ADRENALIN: Strained race relations: A day's stock-car racing creates unbearable rivalry among the (mostly male) competitors. Dolly Dhingra feels the heat

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The Independent Culture
Testosterone levels were running considerably higher than usual on this particular Sunday in Essex. Francis Shillitoe of Ovalsport, who usually only caters for company groups, allows Joe Public to experience the rigours of stock-car racing a couple of times a year. Why only twice? I was to learn as the day progressed.

Wives, friends, children and well-wishers gathered to see their loved ones play The Dukes of Hazzard for a day. Most of the men had already tried their hand at Formula racing and off-road driving and were hungry for further spills. The one-upmanship trophy went to Rick Dobbs, who casually mentioned that he had raced on camels in Britain.

Nervous that there was only one other woman, I received some words of comfort from Sue Evans (here for the fifth time in two years), who explained that 'although few women attend, there are two very different types; some who want to compete seriously with the men and those who just want to be able to say they've done it and are happy to drive around at 20 mph'. Keen to find out which category I belonged to, I took the wheel.

The cars began their lives as Ford Escorts, but there was little left of them now to suggest this. With no windows, doors, or mirrors, the only entrance possible is by climbing through the space traditionally reserved for the windscreen. Once inside the shell and strapped to the seat, one can do pretty much anything humanly possible in second gear. Wind and rain against the eyes at speeds of around 40 mph can be painful and the only way of knowing if there's a car approaching from behind is by turning your head.

By the fifth lap my competitive spirit was flagging. Winning seemed of little importance, but the shame of being female and coming in last was too much to bear. Right at the death, my ego managed to find its way into my right foot and I somehow saved face by coming in second last.

Sue Evans' husband, Les, who has organised many work outings to stock-car racing, admits that 'the quiet ones are the worst. Once they're in the car, I don't know what happens to them. They develop horns in their heads.'

There were few quiet participants today and drivers constantly egged each other on. When one driver overturned his car, the others reacted with cheering and applause. But his heroic smile soon vanished when he realised that his wife had failed to capture the spectacle on video. Sue Evans recounted that on a previous visit, one man carried on driving his blazing car purely because he was winning a race. Today, however, there was only a minor fire - due to a fuel pipe leak - but several collisions, not entirely unintentional.

Towards the end of the afternoon, the organisers were becoming increasingly agitated - four engines had already been burnt out. They were concerned that there might not be enough reserves to keep up with such a boisterous bunch. The commentator was given instructions to deduct points for bad conduct - to little effect. The circuit had to be watered down to reduce speed and limit further collisions.

Having completed two slaloms and the second heat, it was time for a break. However, the intense competition prevailed throughout lunch - even the tea-lady bragged about her red Mercedes Sports convertible.

With such a dog-eat-dog atmosphere, I felt no desire to stick around for the finals and decided that the only place I wanted to race to was home.

Ovalsport Ltd, 7 Priory Way, Hitchin, Herts (0223 314307)

British Stock-Car Racing Association (0602 465782)

(Photographs omitted)

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