17 Jun: Latest SACC meeting report

… SACC Quarterly Meeting, 16th June …

( A personal [and opinionated?] report on proceedings! ) …

It could so easily have been another dull and dreary night out in Bridge of Allan, but over the past few months the quarterly meetings of the Scottish Association of Car Clubs have been rather more lively. That’s not just down to the new faces, but there is much to be done in the world of Scottish motor sport and a growing sense of urgency.

With Big Roger sidelined in hospital, and no doubt giving the nurses gyp, Pete Weall took over the Chair and rattled through the first half of the night, the boring bit. This is not as bad as it once was as most championships and disciplines are now required to submit a report (and most manage to do so) on current progress ahead of the sit-down meeting.

The usual round table discussion at that early point therefore refers to these reports and any issues arising, so it’s out of the way quite quickly.

However it was noted that progress had been made on the new SACC Newsletter (first issue sent out last month) plus the website had been updated and a Facebook page established. Fine first steps, but more pzzazz is needed. This is motor sport after all, not embroidery classes.

Another issue that was highlighted is the need for new blood and younger helpers. A quick look round the table last night highlighted the fact that the numbers of dodderers and mumblers still greatly outnumber the adolescents and baby boomers. And whilst experience and knowledge are great assets in this sport, they need to be complemented by enthusiasm and vigour. That is a future worry in itself.

And it’s not just the SACC that needs fresh blood, every single car club committee and event organising team needs to attract, inspire and train more youngsters, while officials for all types of event are getting older and fewer too. In fact, this is probably the biggest issue facing the sport in the years ahead. Most young folk want to participate (understandable I suppose) in their chosen discipline rather than organise it, but it is in their interest to recognise this and help out a bit more.

Then the chat turned to possibly the most serious challenge currently facing the sport. The need for more Marshals, especially for stage rallying. The President kicked off: “It’s nine months since I was appointed,” said John Cleland, “and one of the first things I wanted was to get the Marshals’ initiative underway – and nothing’s happened. We need more and better communication between the car clubs and we still have no easily accessible central database.”

He went on: “I would like all clubs to attend these meetings. If they’re not here, they can’t discuss and debate.” More controversially, he raised the question: “There are around 500 motor sports events throughout the year, is that too many? If we don’t have the manpower just now, how will we cope in future? ”

He finished with: “If you’ve got ideas and suggestions, then speak to me. I’m a car dealer – I don’t offend easily! Help me. Help the sport.” (By the way this is the shortened, edited version of his appeal – Ed.)

On a personal note, I don’t think the circuit racers have fully grasped the difficulties facing the rallyists. Understandable since there is only one race circuit up here and just a few established speed venues. They have the advantage of permanent locations and on-site facilities, whereas the nomadic sport of rallying has to set up shop in strange places all over the country and therefore has more trouble attracting regular volunteer support.

Take the forthcoming RSAC Scottish Rally for instance. Last year they needed 140 marshals to man the stages, this year they need 210 to meet the requirements of the new Safety Review Group recommendations.

On that point and speaking of the Safety Review Group, are they asking too much of us? Have they gone too far? Last year there were 200 fatalities on Scotland’s roads, that’s 28 (or 16%) more than 2013, but I don’t see any response or reaction from the Scottish Government on those tragic statistics. That doesn’t excuse us, rallying and motor sport need to change, but are we getting chastised with a bigger stick?

I digress, back to the Marshals. In addition to long distances, there is the question of long hours. Time spent travelling to and from venues, having to be there and in position ahead of the Safety Delegate’s pre-rally inspection, and then hanging around in the forest until the Stage Commander comes through and tells you to go home. It might be OK in fine weather, but when the rain is running down the back of your neck or gales are blowing trees down on top of your heid, time seems to pass much more slowly. And then there is the cost of fuel getting to and from each event. Is it any wonder we struggle?

Put like that, marshaling would appear to be an unattractive way of spending a day off work, so we have to make it much more appealing and desirable. That means welcoming and appreciating such volunteers, training them and encouraging them, making them feel valued and wanted. And if we can provide them with packed lunches and treats, midge repellent and anti-histamines, so much the better.

Mind you, the rallyists don’t help their cause much either. There is a reluctance on the part of some individuals to share their contact lists. Everyone wants a national marshals database, but no-one wants to commit their own treasured, hard won compilation of names, addresses and phone numbers to such a widely available resource.

This too is understandable, but we all need to rise above personal protectiveness and think of the greater good.

And just as the meeting was being called to a close came the thought for the night, one for the road so to speak. Something for departing folks to ponder on the way home. The idea has been raised before, but perhaps there is a more of a realisation that needs must. Since the SACC is staffed by volunteers, who each have their own additional club and event responsibilities and limited time and resources, then surely it is time to appoint a part-time (potentially full time?) coordinator/secretarial support person who can undertake much of the day to day work that the SACC requires.

Someone who is not a member of any car club would be preferred and who would therefore be seen to be above individual club interests. One of the duties would be to compile the marshals database comprising email addresses only (by all means let the clubs keep phone numbers and postal addresses) so that any event which requires volunteers can contact the coordinator who will issue an email alert that events need helpers.

Another duty would be to keep marshals on this database informed of forthcoming events and keep them entertained with a bit of news and inside stories, something they might not be able to get elsewhere so that they feel they are one step ahead of other fans and followers.

General inter club and MSA communication needs to be improved too and I’m sure we could all contribute to making up the Job Description for the new post.

The ‘secretarial support’ could also help to source Newsletter articles and distribution, assist the ‘GoMotorsport’ campaigns, work with the SMS and liaise with the MSA and Sports Council because for sure we as a sport aren’t doing a good enough job at present. We need help, we need professional support and that means paying for it. If the Scottish Auto Cycle Union can afford professional help, then why not the Scottish car clubs?

And since Rory Bryant (SMS) has a foot in the door at the Scottish Sports Council then maybe we can nag him (it would be good training for him too, since he just got married at the weekend – only kidding Hannah!) to pester the Council to give us a grant towards the hiring of such a person. The MSA would ‘willingly’ and financially support this too through their Motor Sports Development Fund and thirdly the SACC could raise the annual subs and contribute to this cause to generate the necessary ‘match-funding’. Naturally the raising of subs would cause a bit of friction, but if the clubs were to benefit longer term then perhaps the idea could be sold to them.

And it’s not just rallying which would benefit. All motor sporting events need more officials and helpers. Under the chequered banner of motor sport there is a variety of disparate groups responsible for autotests and autocrosses, hillclimbs and sprints, racing and rallying, and all united by one common factor – the motor car. And the pursuit of speed with control!

To do nowt is not an option.