I can’t believe you started driving when you were still at primary school!
You can join the club the year you’re going to turn 12, so I was in Year 6. I was quite a small Year 6 too, driving this powerful machine! It thought it was the coolest thing ever, especially being able to go back to my class on Monday and say, “This weekend I drove a car!” – and show them the pictures and videos to prove it!
But how did you even reach the pedals?!
At first I could barely see over the windscreen! I tried sitting on a cushion but that wasn’t quite right, so for several years it was a case of moving the seat as far forward as it would go and having the wing-mirrors pushed right in.
You have to drive your parent’s car at the club, right?
Yes, it’s your parent who actually teaches you to drive. But there are lots of instructors who hop in and out of the cars and sit in the back and give you advice.
So was it a bonding thing for you or your dad – or did you argue?!
It was definitely a ‘me and dad’ thing. It was really nice. But of course there was frustration. There were bits where he was like, “Why are you still not getting that right?” or he'd say, “That’s it! I need a break!” You know that thing when you get out the car and both go your separate ways...!
Was driving harder or easier than you thought?
Harder! As a kid you sit in the car and you see your parents driving but you don’t really think about it. I remember at first I just couldn’t comprehend why you had to put your foot on the accelerator and take your foot off the clutch at the same time. I was like, “Why can’t I just do one after the other?”
Tell me about the different levels and tests you take at the club.
You usually take the Grade 5 test on your first day – it’s the absolute basics – how to move forward, stop, reverse, simple turning skills. I got Grade 2 when I’d just turned 13, and then it took me another two years to get Grade 1. After that, you can drive solo without a parent and you can drive with your friends and go out in each other’s cars. But they expect very high standards at Grade 1 – I failed two or three times. There were tears of happiness the day I passed!
The club’s every Sunday, isn’t it?
There’s a meeting at a different venue every Sunday, but you choose which ones you go – you can just go to the ones nearest you or can go to them all. It starts around 9.30 or 10 and you drive for 2 ½ hours in the morning, then stop for lunch, then drive again until 3.
What are the venues like? Is it like driving on real roads?
They vary a lot but the aim is to make it as life-like as possible with roundabouts, junctions, traffic lights and things like parallel parking bays and reverse slaloms to practice maneouvres. There’s one venue called Bovington which is miles and miles of roads and there used to be a venue that was genuinely like a small town, with pavements, kerbs, trees and really crazy hill starts!
So what’s the speed limit?
Generally it’s 60 miles an hour. But the Castle Combe venue is a race circuit so sometimes the cones are taken away and you can do 70.
You got to drive lorries and buses too, right?
Yes, I drove a 7 ½ ton articulated lorry when I was 13 and I’ve driven coaches and buses. Plus some people at Car Club have very nice cars, so I’ve driven Lamborghinis and Porsches, and some proper old cars too.
What was your favourite?
My grandad’s Bentley! I thought “I can imagine escorting the Queen in this!” I went to my Year 11 prom in it actually.
What’s the funnest thing you did at Car Club?
Skid Pan sessions is top of the list! That’s where they put oil and water on the road, as if it was icy, and you learn how to handle a car in those conditions. It’s really fun!
Are there ever any crashes?
No! It’s a very safe environment. There’s no insurance you see – it’s at your own risk. Perhaps a few close shaves with the Grade 5s sometimes!
Did you make a lot of friends at Car Club?
Amazing friends! And there’s lots of social events like BBQs and things.
And how much did it help you when you took your real driving test at age 17?
Unbelievably! I only had two driving lessons and some of my friends didn’t even bother having lessons and they passed. But I think the greater impact is that it’s made me a generally safer driver ... it’s just ingrained in you when you do it for a few years rather than a couple of months.
The next Under 17 Car Club's Open Day is this Sunday 25th September. Visit the club's website here.