BLOG: Modified man: When boy racers come of age
Time is a funny old thing. One minute you’re a kid enjoying those glorious endless summers, then you’re dancing with your first girlfriend at the school disco, next you’re out up to no good in your first car – maybe a slammed, big wheeled and flame-spitting modified car – with your mates. But, before you know it, you’re a family man, with a job, a house, a mortgage, and adult responsibilities. Now, even your car keys are becoming cleverer than you. But does the boy racer ever leave you? And what happens to the modified man?
For those of us who choose to modify, tweak or enhance our cars (and I include myself in that, as an eternal car fettler), it’s a sort of illness that never really goes away. Something about the act of altering a car’s looks, dynamics or performance to suit your bespoke needs is highly addictive.
I’ve tuned every single car I’ve ever owned now. Some 15+ cars into car ownership, I just can't stop myself. It might be as simple as a set of performance tyres here, or an air filter upgrade, maybe an ECU re-map, or, as has been the case in my modified life, occasionally it’s a complete strip out, cage-up and complete overhaul into a full-on rally car, sprinter or track day beast.
A strange thing happens as the boy racer gets older. He might not want to fit that set of spinners to huge alloy wheels anymore, nor even black out his windows to hide his youthful indiscretions, but the urge to tailor his car to suit his needs – with some added bite, improve aesthetics or just personalisation – never really fades.
And the beauty is, with a bank of no claims bonus built up, some mileage on his own body clock and more disposable income in the bank, he can now afford to indulge in all the delights of modification.
But on what? Well, the track day scene has never been so popular, and this is where you will find a large chunk of the modified man population.
Some chose to fettle their daily driver performance car into an occasional track day steed, whilst others go further and buy a dedicated (road legal, or ex-race/rally/sprint car) track day tool – either purchased individually, or by shared ownership, for middle-aged thrills and spills.
Go to any of the UK’s fine circuits and the paddocks and pit lanes will be packed with men of a certain age, gut expansion and receded hairline status talking tyres, swapping suspension set-up stories and eyeing up each other’s chosen track day cars.
And, if your budget won’t stretch to having your own track day car, many opt to hire one for their circuit-based shenanigans, giving you the freedom to turn up, have fun and drive home in the family chariot at a sensible speed afterwards.
The stage might be different – not doing burn-outs in a car park on the local industrial estate, but soaking up apexes at a salubrious circuit – but the activities are the same as they were when they were younger… namely, talking cars, cars and more cars, and how to make them go faster.
Some take their modified man status further still – and get involved in clubman motorsport. And there’s a plethora of motorsport disciplines options available for us car-mad men to get involved with, as a look at the website of the sport’s governing body, the MSA, will show you.
Karting is a great start, if your body is young (and light) enough to take the punishment. But many of us middle-aged-modifiers choose to get involved in rallying, circuit racing, or even sprint series, like the increasingly popular Time Attack UK Championship.
Time Attack evolved from illegal Japanese street racing. And as their youth grew up, so did their car activities – taking their cars off the streets and onto the circuits, to compete against the clock. “It’s not racing, it’s Time Attack!” is the sport’s banner here in the UK, and the series that started in 2006 with just a few cars and one class now boasts a whole group of classes (from Club Challenge to Pro Extreme) to suit all cars, drivers and budgets and is rammed with modified men all having fun – whether in a 1000bhp super-tuned beast, or a lightly modified road car on sticky tyres and sorted suspension.
Whilst Time Attack UK is home to a large percentage of the Max Power generation grown-up, others choose not to go around the bend, but blitz quarter miles at the legendary Santa Pod Raceway, home of UK drag racing.
Some modified men can still be found taking on an ‘arrive and drive’ event at one of the airfield’s ‘Run What You Bring (RWYB)’ days – where you pay a few quid to take to the strip and see what your car can do over the ¼.
Others pick to buy or build their own purpose-build drag car and enter the wealth of different drag racing classes to compete in – some of which are hugely serious, with cars clocking under six seconds and doing almost 300mph over the short blast. It’s hugely addictive, high octane stuff.
The more adventurous and glamorous modified man might not have the time to get involved in motorsport (or want to run the risk), but he might still want an occasional foray into the old world of modified sports cars. And maybe one of the many European road rallies, like the Rico Rally, is more their bag?
What could be better than a four or five day continental blast down some of Europe’s finest roads – Stelvio Pass, Route Napolean, Grand St. Bernard Pass, St. Moritz – with a load of fellow sports car owners?
And after a hard day’s driving, you get to be all middle aged and enjoy fine hotels, good food and drink and sleep in luxurious comfort to suit your aging frame. Perfect for the mature modified man.
Finally, as our dotage approaches, we folk who like to modify our cars might end up becoming members of a local car club – mingling with fellow, like-minded individuals at various locations across the UK, or going on gentle drives together, attending car shows… whatever suits. Basically, it’s just an excuse to be the boy racer we once were (and most likely always will be) as the sands of time run out. And long may such activities continue.