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Some says we’re cars’ barbarians

The ovale racetrack in which to finish first, first you must finish

“The best cars are those you get to love twice.” His eyes take on a faraway look, his lips betray the beginnings of a smile. “Once in the build,” he pauses slightly, his smile widening, “and once in the debuild.” He spreads his huge hands, hands the colour of coal dust and stormy skies. “I’ve been lucky. Inherited a scrapyard from me old man years ago.” He sits back, hands knotted behind bald head, reminiscing. “I’ve loved a fair few bangers.” His eyes get that faraway look again, and he is quiet.
With the windows out and a new two-tone paint job on her, I barely recognise the car I’d watched being wheeled into the yard a week ago. She’s been stripped back: her doors welded shut, her insides gutted and a cage installed inside her frame. An enormous “Ramrod” sits emblazoned on her side in a metallic gleam. Dean winches her down from the back of the truck and we stand for a moment in admiration. Dean and his father had done a sterling job. “Come on,” says Dean. “No time for sentimentality.”  “Come on,” says Dean. “No time for sentimentality.” 
“Now, some says we’re barbarians,” he says. “Some says we’ll stop at nuffink to wreck a classic car.” He grimaces. “But I tells ‘em. Listen, I says, by the time these cars come to me, they ain’t no good for anyfink else anyway.” His voice rises in indignation. “Wha’s more,” stabbing at the table, leaving a blackened fingerprint, “with the number of parts I’ve sold, I’m keeping a lo’ of their cars on the road single-handed.”  “Now, some says we’re barbarians,” he says. “Some says we’ll stop at nuffink to wreck a classic car.” He grimaces. “But I tells ‘em. Listen, I says, by the time these cars come to me, they ain’t no good for anyfink else anyway.” His voice rises in indignation. “Wha’s more,” stabbing at the table, leaving a blackened fingerprint, “with the number of parts I’ve sold, I’m keeping a lo’ of their cars on the road single-handed.” 
We’re lined up, itching, waiting. There must be forty of us ready to go on the oval racetrack. You could cut the tension with a chainsaw, bash it into a thousand chips of paint, shatter it like a windscreen. I glance at my dashboard, at Dean’s inscribed wisdom: “To finish first, first you must finish.” I smile, and looking around, see the other drivers grinning through their helmets, clapping their gloved hands together, champing at the bit. Then comes the green lights, and we’re away – the bumps, the roars, the scrapes, the jostling for position. A devil in a white car from a few rows back tries an attack, comes up my inside and is forced off the track, tyres spinning up mud. Nice try, sucker. Then a shunt pushes me into the car in front, sending it spinning ninety degrees, while I end up in his side. Another car appears beside me and ploughs into Mr. Ninety Degrees, pushing me for a second into some clear air. I take my chance and put my foot down, pushing out the buckled carcass in front of me and making my escape. We’ve only done half a lap.
The scrapyard is huge and covered with the dumped bodies of cars. Some still resemble roadworthy vehicles. Others are missing doors, bonnets, wheels – sacrificial parts which have gone on to find homes on the racetrack. As he shows me round, I make the mistake of comparing the place to a cemetery. “Nah,” he says, “s’nuffink like that.” He clambers onto the bonnet of a car to get a better view, then helps me up. Surveying his lands like some benevolent king, he continues: “See, cemeteries is for the dead. S’more like a hospital, ‘ere. We fix ‘em up. We get ‘em goin’ again.”
Dean has managed to stem the plume of smoke that billowed from the bonnet of the car, and the engine is growling once more. “Good as new, mate!” he says, slamming his hands down on the roof. It’s the only bit of metal still more or less unscathed on the car. The rest is flaked paint and crisp-packet crumple. “Come on,” he says, “there’s another four rounds left in ‘er yet!” We stand aside to let a forklift through, carrying a mud-soaked orange car: its boot now halfway towards its bonnet, its back wheels hanging like club feet. I climb back in through what used to be the windscreen and together we grind back to our starting position. Dean has managed to stem the plume of smoke that billowed from the bonnet of the car, and the engine is growling once more. “Good as new, mate!” he says, slamming his hands down on the roof. It’s the only bit of metal still more or less unscathed on the car. The rest is flaked paint and crisp-packet crumple. “Come on,” he says, “there’s another four rounds left in ‘er yet!” We stand aside to let a forklift through, carrying a mud-soaked orange car: its boot now halfway towards its bonnet, its back wheels hanging like club feet. I climb back in through what used to be the windscreen and together we grind back to our starting position.
“Now there’s some who actually try ‘n win the damn things,” he says. “But you won’t need to worry about that. Try ‘n make it through the eight rounds, but if that don’t work, then smash ‘er up. That’s what the crowds are there for, really.”
You wouldn’t know it from my broken speedometer, but I’m hurtling towards the concrete barriers. It’s now I remember his words: “Just relax – ‘fyou tense up, you’ll break every bone you ‘ave.” The car catches the concrete at an angle, the bonnet is shoved upwards, I’m thrown into the steering wheel. Before I can look round, another car has ploughed into the back of mine, showering metal and paint chips through my disfigured car like a shotgun fired. The smoke starts trickling from the exposed bonnet again, my tyres are skidding in the mud. Then the engine gives out for the final time.
“My lad Dean’s a good’un. He’ll take care of you both,” he says, looking from me to the car and back again. “We’ll fix ‘er up, race ready by next week.” Then he turns back to me, looking solemn: “So, what you say?” I take a deep breath. “Fine,” I say, “I’ll drive it.”
Credits PHOTOS Joseph Fox TEXT Oliver Cable 

February 13, 2020

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