You don’t sit in a kart – you are part of it. The front wheels are an extension of your feet; the back wheels part of your shoulders. It’s nothing like driving a car. You can’t see as much, you have no suspension to smooth out the bumps and you don’t have that solid shell protecting you from the wind, the rain and being hurtled through the air if you crash. The lower you are, the more sensation you have of speed, so, when you drive a kart at even 50 mph, you feel like a worm with a rocket up your backside. – Martin Hines.
When Sammy Cahn, writer of some of the masterpieces of the Great American Song Book like Time After Time and All the Way, was asked ‘What comes first, the music or the lyrics’ he famously replied ‘The phone call.’
It is certainly the best way for writers to work as it does away with all those rejection slips or anxious weeks wondering if anyone has even looked at your proposal. So you can imagine the delight when, following the publication of Johnny Nelson’s autobiography, I got a call from John Blake’s asking me if I would be interested in writing another book. Popes and their religion didn’t come into it. The answer was yes.
The only snag was that I hadn’t heard of the subject. Which wasn’t because Martin Hines wasn’t famous it’s just that he was famous in karting and Formula 1 circles and I had no interest in either. I’m one of the few men who find Top Gear unwatchable and never tune in to F1. And I thought karting was for kids.
However, a little research revealed that Martin had been one of the guys who first spotted the potential of Lewis Hamilton and even I’d heard of him. And digging a little further – what did we do before Google? – it seemed that karting was a serious sport and that Martin was Britain’s King Karting.
And it was a commission.
The big question now was would Martin be happy to have me as his ‘ghost’? I must have said the right things when we had lunch because he agreed, but told me that there would be no recording over several weeks. ‘We’ll go to my place in La Manga and polish it off in a few days,’ he said.
It was one of the most intense few days of my life recording morning and afternoon. He had some terrific tales, exciting, shrewd and forthright. There were plenty of laughs and the odd anecdote that as a writer you know will delight the publisher, such as when he revealed that he had given karting lessons to the young Princes William and Harry while their mother looked on. ‘I hope you’ve got a picture,’ I said. ‘Of course,’ he said.
On the third day, I sat with a man I’d known only a very short time as he told me how, in a two-year period, his son suffered a dreadful accident, his daughter and both his parents died and he was told he had a life-threatening illness. It moved me then, it moved me again when I transcribed the tape and I shed a tear as I wrote the story into the book. It was one of those moments when you know you just have to get that passage right no matter how many times you have to re-write.
Amazingly we pretty well nailed it over those few days. One more session at his home in England to sort out a few details and the photo sections and the book was ready to go to the printer.
And I had a different perspective on motor sport although I still can’t watch Top Gear.
If you would like a copy of Every Split Second Counts you can order it direct from John Blake Publishing