The Rise of the Young Apprentice

Posted by | Posted in Upfront | Posted on 11-01-2012

Tom Watson

Well it all started back in 2004, I was 15 and still at school when Warren, Brian and Charlotte agreed to give me a work experience placement at Topcats Racing.

I arrived 1st day to find Chief Engineer,  Brian Howard had the day off so it was down to Warren to find me jobs to do. After making the 5th cup of coffee Warren decided that I was going to take the gearbox out of a Ford Escort rally car unassisted. I have to say I was slightly apprehensive but as it turned out it was fairly easy to do and 2 hours later gearbox was on the floor and I was back to making coffee. The rest of my week there was spent doing the sort of things that most work experience lads have to do such as washing wheels, sweeping floors and looking for sky hooks in spare time. My week came to an end and it was back to school, I didn’t like school and due to this they didn’t like me. Shortly after going back to school and now knowing what I wanted to do with my life the teachers decided I was a massive disruption to class and it would be more beneficial to me and others if I didn’t spend as much time at school. They agreed to give me Mondays and Tuesdays off school if I could find a job to go to so it was back to Topcats to ask for a job. Warren agreed to take me on and for those that Know Warren will understand that he is not one to turn down free labour. Free or not it got me out of school and I was doing something I enjoyed. As a result of working for Topcats I learned more in 1 year than in the whole of my school life, most of which is down to Brian and to be fair I don’t think I could have asked for a better teacher.

My life changed again when I left school .Warren told me that he would take me on as an apprentice which meant college and also mean’t he was going to give me a little money each month. College was brilliant, I met some brilliant people and I achieved the grades I set out for but it was only when I had finished college that my work life seemed to be rapidly moving forward and was given more responsibility and more interesting jobs to do. Working for the team in the workshop was great but the real fun came when the race season started. Having not been involved in car racing before I had no idea what to expect and for the first couple of races my role was much the same as my work experience; washing wheels. After a couple or races my tasks became more interesting when I was asked to assist Brian in pit stop fuelling this was good fun and made a nice change. Over the season I tried to learn as much as I could but nothing could prepare for the last race of the year, the Britcar 24hour Endurance Race at Silverstone. It was there than my new found love for fuelling was put to very good use. Twice every hour or so myself and a couple of others would walk over to the fuelling pit lane that was separate to the normal pit lane and fuel the two cars that we had in the race. This was quite a challenge and after 24 hours of fuelling cars the novelty had worn thin but like anything it’s the people that your with that keep you going and the odd car entering the fuel lane on fire always livened things up a bit.

The next race season came and things were much the same; still refuelling and still washing wheels and still enjoying it. The highlight of the year other than the 24 hour was the trip to the world famous Spa Circuit in Belgium. I have never been anywhere quite like Spa, its a great circuit with a great atmosphere and powerful smell of waffles and the mission to get there and back in the trusty Ford Transit was normally rather amusing. The more races I attended the more I learnt and it was not long before my duties changed again and was changing wheels in pit stops under the watchful eyes of Brian and big Geoff (Clifton). Needless to say the more I did it the less they watched.

I have worked for Topcats Racing now for nearly eight years and in that time things have changed a lot. In 2009 I was given the opportunity to be involved in the running of a Mosler MT900GT3 and my role was to be in charge of the data analysis. This was something that not even Brian could teach me how to do as the car uses an ECU system called Motec and nobody had a clue how it worked. I was sent on a course to learn the basics on how to use the system. Three years on and with a lot of help along the way I have scratched the surface of what the system is capable of doing and learnt something new every time I use it. I loved looking after the Mosler it was a high profile car it was very quick and after ironing out some small/large issues we have had some amazing results with the car and I have enjoyed being involved with its success.

In 2011 my role at Topcats was taken to a whole new level when I was put in charge of running the Ginetta G50. This was a huge responsibility and one I have taken very seriously. Again having not run a Ginetta before it was a learning curve and after a couple of races started seeing some good results. It made good sense for me to look after the car as the Mosler was now only doing 24hr races and the Ginetta also uses the Motec ECU. Even so I was chuffed to be have been given the chance to run the car and hope that I get the same opportunity again.

Back at the workshop Brian and I are also responsible for the engineering of road going TVR’s, Marcos’s and other specialised V8’s. Two year’s ago Topcats Racing wanted to offer a radical alternative to the unreliable TVR engines and embarked on a test project TVR Sagaris to implant a Chevy V8 LS7 engine which put out almost 600hp and was a huge success. Since then we have had a continuous stream of cars into the workshop to be converted. To begin with I assisted Brian with the conversions, learning how to install the new engine as well as all the other components that needed to be replaced, modified and upgraded in the process and I am very proud to say that I recently completed my first LS7 conversion unassisted and was equally proud when the new badge was fitted to the dashboard bearing the words ‘Conversion by Tom Watson’. Between Brian and I we have completed 10 conversions in 2011 with more in the queue.

Now we are in 2012 and the race season is yet to start. I have no idea what is going to happen this year but whatever does I am sure it will be good fun and there is nothing else I would rather be doing.

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