Sport11th August 2014

August, Torrential Rain - Deaf Racer Caleb still at the top of his game

Caleb Showing the Karting World that neither being Deaf or Torrential Rain fazes him

by Sarah Lawrence

As a racing driver in a major UK competition, you know you are going to have to travel all over the country to compete. With good racing tracks in Wales and Scotland as well as throughout all parts of England, the travel is extensive and exhausting. At just six years of age, deaf speedster Caleb McDuff is already putting in those hard miles in his ultimate pursuit of a Formula 1 drive. When I asked him about all the travel he had to do to compete, he calmly replied, “It’s ok!”

Well, I don’t know about Caleb, but making the same journey from South Wales to the brilliant karting track at Rowrah in Cumbria on Sunday 10th August, I was exhausted when I got there! Caleb competes in the Bambino Kart Tour, a race series run by Darren Beavers for 6 to 8 years old racers. With lots of kart tracks now wanting the Bambino Tour to be part of their race weekend, this weekend saw these valiant youngsters make the trek to the far North West of England to a hidden gem of a kart track, a couple of miles in from the coast and a stone's throw from the Scottish border.

Whilst I was going up to support him for the Sunday race-day, Caleb, dad Ian and Grand Dad David had left their home in South Wales at 3pm on Thursday, with a long 300 mile journey ahead of them. In this, his first year of racing, with a van having to be hired each race weekend, the kart and all the equipment needed for a race weekend has to be loaded each time, making things just that little bit harder for all concerned. Six and a half hours later, Ian finally pulled into their hotel for the weekend, Caleb having coped with the journey admirably and blissfully unaware about how tiring that particular drive can be. For bedtime reading – they were able to enjoy the many wonderful comments from supporters on the Silence Racing Facebook page.

Being so remote, Caleb has not driven at this track before and it is entirely different from his practice track, with long straights and some tight tricky corners. This is a track that has graced some of the UK’s best racing drivers since it was first created back in 1963. During their early years in karting, David Coulthard, Lewis Hamilton, Paul DiResta and Jenson Button all visited the track, I just wished I could have a go! Worryingly for dad Ian, and despite the epic journey the day before, a few practice sessions into the 3-day race weekend, Caleb keenly announces that this is his favourite track!!

Announcing my intention to make the journey to Rowrah for the early August race meeting, I expected a nice leisurely drive in bright Autumn sunshine and a fabulous day at the track in glorious conditions. What did I get - my whole journey in the wind and heavy rain of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha. It was awful, with some of the worst driving conditions on the motorway I have even seen. I was thankful it was a Sunday, so at least there was slightly less spray. Checking my weather app on the approach to Birmingham an hour into the journey, my delight was unconstrained when it showed rain, rain, rain in Rowrah too.

Half expecting a text from Ian to say the meeting was called off, I’m not sure if I was pleased or disappointed that it did not come and I was able to complete my journey in a smidgen under five hours. Arriving at the track in time for Caleb’s second race of four, you are instantly struck by the smell of fuel in the air. Understanding where the saying, ‘petrol heads’ comes from, I hoped no one fancied a quick smoke! I haven’t been to many racetracks, but I instantly liked this one. Built in a natural bowl in the hills of Cumbria, the backdrop with the mountains was just stunning. The track offered excellent viewing around half of the track with one high point giving a view of the whole of the track. There was ample parking for spectators and is one of the few sporting events you can go to where entry is free. That is good value, I can tell you.

The track is a fraction over 1 km in length, with six flat out sections ending in tight bends, providing even experienced drivers with a good challenge. Aged, six, it is amazing to even think Caleb can control his kart around the track at an average speed approaching 40mph. I think I would be thrilled to keep it on the tarmac at half that speed.

Arriving in light rain, I parked in an area taking me to the trackside where I could see the main straight and the southern end of the track just in case the heavy rain arrived and I had to use the car for cover whilst filming. Walking up towards the main paddock area, I was walking towards the marshalling area, when a beaming face suddenly caught my attention walking towards me. Adorned in his race suit ready for his second race of the day, Caleb was beaming ear to ear as he greeted us, “He has been looking out for your car and saw you arrive,” David explained.

Escorting us to his kart in the marshalling area, Caleb is not wearing his Cochlear Implants and is having another ‘Deaf Day’ as he describes it. Using a mixture of BSL (taught by mum Leanne and grand parents), SSE (Sign Supported English), lip-reading and interpretation through my colleague, I ask Caleb and Ian about the weekend so far and his upcoming race.

“He had a scare on Saturday when he was shunted off the track by another racer,” Ian explained, “But to be fair to him, he just got back on track and continued racing. He was getting a bit tired today, but seeing you has energised him.” Splashing us in dirty water, Caleb is on top form and proud to show us the brand new SLFirst logo that adorns the front of his race kart. I am delighted to be considered a supporter of the Silence Racing team. Ian has been fantastic in valuing and rewarding those that support them. It would be great to see more sponsors like GoCompare and MotorCare come on board to make things easier with transport and to give Caleb every opportunity to succeed.

Larking around like a typical 6-year-old one minute, Caleb’s demeanour changes as soon as he puts his helmet on and is called forward to the dummy grid. Caleb is now a racing driver and has that steely determined look behind the visor of all the great car racers. Going out in the second of the Bambino groups, the track is still damp but we have a welcome break in the rain. On track, I am amazed at Caleb’s control over his kart on a track unfamiliar to him and slippery with the rain, already taking the ideal racing line and understanding when to accelerate when coming out of each corner. Re-energised, Caleb records a time that is 6 seconds better than his previous best over the weekend, bringing a smile to all concerned.

The passion involved with karting is fantastic and it provides a great opportunity for youngsters of all ages from six upwards. It is a huge step away from trudging the streets looking for something to do. In participating in karting these youngsters are developing road craft, on and off track self discipline, engineering and mechanics, all at the same time as having fun – a lot of fun. I was so jealous, but at least I felt part of Caleb’s enjoyment.

After a short break for the marshals and officials to enjoy some well-earned lunch, Caleb was back on track for the third of his runs. With more surface water from the constant showers, Caleb is unable to better his time but without a hint of a crash or spin, he is learning all the time about what his kart can do in different driving conditions. Shortly after finishing his third run, the heavens start to open once again and the track (and everyone at the track) just gets wetter and wetter.

Undeterred, Caleb takes to the track for the final race, this time protected from the elements from his own wet weather suit. With rain falling heavily and thick grey cloud cover that is well below the height of the surrounding mountains, the 5 o’clock Autumn light makes it more like a typical January day. I head for the highpoint for viewing where I am able to see and video the whole track. Track conditions are terrible and it is only through the hard work of the voluntary staff on site that racing can still take place.

With the spray rising from the rear wheels, Caleb still steers his kart expertly around the course, faultless in his control but thoroughly drenched by the time he takes the chequered flag. Experiences like this in his first development year in the sport are of huge value. The races finished, another long day at the track, you might think Caleb would feel tired and ready for a sleep but he is far from it. In the worst of the day’s rain, when all the equipment that makes Silence Racing possible needs to be put back in the van, Caleb still wants to have fun by resisting having his waterproofs taken off. We are all drenched and dreading the long journey home, but he is smiles, giggles and winding us up, showing that he has at least achieved the main ambition for the weekend – to have fun!

Setting out on the long journey home, re-entering the worst that Hurricane Bertha has to offer, I am left to reflect on what was a really enjoyable day. It is great to see a deaf youngster like Caleb having this opportunity and fitting in so easily with other racers in the Bambino class. He is relaxed around using signs to communicate in public and picks things up quickly and easily as most six year olds do almost instantly improving lines of communication and understanding. I am just pleased to be able to play even a small role in supporting Caleb, Silence Racing and his development as a racing driver.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Sport

11th August 2014