Banger Boys .
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The Banger Boys of Britain by Chloe Dewe Mathews Amid a thick haze of exhaust fumes and the scream of revving engines, a pair of clapped out cars ram headlong into each other. The bumper hangs off one, whilst the other has lost both its rear wheels, barely recognisable as the Vauxhall Astra it once was. The race is over and Pikey Mikey is the only car left moving. He can now disengage his victim, pick his way through the wreckage of his adversaries, and begin his victory lap. Throughout the South East of Britain, Banger racers meet regularly to smash up the cars they have been working on all week. Stripped of normal features and fitted with re-enforcements, the cars are daubed in colourful paint and scrawled in slogans advertising junkyards, hair salons or messages to girlfriends. Racers travel from Eastbourne to Yarmouth, from Aldershot to Ipswich to take part - all with a banger strapped to the back of a truck. Drivers pour hard-earned cash and hours of physical labour into resuscitating a car to compete with, and as the week progresses, excitement builds. The infamous Destruction Derby epitomises the banger spirit. In this final race of the night, the oval track is turned into a figure of eight and the winner is the last car moving. This gladiatorial contest leaves the audience roaring with applause and falling about in hysterical laughter. Both driver and spectator visibly lust after this violent and explosive moment, which seems to satisfy a fundamental human instinct for destruction.  However, behind the reckless bravado is a surprising resourcefulness, entirely at odds with the 21st Century climate of consumerism. Whilst Lord Mandelson’s recent “bangers for cash” scheme is promoting the purchase of new cars and the disposal of used ones; this community bash the dents out of misshapen door panels and reuse parts time and time again. The lovingly painted vehicles look like relics from a traditional fairground as they are winched off the trucks with cranes - gaudy, joyful and quirky. You only need to spend a couple of minutes in the pits to become aware of the codes of conduct, social hierarchies and strength of community that exists between racers. Many have started in childhood, growing up watching their parents race and proudly continuing the family tradition. Gang rivalries and feuds that fester between the teams are generally countered by an overall sense of camaraderie. Some drivers say that the sport has kept them “off the streets” and you can see why. Banger racing offers all the danger, machismo and gang mentality that a young person could want. Certainly despite its costliness, the drama and violence that goes on inside the stadium, allows the drivers to vent their frustration and exorcise a deep-seated need for combat, which is probably inherent in all of us. I asked a number of racers whether they saw their sport as a simultaneously creative and destructive activity. The response was always the same, “Nope. It’s just a good day out”. Preparing the track for a night race at Arlington Raceway, Eastbourne. With the sound of roaring engines echoing out of Wimbledon stadium, drivers wait patiently for their turn to enter. The racers say that adrenalin builds all week as they wait for this moment. After the rain. The Walton Boys are one of many team names on the bangers scene. Others include Piston Broke, the Gobstoppers, the Pinballs, the Simpletons, the Dirty Wizards, the Gladiators, the Posh Waves and the Camel Toe Crushers. Minutes before the first race, a driver is told to remove all broken glass from his windowpanes. The stadium managers at Wimbledon have complained that shards have been wounding the greyhounds, which use the same track on different nights of the week. Steve is about to get married and has come to Aldershot for his stag party. All 15 of his friends are racing against him, and he is “the target” Alex (left) used to wreck about 50 cars a year. “That’s a new banger every week! But I got bored with the sport when the drivers stopped hitting as hard.” Now he just helps his friends in between races. After the mayhem, the cars struggle back to base, where the crew only have a few minutes to resuscitate them in time for the next heat. The banger racing ethos is built on resourcefulness and functionality. Here, a misshapen panel is quickly bashed back into place. “Keith Boy” of the Southern Bandits isn’t racing today, but he’s come down to check out the competition. The rules state that no two cars should be painted the same colour, to avoid teams ganging up on one-another during the race. However, it seems that no one can resist. Luke isn’t quite old enough to drive yet, but he’s counting the days. Jema "The Mouth of the South" at home. Jema’s family now live ten minutes away from Aldershot Raceway. Before they moved, they used to work at travelling fairgrounds. Jason, Jema’s brother, became good at fixing slot machines, now he makes bangers for her instead. Some drivers spend many hours painstakingly decorating their cars. Jema flipped hers three times in the last race, so she’s doubtful it will last much longer. However, she’ll keep the bonnet, “I might even put it up in my bedroom, it’s too good to throw.” Jema’s parents met at Wimbledon stadium. Her mother was racing, and her father was working as a mechanic for a friend. Her dad told me that back in the day the ladies used to really smash up the cars like the boys. “Now they’re too worried they’ll break their nails!” The first time I met Jimo, he took one look my camera and immediately hauled one of his friends onto the bonnet of a car, yanking down his trousers and revealing all. The second time, still playing for laughs, he dropped his own trousers, saying “ you sure you’ve got a big enough lens for this?” These days he’s much quieter; I think he’s run out of things to say. One by one, each banger gives up. The drivers are forced to scramble out of their lifeless wrecks and watch the rest of the race from the centre of the track. A pause before the last race of the night. The annual Darren Jones Benefit Gala in Ipswich, raises money for a popular driver who was hit while stationary on the track eight years ago. Tonight he watches the races in his honour from a wheelchair, suffering from cerebral palsy after a prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain. Once a banger is finally wrecked, the few parts that can be used again are salvaged, and the rest is sent to scrap. A moment’s thought is spent on the battered car, until focus shifts to finding the next. MAY 2012 BACK ISSUE Back to current issue