How we sponsored a BTCC Driver…Seriously!!!

I thought that I would explain how my Stepson Aaron came to sponsor Team HARD boss Tony Gilham in 2011, when he drove for Triple Eight Race Engineering in one of their turbo powered Vauxhall Vectra’s.

Better put the kettle on, you’ve been warned…

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This all began with the first 3 races of the year at Brands Hatch Indy. We were sat at home watching the races on TV when Aaron asked who was driving the pink and green Vauxhall Vectra. I explained that it was Tony and he was team mates with James Nash.

I should explain that Aaron is both Autistic and has ADHD. So the bright colours of the Vectra naturally caught his attention.

Anyway Aaron got in touch with Tony, explaining this and how he enjoyed watching him take 3 top ten finishes in the Brands races. Tony asked him if he was going to any races and this led to my partner Nik having her arm twisted to buy 3 tickets for the Donington BTCC Meeting.

At the time Aaron was working at the funfair on Billing Aquadrome where we live and cruel luck would have it that he had to work that weekend. Crestfallen, he kindly offered his ticket to my best friend Andy (Who is as big a Touring Car nutcase as myself) who happily accepted it.

So the three of us travelled up to Donington on raceday where we found Tony just walking out of one of the Triple Eight race trucks. After introducing ourselves and mentioning Aaron, Tony’s eyes lit up…only to look sad when we explained Aaron wasn’t with us because of work.

Tony kindly gave us some posters and other promotional bits and bobs to take home for Aaron, explaining that one day he hoped he could meet Aaron face to face.

Well, Fate had ideas on this…

As we watched the ITV4 BTCC Programme on the monday after raceday, in Race 3 as Tony retired, Tim Harvey explained that funds were short for Tony and that he might not be at Thruxton. This spurred Aaron into action. Before we knew it he was talking to Tony on Facebook offering to sponsor him with his savings so that he could race at Thruxton.

Aaron had savings of £400.00 at the time and had offered to use this to sponsor Tony. He’d explained about his issues to Tony and Tony spoke with Nik to confirm this was true and how amazed he was at this offer. After a quick chat between myself and Nik, Aaron confirmed that this was a genuine offer.

So several days later after an oil change in our Toyota People Carrier, we are heading towards Thruxton with a quick stop over night in a Travelodge. Figuring out that we’re not too far from Stonehenge, we go and pay the ancient monument a visit before settling in for the night.

Before we left, a local mechanic did an oil change on the bus to make sure it would be reliable. During this Aaron assisted and managed to cut his nail on a finger. A quick bandage later and he was all fixed for the trip. Oddly, while we were at Stonehenge, he said it stopped hurting. When we got back to the Travelodge however, it started hurting again…

On the Sunday Morning, we got to the Circuit in our ram-shackle Toyota Bus to be met by Gary, Tony’s Manager, who takes us to the Pit Area. Seeing all those trucks parked together like Sardines was a sight to see.

However the biggest sight was when Aaron met Tony. He shook his hand and showed him around the Vectra. Unbeknownst to Aaron, Nik had forwarded some pictures to Tony of him in his Army Cadet uniform. Tony had kindly put Aarons name on the front wheel arches and his pictures across the top of the rear windscreen.

Aaron was so excited with this. During the morning he assisted with handing out posters of Tony during the Drivers autograph session and was filmed on TV. We still have the whole ITV4 BTCC Programme on the Sky Box to this day.

Sammi, Tonys partner, took Aaron onto the grid for race one which made his day. Apparently, the legendary Murray Walker knocked Aaron over on the grid and to this day we still hear about how “That old geezer” pushed him over.

Murray would never do that…Well I dont think so…

Originally Nik was given a Race Tyre of Tony’s by a team mechanic, however this was claimed by Aaron and by the end of the day it had a flatspot on it so that Tony and James Nash could sign it for him. The tyre was used at Donington Park in the BTCC Meeting before.

This began Aarons collection of BTCC Car parts. Currently he has the tyre, Tonys Tyre and Wheel from the Geoff Steel S2000 BMW he drove later that same season at Silverstone, where he was fired off into the wall in Race 1, Lea Wood’s front Headlight from his S2000 Vectra at Donington 2012 and the Front Tyre Arch from Matt Neal’s NGTC Honda Civic from Croft.

Aaron managed to get the whole of Team HARD and almost all of the 2012 BTCC Class to sign that wing except Rob Austin, Jason Plato and Andy Neate. Austin was busy with repairs to Sherman, Plato busy with media PR duties while Andy Neate flatly refused to sign it as it was a Honda part.

Make of that what you will…

So Aaron was thoroughly spoilt by 888 and Mr Gilham’s team and since then has supported Tony and Team HARD ever since. He watches all the BTCC races and supports any driver working for Mr Gilham and we’ve paid him a few visits to his old HQ near the Dartford Bridge.

Aaron has also had the privilege of being flung around the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit by Tony in a Mitsubishi Evo…something, as did Nik that day. We were invited to a Track day run by Tony and his Team. That day Nik, Aaron and Myself went in many cars. For me, a ride in the Nissan 350Z being driven by Abbie Eaton made my Day.

Every time I watch The BTCC cars go round Brands Indy Circuit, the memories flood back.

So there you have it. The story of how a young 16 year old boy was lucky enough to sponsor a BTCC driver and become their number one fan.

And the best part is its my fault as I got him into Tintops…

Anyway, you’ve sat long enough and earned that cup of tea. I’ll write again soon tintop fans.

Cheers

Phil.

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