BRSCC CHATS WITH… DARREN WATSON
It’s time for another entry to our series of interviews here on the BRSCC website called “BRSCC Chats With…”, where we sit down with some of the personalities from the paddock and gain a little insight into who they are, what makes them tick and what they love most about racing with us and motorsport in general. While we wait for track action to begin again, this is a great chance to keep us all occupied and entertained until that time!
Our third interview is with Darren Watson, made his debut in the ST-XR Challenge in 2019. In this feature, you’ll learn about what got him started in the championship, the inspirational young boy behind his motivation to race and the BTCC star he’d love to team up with!
What was your earliest memory of motorsport?
My earliest memory of motorsport is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1987. I had just started my working life as a baker on my YTS & went for the very first time with my boss from the bakery. Arriving at 3am in the morning to queue up & secure the best spot, I remember being sat on the inside of the circuit after Abbey aged 16 & thinking “this is awesome”. At this stage, I’d been all about two wheels & had been racing Motocross at a reasonable level from the age of ten. This carried on until I was 19 before cars, girls & work (in that order) had taken over my life. As I went through my adult life, I always loved F1, touring cars & rallying & anything motorsport related.
Who or what inspired you to get interested?
Benjamin Crawford (Benji) inspired me to get into a car & start racing last year (2019) in the ex Justin Roberts Fiesta Mk2 XR2 in the ST-XR Challenge. Now Benji isn’t someone many will have heard of but Benji is our best friend’s lad who was 9 years old at the time (now 15) & in 2014 had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg. After lots of operations & tough chemo & after showing interest from top teams to be a glowing footballer only to be told “no contact sports”, he has now thankfully started to come out the other side & is getting on with his life as a 15-year-old boy should be. So during this time as some of the ST-XR racers (Mike Heath, Ralph Fernihough, Justin Roberts, Steven Poole) are local to our home town of Market Drayton in Shropshire & knew his family too, they started to fundraise for Benji’s family’s chosen charities (Birmingham Hospital & Kids with Cancer) through the BRSCC ST-XR Challenge & I also took part in a London to Paris cycle ride during the coming years.
We started to go along to the race meetings, with me now aged 47, married, grown-up kids (Lee, Joe & Libby) and all sensible with a mortgage & all that stuff! I started to become addicted to the series & went to as many events as we could. Roll forward to the last race of the season in 2018 & I was there again, absolutely hooked not only with the racing but having met some great people in the paddock and wanting some of the action. After the race day & being the last race of the season, we all trundled back to Market Drayton to celebrate & was asked to come along. After what was a few “Drayton Moonshines” Justin (Roberts) informed us that as he was starting his own business venture & his race-winning & championship-contending car was for sale! Along with Benji’s mum & dad (Andy & Hayley) we agreed (under the influence) to buy the car (thanks to them both). I remember waking up on Sunday morning & calling them saying “Have we really bought a race car?!”
Who is your motorsport hero?
Until quite recently, I have always looked up to the likes of Mansell, Senna, Schumacher etc. But having just read his book “How Not To Be a Professional Racing Driver”, Jason Plato is a legend & has sort of become my hero that I’d like to emulate.
How would you describe your first experience of taking part in motorsport?
So 2019 was first season racing but as I mentioned earlier, my first experience in motorsport was two-wheeled & turned up for my first race with the Warley Wasps on a 1980 Yamaha YZ80, fresh out of the box. I remember the smell of two-stroke fumes around the paddock, the nervousness of turning up in the VW LT van, mum marshalling, dad as chief mechanic & manager & my sister (Lynn) on goggle & race number cleaning duties. #TeamWatson53 was born & decided after being number 53 for my first few years in motocross, it would be my number for my first year in the XR. I get the same feeling some 30 years on, but at last I’m back into motorsport.
What memories do you have of your first race weekend?
They’re still all very fresh memories as last season went in a flash, but the first round was Oulton Park. I managed to qualify midfield & only having completed a couple of track days prior, I thought to myself “OK, some of the old determination to win was still there”. I got through Old Hall corner & I’m still in one piece so it was game on! The weekend ended with the number of “offs” & a few scrapes on the car! Some might have thought I’d of been better taking up rallycross, but I absolutely loved it & wanted more of the action.
What is one race that you will always remember?
The Anglesey triple-header. Saturday was moist & although I’d not driven in these conditions, I brought it home midfield in qualifying again & held that position for race 1 later that day. After the damp conditions, Sunday was set to be hot & dry, but I was plagued with mechanical issues on & off over the weekend with rocker arms breaking. Saturday evening turned into a strip-down of the head by Mike Heath & Will Heslop (both XR runners) & Alice (wife & boss) closely watching & learning over their shoulders. For Sunday’s race I started from 7th had managed to climb a couple of places into 5th after a few laps with good pace. I was in the running before I had another rocker arm break, hence a DNF. Another strip down between races & thanks to Matt Eldridge (XR runner) we replaced the whole set of rockers. The last race was my best race of the weekend & got me thinking I did have some pace. I came from last place in 17th & drove through to 7th. It wasn’t first place but my driving & the applause from my “supporters” felt like a podium finish to me & was I given the “achievement award” for persevering with my mechanical issues & carrying on to the end.
What do you love most about what you do in motorsport?
The family feel & support in the paddock to the close “non-contact” racing of the ST-XR Challenge.
How can someone get involved as a driver within the BRSCC?
Get online, join as a Club member & start asking questions. I have found so much advice & support in my first 12 months of racing within the BRSCC. Everyone is so helpful & no question is a stupid question (not when speaking to me, anyway!)
Which driver would you love to be a teammate to and why?
Got to be Jason Plato, especially on & off the track. It would certainly be something to share with the grandkids.
If you could drive any race car and circuit combo in the world, what would it be and why?
Hmm, good question – it’s got to be Spa-Francorchamps. I’ve been to an F1 meeting there & would love to drive it, maybe in a touring car. Let’s go for Andy Rouse’s Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth
What would you class as your proudest achievement in motorsport?
Anglesey & my achievement award is my most recent. Going back to the motocross days, it would be 3rd place in the 1985 schoolboy British Championships & gaining full Suzuki sponsorship for 1986 (even if it was to be short-lived).
What do you enjoy most about racing in your BRSCC championship?
Great friends & great close racing (sometimes a bit too close!)
Describe your driving style in three words.
Determined, “balls-out” (if that’s allowed!)
What are your plans for the 2020 season and beyond?
I have completely rebuilt the engine & gone through every part with a fine-tooth comb. The car also has a full respray & an exciting new livery. We also have full commitment from main sponsors – BJ Bates Electrical, David Beardsmore Brickwork Contractor & Opie Oils. I would really like to push for a top three finish in class come the end of the season.
What is your ultimate motorsport ambition/ goal?
You know, I’m not getting any younger, so if I can inspire friends or colleagues who I know to turn up to watch, ask about the great race series or get involved somehow, then I feel I’ve achieved something good for the sport.
Who has been the one person that has influenced your motorsport career the most and why?
Benji – determined young lad & that’s exactly how I race!
Who is your best friend in motorsport?
My wife, Alice. Everything I turn my hand to, she supports me and what more could a husband with a passion for motorsport ask for? l’ve also got to know Mike Heath (ex-XR Championship winner & complete idiot) & his partner in crime Claire Morris very well. I had a tip from Mike early days – “When asked how much everything that comes in the post for the car was, just say “Everything is a tenner, ducky!””
How did you feel when you won your first race?
I’ll let you know!
What has been your favourite race car that you’ve driven so far and why?
My XR2 seeing as it’s the only official race car I’ve driven. Although I did love my Mk2 Escort Harrier back in the day as well!
Many thanks to Darren for the interview and providing us with some great insight in the process! If you fancy tackling these questions, whether you’re a driver, marshal, volunteer, coordinator, team owner or official, then e-mail Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in our next interview!