Aldershot Town FC Chairman Shahid Azeem helped put disadvantaged children in pole position on Sunday, as four local community groups combined to kick start their lives.
A six-month scheme involving The Shots, GASP Motor Project and stock car promoters Spedeworth saw four clients of Aldershot young people’s charity Step By Step undertake a course in motor maintenance and restore a car in which Azeem competed at Aldershot Raceway.
“I was a bit scared before the race, but it was fantastic”, said Azeem after his first experience of stock car racing ended with him crossing the finishing line backwards in a fiercely-competitive heat involving over 20 cars. “It’s all for a great cause and shows that the Club are committed to our community, but any thoughts of taking it easy went out the window on the first lap. I had no idea where I was in the race or how fast I was going, it all happened so quickly, but it was so exciting, and the car was great. I have to thank the Step By Step mechanics for keeping me safe!”
Step By Step client Alistair McKenzie-Boyce, one of the four people who worked on the Vauxhall Corsa, said: “The car looks great and I’ve really learnt a lot. We worked on adapting the inside of the car and painting the bodywork. If the project continues, I’d love to be the driver next time – I was getting an adrenaline rush just watching!”
Of his own background, he revealed: “I was at College in Farnborough but was having problems at home, so the college referred me to Step By Step. I’ve moved back in with Step By Step a couple of times and this time I said to myself that this is it – there is no going back, I need to keep going forward. I’ve got a job now, and Step By Step have really helped me. I’ve experienced homelessness and find it really upsetting to see what others go through. It’s sad that Step By Step can’t help everybody but the help they do give is good, and things are improving all the time.”
With GASP providing the mechanics expertise, a team of four young people worked on restoring two vehicles to stock car race specifications during weekly sessions at Spedeworth’s Hollybush Lane headquarters.
Launched in Surrey in 2005, as a diversionary activity for young people involved in joyriding and car theft, GASP Motor Project help to change behaviours and support young people in making a successful transition into adult life through education, employment and training. Initially providing evening mechanics lessons and a go-kart track in a custom-built motor workshop, GASP moved to a larger workshop on the SITA site in Albury in July 2012.
Formed in 1961, Spedeworth Motorsports are the UK’s largest Short Oval racing promoters, racing at purpose-built stadiums across England, including Aldershot Raceway at Rushmoor Arena. Featuring a mixture of contact and non-contact classes – including the spectacular National Hot Rods, a variety of Banger classes and the mighty Brisca F1 Stock Cars – Spedeworth also race at Wimbledon, Eastbourne, Ipswich and Great Yarmouth, plus in conjunction with Incarace at Hednesford Hills, Northampton International Raceway and Birmingham Wheels.
Aldershot charity Step By Step empower homeless people and those facing adversity with a structured combination of services including accommodation, support, training, and counselling. Offering drop-in support and advice services, plus emergency shelter accommodation, education and employment training, and family mediation, Step By Step help people achieve their full potential.
Alongside several club sponsors, including builder Gary Finney, Oakwood Property Services, Yateley MOT and Goldstation, Aldershot Town’s all-time leading goalscorer, Mark Butler, also took part in the race. Butler finished a creditable seventh in the first heat only to endure the bittersweet emotions of being pipped into second place on the final corner of the second heat.
“It was quite a unique place to be, going into the final lap, but although I’m quietly disappointed it was still great fun,” admitted Butler. “It’s such an adrenaline rush, especially to be in front when you’re hanging on. But it’s been a great project and raising awareness of Step By Step’s work is why we’re all here. If this project gives one of their clients a new focus or sense of purpose, that would be a major result for everybody. Regardless of whether I win a race, Step By Step have already won.”