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Exclusive interview with Nigel Anniwell
Nigel Anniwell is a perfect example of the selfless and generally unsung supporter of drag racing. He has for many years been one of that small but select group who officiate at races, giving up their free time and putting their lives on the line for little or no reward or recognition, content in the knowledge that their efforts help to make events safer for racers and public alike and ease the pressure of responsibility on race officials and organisers.
Nigel started his active involvement in drag racing by becoming a Fire Crew member and since then has performed a number of jobs at UK tracks including marshal, starter and fire diver. 2005 will be the first season in some years without Nigel's presence on the start line, in a fire truck, or in the pits as a shoulder injury has put what we hope is a temporary halt to his on-track involvement, although he has typically found gainful employment elsewhere at Santa Pod.
We spoke to Nigel the week before the 2005 Easter Thunderball to find out about his career so far and to ask what he has planned for the future.
Eurodragster.com: How did you get into drag racing? What was the first event you attended?
Nigel Anniwell: I first got into drag racing when someone asked me to help them out in their catering trailer,selling kebabs. The first event would have been the 1983 World Finals as it was then known.
Eurodragster.com: When and how did you actually become actively involved? Is any one person 'to blame'?
Nigel: I became actively involved the year of Darryl Gwynn's accident. I was talking to John Cross and Barry Thorne about the fire crew and they said to me "Why don't you join us?". I gave it some thought and the rest is history really. If anyone is to blame it's got to be me, I felt that I wanted to become more involved with the sport.
Eurodragster.com: After becoming involved, please take us through all the jobs you have done within the sport until 'retiring'.
Nigel: Bearing in mind that I had spent some time at Shakespeare County Raceway as well, I have done bleach box, pit marshal, collection area marshal, starter, Assistant Fire Chief and fire diver, and of course startline fire crew.
Eurodragster.com: We won't go into this in any depth, but we understand that you were deeply involved in the rescue of Darrell Gwynn?
Nigel: I was in the fire engine (Fire 2). The crash itself was quite horrific in as much as the car just broke up. I was with a guy named Phil, we couldn't pull out straight away because the engine was bouncing down the track towards us and we didn't know where it was going to stop. When we got there some of the other guys were already dealing with Darrell, the fuel tank was alight when I got there so we put that out and then we set about getting Darrell out of the car as quickly as possible. As always it was a team effort which rescued Darryl that day. Actually dealing with the accident was not a problem because the adrenaline takes over, which helps you through it.
Eurodragster.com: Doubtless you have some bad memories which we won't re-live here, but please tell us a few of your favourite memories from your years in the sport?
Nigel: Some of my favourite memories! There are so many. The most recent has got to be Kim Reymond running 317 mph, and Barry Sheavills and Andy Carter with their side by side 300 mph passes. I think the best memory has got to be the day I met our late friend Alex Brachtvogel. I remember thinking that he was bossy and then when I got talking to him I found he always had our best interests at heart. I think the funniest memory - and Ian will kill me for this - has got to be when Ian Marshall and I were gluing the start line, but in those days all we had was a barrel of glue and a sweeping brush. I was tipping the glue out of the barrel and Ian was sweeping it around the start line, well I stepped backwards and slipped on the glue and landed in the horizontal position. When I got up the crowd applauded, and yes Ian then did the same thing. The event I think was one of the first Bug Jams so you can imagine how many people were there.
Eurodragster.com: What would you say are the biggest changes between your first getting involved and 'retiring'? Either to the sport or to the facilities, or both.
Nigel: The sport itself has become more competitive and the teams have become more professional. It has also become a lot safer with stricter rules and regs for competitors. Also the introduction of the FIA and other governing bodies has also had a significant impact on the sport for the better. The facilities have changed dramatically over the the years and definitely for the better. For example we have a shower block, a safer return road and tarmac roads into the pits. The facilities are also better for the spectators compared to how they used to be, with better catering facilities and better toilets as well.
Eurodragster.com: What made you decide to 'retire'?
Nigel: The reason for retiring is that whilst working in a warehouse a few years ago I damaged my shoulder. I have had quite a bit of medical treatment on it and at one point I thought it had been cured, but it hadn't. Whilst I was doing the fire diver job last year at the FIA Main Event I lifted the body on a Methanol Funny Car and thought nothing of it, until I woke up in the early hours in complete agony. So after seeing the consultant I decided to call it a day rather than risk more damage to my shoulder.
Eurodragster.com: Having spent all those years keeping a safe eye on racers, did you ever fancy having a go at racing yourself? If so, in which class?
Nigel: I have never actually fancied having a go at racing myself to be honest, apart from the occasional Marshals' Challenge. Perhaps I might have had a go as a passenger as you did in the two-seater dragster!
Eurodragster.com: Your son David works in Race Control at Santa Pod. Was it parental influence that he got into and then involved in drag racing, or was that down to him?
Nigel: David has always liked drag racing from an early age. It was his decision to do what he does now. He actually started as tea boy for Ian at Run What You Brung events and has progressed from there, and is now under the watchful eye of Steve Horn and Darren Prentice in Race Control.
Eurodragster.com: We ought to add that David is a great help to us when we cover races! So, what does the future hold for you? We have seen you working in VIP and in the merchandise trailer at Santa Pod.
Nigel: At the moment I'm going to carry on doing the merchandise trailer with my good friend Lynne until such time as my shoulder has been sorted, then I will decide what or even where I will go. I have looked into the possibility of becoming an MSA steward, so who knows I may be back in an official capacity at some point, but what ever I decide I will still be at the track somewhere.
Eurodragster.com: That's good to know, the sport would be the poorer without you. Thanks for your time Nigel, and we'll see you at the 'Pod at the weekend!
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