Almanack: Collision course at Brands Hatch

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The Independent Online
NICOLA FOULSTON, the 26-year-old boss of Brands Hatch and three other motor racing tracks, has provoked a rebellion. Track marshals (the unpaid volunteers who rescue drivers from crashed cars, extinguish fires and clear the track after incidents) are incensed by remarks made by Foulston in a recent interview and are muttering darkly of boycotts and strikes.

Up to 300 marshals are required to staff a circuit for a race meeting, and Foulston seems not to like them. 'They are often rude to the customers,' she told a Sunday colour supplement last week, 'and I find it intolerable that I can't fire them.' She may not have to bother. Many motor racing people - drivers and fans, as well as marshals - have been sceptical about Nicola Foulston ever since she inherited the tracks from her father, a racing nut, in 1987. Now many believe she has gone too far. 'She often opens her mouth before her brain is in gear,' one driver, who did not wish to be named, told Almanack. 'But this time she really has gone crazy.'

Foulston seems to feel that the marshals spoil things for the crowd, that they are self-indulgent in the way they deal with crashes. 'An accident on the track is their moment of glory,' she said. 'It can take half an hour to do a five- minute job and it's the spectators who suffer.'

Marshals are boggle-eyed. 'That remark,' says Chris Hobson of the British Motor Racing Marshals Club, 'shows how little she understands about the work of an emergency team at an incident. When someone is injured, time isn't of the essence. The casualty's medical condition is our priority - it has to be.' He goes on to speculate whether, if Foulston were to be injured in an accident in her light aircraft, she would wish the emergency services to work with speed or care.

Foulston has acquired a reputation for outspoken views and a dictatorial style of management. Neither are necessarily bad things. But what is she trying to achieve by annoying unpaid volunteers? Is it true, as many motor racing people suspect, that she doesn't really like their sport at all? And is her attitude to safety as crass as it appears? Miss Foulston was reluctant to discuss these matters with Almanack. Her staff wearily suggested that she may have been quoted out of context. Repeated inquiries produced only a faxed quote of peculiar obtuseness. 'Customer care is a top priority at Brands Hatch Leisure Group venues,' it runs, 'and I do not consider that anybody is above improving their approach to customer care.'

Almanack would like to suggest that unless Nicola improves her approach to driver care, her 'venues' may soon be short of competitors.

(Photograph omitted)