Thank Frankel it's Friday: Driving with heroes at the Race of Remembrance

17th November 2017
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I might be the luckiest man I know. Over the last 25 years I’ve been able to race at every track I ever dreamt of driving as a kid, in cars I never imagined I’d even get to sit in. I’ve shared cars with a Le Mans winner, a BTCC champion and quite a few former F1 drivers. I once even had a race-long dice with Stirling Moss.


So why is it that right now the most memorable racing weekend I’ve had involved driving a Mazda MX-5 in Anglesey, sharing it with people I’d never heard of and finishing nowhere near the podium even for the class, let alone outright? 

I’ll explain. Every year a forces charity called Mission Motorsport hosts a race over the Remembrance Sunday weekend. It’s in Anglesey because the furthest flung corner of Wales in the middle of stone cold November makes these military types feel at home. It was a 12-hour race split into two six hours sections starting at 3.00pm and 9.00am on Saturday and Sunday respectively – the Sunday race being interrupted just before the eleventh hour for a service of remembrance in the pit lane.

The, er, mission of Mission Motorsport is to help the injured from all the forces to recover and retrain through the medium of motor sport. The charity has only just had its fifth birthday, but already it has helped over 1400 people, 90 of whom now have jobs as a direct consequence. In Anglesey there were over 40 ‘beneficiaries’ spread among the 45 teams taking part, a dozen of whom were actually driving, two of whom with us. 

I was in Mission Motorsports own hard-campaigned MX-5 with my editor at MotorSport magazine Nick Trott, a former Royal Marine commando called Paul Vice and an ex-paratrooper called Andy Jones. For Paul and Andy it was their first ever race. In our crew, there were serving members from both the Canadian and American armed forces as well as plenty of British representation. The vast majority had never met before this weekend and never worked as a racing team.

From left to right: Andy Jones, Nick Trott, Paul Vice, Andrew Frankel

All they really had in common save their military backgrounds was that all had suffered in ways that most of you and certainly I could not begin to understand. Paul Vice’s service in Iraq and Afghanistan earned him the Military Cross, but in 2011 he was blown up by an IED leaving him with injuries including but not limited to a broken neck, a severed carotid artery, a badly damaged arm, and a leg so useless he elected two years later to have it amputated. He survived the initial explosion only because a fellow marine literally stuck his knee into the neck wound, but he still had a stroke, suffered paralysis down one side and partial loss of both hearing and sight. His heart stopped twice on the Chinook that came to get him and once they got him back they pulled 400 lumps of shrapnel out of his body. For reasons I hope are now apparent, we were all a bit in awe of the man everyone calls Vicey.

Andy Jones’s story is a little less dramatic, but no less thought-provoking. He also trod on an IED in Afghanistan, evil devices packed with whatever materials the insurgents can find. He remembers very clearly looking down and recognising part of car’s exhaust system sticking out what was left of his leg. His injuries were not life-threatening and after months of rehabilitation, he was sent back to the Parachute Regiment. But while his physical injuries may have partially healed, the mental ones had not. He was medically discharged in 2013, went home, couldn’t cope, lost his marriage and his house and ended up homeless living out of bin bags. His life is now back on track but as I was to see for myself, the scars remain. 

Indeed they came close to ending his weekend almost before it had begun. On the very first corner of his first lap of qualifying, he lost control of the car and parked it in the mud. To most people who race regularly this sort of everyday event rates on the spectrum from faintly annoying to mildly amusing. To Andy Jones, absolutely in bits behind the wheel, it felt like an utter calamity. Unbeknown to me at the time, during practice he had found for the first time his head completely clear of the terrible memories that filled it from what he had seen and suffered during his time in Afghanistan. And now it seemed the one respite he had found had been taken away. It took a lot of quiet encouragement from a number of Mission Motorsport seasoned professionals just to stop him walking away for good there and then. 

You look at a man like Andy, a man mountain and product of one of the most elite regiments on earth and it is hard to believe he could be affected by anything. But I’ll tell you this: watching him get back in that car for his first stint in the race – in any race – was one of the bravest things I’ve seen a man do. He drove for an hour and then did so again in the dead of night. And on Sunday after he’d driven the car over the finishing line after his third flawless racing hour behind the wheel in always difficult conditions, a different man emerged from the cockpit. Confident, proud, head high and grinning from ear to ear.


As for our marine, when he wasn’t giving the para weapons-grade banter, he was driving the wheels off the little Mazda, loving every second of it and wishing the entire race could be held at night. And the only person to fall off the track in all 12 hours of racing? It was me, though only because someone in another MX-5 thoughtfully gave me a little tap through Anglesey’s fastest corner dumping me axle deep in mud after one of the wilder 100mph rides of my life.

But in truth Nick and I were bit players, there to make up the numbers, maintain the pace and write a few words afterwards. The stars of the show were Andy and Vicey, not to mention Kes, Jeff, Ralph who all have their own stories to tell and who, with the rest of the Mission Motorsport crew, spent their weekend tirelessly refueling and re-shoeing the Mazda, turning themselves into a super slick team that would be a credit to any pit-lane in the process.

I always used to get annoyed when people who have achieved nothing more than the ability to earn enormous sums of money for doing exactly what they most want to do were described as heroes. That might make them fortunate, clever or some combination of the two, but being unusually adept at kicking a ball into a net does not make you a hero. I’d never have thought that getting into a Mazda MX-5 could ever be construed as in any way heroic either. After my weekend in Anglesey with the Mission Motorsport mob, I know differently now. Spend time with the likes of Andy and Vicey and you’ll know what a true hero looks like. And, like me, you will never forget.

If you are interested in the work of Mission Motorsport, or want to get involved, please visit:

Photography by Chris Ratcliff and James Wadham

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