It was 30 years ago today: how I got my start

Dated  June 12 1985, the postcard that started my career...

Dated June 12 1985, the postcard that started my career…

Today represents a special 30th anniversary for me, as what happened on Wednesday June 12th 1985 proved to be the catalyst for my career as a motor sporting journalist. It was around lunchtime on that day that I arrived at Le Mans railway station after an overnight trip from London. I caught a bus to the to the circuit, talked my way into the paddock without any kind of pass, and from there things escalated pretty quickly…

I find it hard to believe that 30 years have passed since that magical trip to Le Mans. The scary thing is that counting back from 1985 by the same number, you get to 1955 – a race that for me could have taken place a hundred years ago, so remote does it seem.

But let’s go to the start of my story. At the time I had recently turned 20, and I’d just come to the end of the first year of my university business studies degree. A devoted racing enthusiast, and obsessive reader of Autosport since I was 10, I was desperate to find a summer job in the sport. I guess at the back of my mind I had dreams of being a journalist – I’d mentioned the idea to a bemused school careers specialist when I was 15 or so – but it seemed about as achievable as joining NASA and heading into space.

But anything would do, and with my future business studies qualification in mind I wrote to the three F1 teams based within easy reach of my south London home, namely McLaren, Tyrrell and FORCE/Haas. Inevitably they all wrote back saying they had no temporary opportunities, although the letter from Ron Dennis at least said I should try again when I graduated.

I subsequently explored a few other avenues, including working at Brands Hatch – I’ll never forget the steely glare of the dragon lady on the circuit’s reception desk, who had no interest whatsoever in helping me. Then I came up with the idea of approaching Barry Bland, well known then as now as organiser of the Macau GP. I showed up one day at his London office. He couldn’t help, but referred me instead to someone who shared his premises, and who might need a helping hand.

That man was Chris Parsons, familiar more recently as a Le Mans pundit on Eurosport, but then a marketing man and racing enthusiast who had just set up OSCAR – the ‘Organisation for Sportscar Racing,’ a fledgling sort of FOCA for the then expanding FIA World Endurance Championship. To my surprise he suggested that he might indeed need some assistance at the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, so I eagerly offered my services, and began planning my trip.

Nearer the time when I rang up to confirm details Chris said the opportunity was no longer there. I told him I was by now committed to coming, and to placate me he said he would ask his pal Roy Baker – entrant of two Tiga Group C2 cars – if he could do with a spare pair of hands. That was all the incentive I needed. I just wanted a chance.

Thus sometime late on Tuesday June 11th I set off by train from London Victoria to Dover, having finished my last end of term exam earlier that day. I can’t remember much about the journey, but I got a ferry to Calais, followed by a train to Paris Gare de Nord. A trip on the metro took me to Gare Montparnasse, from where I took the train to Le Mans. On arrival I bought a postcard from a little tabac to send to my parents – in those pre-mobile and email days I wanted to let them know that I had made it. That postcard now sits in my office.

“I have just got off the train at Le Mans and I’m about to get a bus to the circuit,” I wrote. “Journey was okay. Weather is cool. I still don’t know if I can get in or not!” Not exactly a good calling card for a would be journalist, but I guess I included all the relevant facts…

After a long trek from where the bus dropped me I told the guys on the various gates I passed through that I worked for Roy Baker Racing, and my team pass was in the paddock. Anyway, I eventually made it to the inner sanctum.

And then for reasons I can’t recall instead of seeking out Roy and the team I was ostensibly going to work for, I looked for Chris Parsons, who was using a little caravan as base camp for OSCAR. I don’t know whether he’d forgotten that he’d changed his mind, or was just impressed that I’d actually shown up. But all of a sudden the (unpaid) OSCAR job was back on. I never did work for the late Roy Baker, but he was to become a good friend over the years.

OSCAR was running a sort of official news service for the championship, and my job was to run around and gather information for Mark Cole, the journalist who was actually writing the press releases. I would then distribute them around the paddock and media centre, and run other errands, like taking messages to team bosses.

From somewhere Chris managed to produce an ACO press pass – technically that weekend I was accredited by Mosport Park, venue of an upcoming WEC race! Meanwhile when it dawned on him that I had nowhere to stay – it never occurred to me that I might need to sort something out – he agreed to let me crash out in the official OSCAR caravan, on the basis that I was out of the way when it was needed as an office in the mornings.

So there I was, suddenly at the centre of the action at one of the biggest races in the world, dashing around the paddock, the pit lane and through the alleyways in the back of the old pit complex, still exactly as it was in the Steve McQueen movie. It was a dream come true. That weekend I met team bosses, drivers and journalists, and one of those encounters was to change my life.

Up in the old press tribune opposite the pits I bumped into Quentin Spurring. Known to everyone as Q, he was then the editor of Autosport, as well as its WEC correspondent. But to me, steeped in the magazine since I was a wee lad, he might as well have been God.

I told him what I was up to, and handed him a copy of that day’s OSCAR press release. And then out of my back pocket I produced a tatty copy of the rather amateurish CV that I had typed up before I left home, just in case it came in useful. There wasn’t really much on it, as I hadn’t really done anything up to then except study, so it didn’t take long for Q to scan it.

He mentioned my school, and I responded by naming the one he had attended. He looked a little surprised, but impressed. I’d done my homework. Many times I had scanned the potted biographies of racing journalists in a handy reference book called the ‘Motor Racing Directory,’ looking for clues on how they had started their careers. And for some reason that little detail of Q’s education had stuck in my mind. I guess that caught his attention!

The Joest Porsche 956 won the race, and the weekend came to an end all too soon. On the Monday morning a guy I’d met from Canon cameras gave me a lift to Paris. He dropped me at his office, and I did the tourist bit at the Pompidou Centre before heading off to Calais and getting my ferry back to Dover, and finally a train to London.

That could have been the end of my motor racing adventure. But I badgered Chris Parsons by phone, and he said if I could get myself to the next WEC race in Hockenheim, I could help out there too. Not convinced about German public transport, I decided to try and get a lift instead. So I rang C2 team Spice Engineering and arranged to meet their motorhome at Dover a few days before the race.

I was standing at the gate of the ferry terminal at 11am on the Wednesday morning or whatever it was, and sure enough the aforementioned team vehicle came into view at the agreed time. I was on my way to Hockenheim – and it was free! Team boss Jeff Hazell, who had been at Williams just a few years previously, was a bit surprised when he realised that I was also planning to sleep in the motorhome. I managed to convince him…

I met Q again that weekend, and bothered the poor man with another sales pitch. Then the week after that came the British GP. A contact from Le Mans had put me in touch with someone involved in running the Silverstone media centre, and I landed myself my first F1 press pass and spent the weekend doing whatever odd jobs were required, and as usual, without payment.

Q showed up once again, and this time I surprised him by handing over a copy of report of the Hockenheim WEC race I had written, just to see if I could do it. By now he must have thought I was his stalker…

But my persistence paid off, and a couple of days later the phone rang at my parents’ house. It was Q. Somebody at Autosport was going away on their summer holiday for a couple of weeks, and would I be interested in coming in and helping out at £2.50 an hour? There was no guarantee that I would last beyond the first day, but I didn’t need to think it over. I had a foot in the door…

So it was that on Monday July 29th 1985 I headed to Autosport’s ‘satellite’ base at its typesetters in an old industrial building near London’s Old Street station. Following the instructions I’d been given I climbed the stairs to the top floor, and I eventually found a dreary, barely furnished office. It served as home for the junior members of the magazine’s editorial team until the early hours on every Monday and Tuesday, when that week’s issue was being put to bed. The only things in the room were some tables and a collection of huge, manual typewriters. Scattered around were pages of that week’s magazine, in various stages of completion.

My three new colleagues were already there, working away. Their names, I was to find out, were Bruce Jones, Tony Dodgins, and Joe Saward. They acknowledged this wide-eyed interloper with an air of curiosity – who was this kid, and why had their usually sane boss Q given him a chance to join their profession?

I suspect that thirty years later all three are still trying to work it out…


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33 responses to “It was 30 years ago today: how I got my start

  1. eokalla

    Brilliant story and path.
    And now on your blog a comment from a dude born in Cameroon (Africa), passionate by F1 and preparing his sons to enter Karting competitions.
    This just shows that F1 is not for the random sport fan, it’s for passionate people. I liked it when F1 fans where called petrol heads.
    I wish you all the best for the future.

  2. Dan Lawrence

    What a brilliant story, and proof that if you really can achieve anything if you try hard enough! Well done! 🙂

  3. GeorgeK

    Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do, in particular allowing us insights to motor sports via your blog and our posting of comments.

    And another 30 years to come!

  4. Albert

    Great story Adam. I could have read a 20 page version! Glad your persistence paid off. All the best for another 30 years.

  5. Jacques from Normandy

    And now we should hear Joe Saward version of your early time there. 😏

  6. Norbert Hoogeslag

    Dear Adam

    I may not know you personally, but if there was any moment to tell you how much I appreciate your blog, it’s this one. Your 30-years story is brilliant and… An inspiration for all those eager young men and women, that are looking for a career in writing, whether it is in motorsports or elswhere! Good job, Adam – keep up the good work! Enjoy Le Mans and keep critical about F1! Kind regards,

    Norbert Hoogeslag

    > Op 12 jun. 2015 om 18:04 heeft Adam Cooper’s F1 Blog het volgende geschreven: > > >

  7. Pollerunner

    I also want to congratulate you. Milestones are to be celebrate. And yes 30 years is a long time and you are still a young person. 🙂

  8. Melonfarmer

    Congratulations Adam, I look forward to reading your work for many years to come.

  9. petes

    Truly wonderful story Adam, glad that it worked 🙂

  10. Bon anniversaire!

    So glad you got your foot in the door, as I’ve admired, and been thankful for your work for many years.

    Lovely article, btw.

  11. Leone

    Congratulations, and thanks for another great read!

    Yes, time is weird; it’s amazing (though an obvious truth) that we’re as far away from 1985 (when I graduated high school and seems like yesterday) as ’85 was from ’55 (which as you noted may as well have been 1055 and not 1955…)and the way the world was then.

  12. floodo1

    Congrats. Keep up the great work, i love this website!

  13. Mark

    Great story Adam! I am just trying to imagine some young lad today, with the same dreams that you had, being able to do the same thing and I struggle to think of it being possible in today’s world…hopefully it’s not.

    That story has the makings of a book!

  14. Great story Adam!
    On for another 30 then…

  15. I luv chicken

    I remember picking up this kid at a hotel in Montreal, who seemed to have missed the press shuttle , and gave him a ride to the track. He sat in the back quietly, not knowing what to make of this group of loud laughing television people. If memory serves me, we did seem to pick on him, along the way. You made an impression then, and you keep doing it now.
    Congrats on the long career.

  16. Joe Saward

    I worked out long ago why you are in motorsport. It is because it is the right place for you to be.

  17. Off Track

    Mr Adam Cooper, I take my hat off to you Sir, as Nikki Lauda would say.

  18. LRM

    Always fun to hear the random twists and turns that make a life into a journey.

  19. Fulveo Ballabeo

    Great post, Adam. I, too, would love to read the “long version”. Or more on your time in Japan. Or your journey to F1. Congrats and happy 30th anniversary!

  20. Rusti

    Me, too! Great, great post and a wonderful story.

    I have followed your blog for some time and appreciate your reporting–you often get important stories first. I see that I join many other lurkers in thanking you for your reporting.

    This was my first intense Le Mans and I watched it all I could in the US which was not all that much.

    I started following F1–to the extent one could–in the 1960s and followed over the years waxing and waning as the technology available to see it waxed and waned. So my Aussie buddy says: Le Mans: 1000 horsepower! What’s not to love? I remember when F1 was like that. Monster machines.

    Seems Bernie is channeling Tony George–of unhappy memory. Nurburgring next!

    Adam, thank you.


  21. Peter Buckleigh

    Adam correct me if I am wrong but did u reside in Tokyo or maybe somewhere in Japan for a while……..?

  22. Ah stories of Roy Baker… Seems a good place to recant or repent

    Adam, at around the same time I had the joy of working at Cosmik and we seemed linked to Roy at every turn. It must have been the following spring, when Costas decided he would buy a drive at the Miami Street race. So in a similar way I decided to fly out, and did a deal with Roy to work in exchange for a bed for the night.

    At the end of the first day I was told I would be sharing a room with Roy’s chief mechanic, so I managed one step better than you.

    However then the idea went downhill quickly!, yes there was a room and a bed, A bed, a double!. The chief mechanic informed me that his very Californian girlfriend was about to arrive, whilst I liked her, another hotel beckoned.

    • Sounds like the RBR organisation! When I went to Miami a year or two later Roy recommended that hotel and I stayed there, but it wasn’t up to much, even by my standards!

  23. Leigh O'Gorman

    Very nice Adam. Very nice.

  24. Excellent trip down memory lane Adam. Thanks for that

  25. mark cole

    Great story Adam – I remember well how you helped me out in 1985, and my own story of joining Autosport in 1968 is not unlike yours – badger, pester and badger! Mark Cole

  26. Frank T

    That’s a great story Adam. I remember seeing Bruce Jones in the pub at Donnington when he was editor of Autosport in ‘94 and being journalistically star struck. I didn’t have the initiative to ask him for a job though!

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