill. I’ve gone into the back of someone with everything I’ve got, like a ton of bricks and they hardly move while I’m seeing double! (laugh) There is so much more to contact than just hitting the car in front.

How many do you have in your team helping out?

Well there’s me (I’m not just the driver), my wife Libby and Nathan, and my sister Lucy and Alistair help out when they can. Along with Geoff Nickolls and his team.
Before I brought my own Stock car I helped out and mechaniced for Geoff a few times and it’s not a nice job, a thankless job so to speak. You get covered in crap, wet, cold, cuts and bruises, burns and moaned at while someone else is having all the fun. And at the moment that’s me (laugh). I have the upmost respect and praise to everyone and anyone who mechanics for any team and my lot are simply brilliant.

Do you and Geoff still keep in contact now you’ve brought his car?

Very much so, it wasn’t like there’s the car sold away you go. Geoff has been like a racin’ father to me from day one. He’s always offering advice and help. Showing me how to repair the car, helping out and explaining to me why something has broken or gone wrong. Letting me use his workshop lending / finding spare parts. Geoff’s been fantastic. If it was not for Geoff I wouldn’t of kept racing.

Photo Paul Tully

Any advice from Geoff stick out?

“Most of the drivers that go fast and crash are better than those that go slow and try to build up”
So I have done that for about two years and constantly crash, mind it was fast crashes! (laugh)
Stick with it, you’ll have your days, and prepare for when it does goes wrong, as when it does go wrong it really goes wrong.

How would you / can you prepare?

Learn to weld. Before you even think of buying a Formula 1 Stock car go on a welding course and learn how to weld. If I knew just how hard to drive (let alone race they were) along with just how much work’s involved with keeping the thing running before I brought the car, I wouldn’t of done it! But now I wouldn’t sell it (stop racing), it’s really addictive. That’s possibly the best way to sum it up. It’s an addiction.

Photo Paul Tully

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking up the sport?

If you’re serious about doing it, not just having a go, help someone for at least a year or two before you make the decision. Get really involved with learning what’s what on these cars and what does what and why. But before all of that learn to weld. Towards the end of 2008 was when we as a team (and not one of Geoff’s) really found our own basic racing set-up taking into account my own driving style. We’re now able to pretty much set the car up pretty much the same, time and time again. But the biggest disadvantage for me is not owning any scales. Trying to get your car on the official scales at a meeting can be quite hard to do in the short time you have available. It’s amazing just how much the handling of these cars can change from just the slightest of changes.

What’s your biggest difficulty as a lower budget racing team?

Probably wheels and tyres, on a race to race basis. The wheels (rims) are a bit of a pain as it takes quite a lot of time to straightened them and it’s a one of them jobs you simply have to do, but you feel like you should be doing something else. Replacing bumpers (laugh) I seem to be forever replacing or fixing my bumpers, especially the corners. A never ending job in contact racing.
And the cost of tyres themselves are probably our heaviest race to race outlay. When you consider you can scrub off a pair of tyres over a full weekend of racing, and that’s not taking into account split or ripped tyres when actually stock car racing and it seems to be if your going to rip a tyre up it’s a brand new one you’ve just put on!

You’ve raced a few times over in Holland how was that?

My third ever meeting was at Texel. It’s up on a little island in the North of Holland. My first impressions were that the Dutch took the whole thing differently to us. It felt just like one big day out, a day of racing not a race day if you get my drift. It felt like it was more of a hobby day than how we take it. Everyone (racing teams) were helping everyone else in the pits to get as many cars out on track as possible for every race. It was strange to see a team that had no damage to repair themselves look to help those that did have. And with no pressure of grading or points it was purely racing for fun.
Then about two years ago we went back over, this time we raced at Sint Maarten and the overall atmosphere was the same as the first time. It was such a laugh. Sint Maarten was really bumpy when I raced there. You need a lot of ground clearance, and a lot more movement in your shockers than you’d even think of running on a UK Shale track. As my car was not really ideal for the bumpy track it was a case of going slow enough not to damage the car while trying to be fast enough to stay in the race and all the time your aware of the dykes.

Any plans to return?

I’d love to, I believe Sint Maarten is a lot flatter now. The Dutch guys might think that’s more boring but at least my car would stand up to it more. The driving style is so different to the UK once you’ve got to grips with everything it’s just foot-down and flat-out. I had no end of punctures and what not, but you can just run what you like and just keep going.
The only thing holding me back is the expense, and being able to get as many of the team as possible to have the same time off work. You really want to take as many people and spares as you can to make the trip worthwhile, I’d hate to miss a single race.
As soon as we can, we’ll go back over.

Any favourite tracks in the UK?

Kings Lynn and Skegness. I love the shale for going sideways, but despite what people think or assume I actually prefer tar-racing; smokin’ the tyres and going fast. You feel more in control on Tar and strangely I seem to get less damage on Tar. Skegness is a good track for me.

Plans for 2010?

Remain Yellow Grade and hopefully have a stint at Blue. Keep having fun, and pray for less damage. (laugh)

Any tracks no longer with us you’d like to raced at?

Geoff lent me a video of my car (when it was Geoff’s) when it was fairly new at Bradford. And I liked the look of that track, both to race at and to be a spectator at. I’ve also seen a video of Swindon and again that looked a nice track, similar looking to Kings Lynn (well from the video), smooth and flat. And as far as I’m aware both tracks are still there in some shape and form so wouldn’t it be nice? (laugh)

Do you have any free time time outside of Stock cars?

I didn’t before, but definitely not now me and Libby have our first baby! We got married in 2008 and Libby’s mother is very much into vintage tractors and steam engines and that was very much a theme of our wedding. So in and around work and stockcars we get involved with Steam and Tractors. Lincoln steam rally is a really good event.

Photo the Slater family

So what kind of ‘extra’ hours do you put into running your stock car?

Probably every night of the week. I try to give myself one night off a week to just get away from it and do something normal, but if something needs doing I find myself just feeding my addiction.
Full day at work, beans on toast for tea then 7pm to 10:30 / 11pm on the car, but that was before we had a baby. So we’ll have to see how that changes things!

Thanks for your time Adam and congratulations to you and Libby on the birth of you first child.

Thank you, and any time.

– Adam Slater #214.

Stephen Cording

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