AS HOBBIES go, building a car is not that unusual. But building a car from scratch and then racing it at one of the most iconic tracks, and finishing safely while other, more experienced drivers career off the track — well, that takes some beating. David Franks has not only done just that, but he’s also raising money for the Firefighters’ Charity at the same time. Liz Crudgington met the 42- year-old firefighter at Herne Bay, and his car Cooper, to find out why he does it…
You’re not a racing driver, but you’ve been racing in the car you built — how is that going?
It’s fantastic. It was a massive adrenaline rush. It was that feeling, the same as getting a shout and driving the fire engine. In our first race at Brands Hatch, we qualified seventh out of 11, which was unbelievable considering it was my first time out, we had 30bhp less than anyone else and it was wet. There were nine starters for the race itself and we finished fourth out of four finishers. We stayed on the track and kept it clean and I was so pleased with the result. The next day I really wanted to break the one-minute lap, and I clocked 59 seconds, so that was fantastic. I qualified third on the grid and was second place on the first corner, but seventh by the third corner. I finished sixth, but we came away with people saying they couldn’t believe I had never raced before and that we had built the car from scratch.
Why did you decide to build the car?
I am the station rep for the Firefighters Charity and I wanted to think of something different to raise money and the profile of the charity. I would much rather do this than stand on a corner shaking a bucket or washing cars. When we started with the car the plan was to do track days, taking people for laps to raise money, but it grew from there. I’m not a mechanic and I’m not a racing driver, but I’ve played with cars and we had a lot of support and a lot of generosity from people. We have had so many donations, worth thousands, from parts to support in kind and it really wouldn’t have happened without them. The car was built in my garage in my spare time and we are raising money to keep it running as well as donations for the charity. At our first weekend we took £215 for the charity as well as selling merchandise for the car and the sponsors all loved what we had done.
We also took first place in our class at Motorsports at the Palace which was another fantastic achievement for a car we built from scratch.
You’re a firefighter too — tell me about that.
I’ve been a firefighter for eight years now, four years full time. Before that I worked for British Gas as sales and development manager. I’ve switched from a complete white collar to a blue collar worker. I was with British Gas for 13 years and started at the bottom. The last project I worked on was worth £1.3 million, to help build the loft and cavity wall insulation business. But I was spending a lot of time away from home, travelling the country. The money was great and I have taken a massive wage cut but now I’m doing something worthwhile. It’s a bit of a cliche but I like to try and make a difference and do something good. My uncle was a fire officer in London and I used to pop in for lunch and he would put the lights on the fire engine so it appealed to me from a young age. I did try to join a few times without success, so I decided to work my way up from being a part-time firefighter.
So you were working as well as being on call for the fire service?
I was still with British Gas and they were very good. I could work at home and be on call. I really enjoyed it, it was a nice buzz; one minute I would be sitting at my desk writing a design project then the next my pager would go off and I would be out of the door.
Any memorable calls?
Every one is memorable really, because they all involve people. But one that stands out is early on in my career, in 2012. There was an accident in Calcott Hill and it took four hours to cut the kids out of the car. All four of them survived. It was the hottest night of the year and there was quite a lot of stress involved then but we did it and they lived to tell the tale. We do get calls that don’t end happily but we have to get on with it. I put it at the back of my mind and it reminds me of just how lucky I am.
Have you always lived in Herne Bay?
I’ve been here for 14 years, but I’m a south London boy originally. We came down here for a much better life. My wife and I have two sons and a dog and we love living here.
A Mini — I did it up then sold it on.
Run DMC, Walk This Way. I bought it from Woolworths — that’s where everyone bought music at the time.
Dream dinner party guests?
My grandad Oswald — I’d like to ask him how it’s going. Then golfer Severiano “Seve” Ballestero for a few tips, and actor Tom Hanks because he seems like a really interesting guy.
• The Mini and the team will be at the Herne Bay Classic Car Show on June 21 and 22. For more information visit www.firefightersraceteam.com or find them on Facebook or Twitter. To donate to the Firefighters Charity visit www.justgiving.com/firefighterscharity-kent-mini
Herne Bay Times, June 4th 2014