Truck Racing: Mercedes team-mate cuts into Parrish haul: Mark Burton reports on a popular dilemma for the truck racers at a wet Donington Park

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The Independent Online
IF YOU were at Donington Park over the weekend, do not let on to any travelling salesmen you may meet. They would not understand.

Truck racing? Reps would reckon they would have quite enough of that, day in and day out on the motorways.

The general public seem to be of the same mind, given the small crowd that turned up at the circuit near Derby for a European Championship event that was extensively promoted in the Midlands. Up to 400,000 free day passes were made available through tokens, but the biggest crowd of the weekend came yesterday when barely 5,000 were watching.

That is a far cry from the day 10 years ago when the same circuit staged the first major truck-racing meeting. Then the presence of Martin Brundle, Barry Sheene and one of his motorcycling rivals, Steve Parrish (the present European championship leader), drew a record crowd to the circuit.

Everything was different then. One of the trucks earned its keep by hauling dog food. Czech drivers arrived with no money, their currency being the barrels of beer they had brought with them. It was traded for accommodation and everything else they needed to compete. Duilio Ghislotti dropped the washing machines he had pulled from Italy, won the race, then delivered his load to Newcastle.

Now the appliance of science has converted truck racing into a high investment, hi-tech enterprise in which high-profile manufacturers, Mercedes, MAN, Volvo and even the Moscow-based Zil, push back technological boundaries. Perhaps it is just no fun any more.

'We need a big name,' Parrish said after a persistent crank problem had cost his Mercedes the last of its engines.

'I'm very disappointed with the crowd in this country. I just don't know what the problem is at the moment. The promoters must take some of the blame; they don't even push it the way it could be pushed. So many people came in the early days, but it has waned. Yet it hasn't in Europe, where it is just as strong, just as big as it ever was.' The races at the Nurburgring, in Germany, draw more than 200,000 people.

Timing did not help this meeting. Two weeks ago, the circuit staged a touring car event and last week, the British motorcycle Grand Prix brought in the two- wheel fans, though even then not enough of them to generate a profit.

So why carry on? Why not take these 12-litre beasts, capable of hitting 100mph from a standing start in less than 12 seconds, park them on the hard shoulder of British sport and walk away?

Truck racing's champions have a ready riposte to those who consider the sport unproductive. The regulations have been redesigned to make racing more competitive and, as in touring cars and Formula One, the technical advances will filter through to road vehicles. That will improve safety and performance.

There is a ready riposte, too, for environmentalist critics. Black smoke, a sign of fuel wastage, draws a stop-go penalty and the fuels are considerably cleaner, as the industry attempts to clean up the truck image.

'Years ago, when the trucks were going round, you couldn't see across the circuit,' Steve Johnson, BP's UK truck-racing adviser, said. 'Now, with the fuel developments, there's hardly any smoke once they've warmed up.'

It was impossible to see the trucks for much of the races yesterday. But that was not because of smoke, not even the kind emerging from the ears of a frustrated Parrish. Torrential rain doused the climax of the meeting, but it did liven up the racing. Parrish's Swedish team-mate, Slim Borgudd, once of Formula One, emerged victorious, cutting the Briton's championship lead from more than 50 points to just 23.

'At least it makes it more exciting,' a resigned Parrish said. He then headed off to prepare for races in the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain, where his talents are more appreciated and he will not need a smart salesman to bring in the fans.

(Photograph omitted)