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Tony Dron's Column - The Driver

  • Tony Dron, June 2010 - 0
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Tony Dron reflecting on the UK's noise problems.

This is war, with my local dairy. It seems ridiculous to be battling a fleet of milk floats, but this bitter struggle has gone on for three years. The conflict, currently in an uneasy truce, is all about noise. My milk is bought from the local shop, but the wretched roundsman drives past our house at 5am every day. Unless he backs right off the loud pedal his vehicle can be heard half-a-mile away, and it sounds like Reg Parnell really going for it in his BRM.

No other vehicle passing our house sounds anything like it, especially at that ungodly hour. The dairy denies there’s anything illegal about its custom-converted vehicles, but I’ll bet the exhaust systems are not original factory parts. These ‘milk floats’ are seemingly innocent Ford Transits, with petrol engines converted to run on LPG. Driven hard they make a penetrating boom with a mysterious ability to shake windows and rafters for miles around. Obligingly, the dairy boss has repeatedly instructed his driver to go gently past our house, which has helped. What he can’t accept is that we are already wide awake when the vehicle gets here because we've heard it loud and clear long before that. The driver has been more considerate recently, I must admit, but how long will that last?

This noise problem in our crowded little country does require a bit of common sense on all sides. Unfortunately, there are far too many stupid, unreasonable people in Britain. Decades ago, I remember hearing about a businessman who bought a big house across the valley from Prescott Hillclimb. Although he made a fantastic racket many times a week, flying in and out of his garden in a deafening helicopter, soon after moving in he mounted a campaign against the noise of cars going up the hill on a few days every year.

He couldn’t see why the locals found his attitude a bit rich, but at least he wasn’t as bad as another City boy who put his bonus into a country residence and then took action against a farmer whose sheep, he claimed, were too noisy.

You know where this line of thought is going: for years now, we have been seeing glimpses of a future in which motor sport will be less noisy, by law. It’s not an overnight thing, merely a creeping growth in restrictions that gradually amounts to a great change. Many circuits already have designated ‘noisy’ days, which are diminishing in number. At Silverstone, the HSCC’s one remaining totally unrestricted meeting is the Silverstone Classic. Tracks are being made to spend fortunes on building earth banks to reduce noise transmission.

How noisy do we want to be anyway? I think we all have mixed feelings on this tricky subject. I like to hear the engine of any car I’m racing, but I do wear earplugs to protect my own hearing and I would not enjoy the thought of making so much noise that I’m being a public menace. On the other hand, I have no sympathy whatsoever with people who buy new houses on green-field sites close to circuits, only to start moaning as soon as they live there.

For us, it’s annoying to have to test a 400bhp car when it’s so hampered by silencers that it develops nothing like its normal power and torque, only to find that it feels completely different at the actual race meeting when the same noise limits don’t apply. 

Unfortunately, saying that the car has been making that same noise at that same place for 50 years or more seems to cut little ice.

This battle has become political, with pressure groups working the system. As the law stands, I believe, only one person needs to complain about noise for the trouble to start. We too need to take political action, partly by pointing out the income that motor sport brings to all the regions in which it takes place. Would those who complain be willing to compensate local businesses for loss of income?

Calmly and rationally, we must resist unreasonable demands firmly and effectively. It’s no good, however, taking the line of one old driver in historics who buttonholed a leading race organiser, angrily saying: ‘It’s your responsibility to make sure these things don’t affect us!’ You might as well send King Canute back out to command the tide.

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