My Digger Racing Experience Day Review
In June 2010 Red Letter Days gave me two tickets to try out Digger Racing. When you think of vehicular experience days you tend to think of racing a Ferrari or Lamborghini. The last thing you’d ever think of racing was a JCB 3CX digger. I was hooked by the novelty and took my Dad with me. In the run up to the experience my Grandfather also wanted to have a go so we paid for an extra ticket for him to join in, transforming a father-and-son showdown into a three generation battle!
We chose to race at Diggerland Kent as it was more convenient for my fellow competitors! Our experience began at 10.30am so we arrived a little earlier than that just to be safe. Just past the entrance to Diggerland is a small retail park which is where we had a morning coffee in McDonalds.
Buoyed by adrenaline, excitement and a tiny bit of caffeine we proceeded to check-into Diggerland to meet up with fellow participants. At 10.30am we all walked over to the racing area at the farthest end of the park and began the experience.
The day started with a very quick safety brief with the overall message being have a good time but don’t see red mist (be competitive but don’t get too competitive). The word “brief” sometimes has connotations of a long drawn-out health and safety exercise but here it was a friendly informal chat about the dos and don’ts. At the end of the day when you are in control of an 8.5 tonne machine safety is paramount so this bit of the day is essential.
We were shown the course before splitting down into three groups, each then huddled around an instructor inside the cab who showed us the main controls. There was an accelerator and brake pedal, a steering wheel and levers to control the bucket. It looked confusing but once you had a play around you quickly picked it up.
After the quick lesson we then re-grouped and were shown the course once again before the racing began.
There were three diggers lined up on the track. That meant we split into groups of three. Normally each group would race against each other, then the other trios would do the same before doing it all over again in lap two. The highest scoring participants then raced in a final heat to decide an overall winner. As our group was slightly smaller than usual they managed to cram a third lap into the day for everyone which was a really nice surprise. There’s no way to determine if this will happen on the day you go digger racing so it is best to go not expecting it and consider it a perk if it does turn out this way!
So it was time for the first lap. My grandfather, father and I were grouped together. We had scoped up the competition (a real mixture of ages and a 70/30 split of men to women) and decided we probably had no chance of being crowned as digger racing champions. Nevertheless, we weren’t there for the overall title, we were there for family pride and bragging rights!
When it was our turn we each climbed into our trusty steeds, the JCB 3CX diggers. Dad was in Digger 1, Granddad was in Digger 2 and I was in Digger 3. I was very surprised to see that they were new machines. I went expecting older, battered machines and found essentially brand new machines.
For those that are interested, the JCB 3CX Contractor we used had a 4 cylinder, 4.4 litre, 100 horsepower (74.5kW) diesel engine. The massive machine weighed just over 8 tonnes but was surprisingly nimble thanks to the power steering. Small turns of the steering wheel translated to fast and responsive changes to the front wheels, aiding manoeuvrability. Its turning circle ws as little as 6.9 metres! The JCB 3CX technical measurements were 5.63 metres in length (with the backhoe retracted and the front bucket level on the ground), 2.24 metres wide and 3.61 metres in total height.
The cab offered stunning clarity of vision in all directions, which I suppose is quite handy on building sites. The JCB 3CX used the JCB Powershift transmission, which made gear changes very simple indeed – a twist of a stalk on the left hand side of the steering wheel changed the gears up or down.
We started our engines and he flag was waved. Our first task was racing through a set of narrow poles to a tyre where we needed to perform a 180 degree turn. We all left at pretty much the same speed but my spatial awareness let me down (I blamed sneaky over manoeuvring by Granddad) at the tyre. Fear of colliding with him meant I had to slow down fractionally and that set me back a little.
The next task was picking up a cone with the front bucket. This sounds easy but you’re grabbing something you cannot see, due to the size of the tiny cone in relation to a massive bucket (with a capacity of one cubic metre). A Diggerland instructor was assigned to each race participant and they signalled to you to help you grab the cone. They gave signals to raise or lower the bucket, tilt the bucket back and forth as well as to open and close the bucket. If after a couple of attempts the participant didn’t manage to grab the cone, they let you move on, forfeiting vital points though.
The earlier sneaky tactics plus a stroke of luck meant Dad was well away onto the next task before I got through. Granddad was leading up the rear.
The next part was a tight slalom around a set of tyres before a long straight run where we discovered what digger racing is all about. The top speed may only be around 20mph but on a dirt track that was a bone shaking speed. We were given hard hats and expected that more to be health and safety related. I never expected to hit the cab roof several times whilst bolting down the straight! The track was littered with deep pot holes but these were no match for the JCB which simply bounced along over them. The cab featured an air suspension seat, absorbing some of the force of racing over rough terrain but you still jump from your seat, even though you are strapped in!
The straight lengths of track could be raced in second and third gear and were a great place to cunningly overtake if you have been stuck behind a slow competitor. Whilst I closed the gap on Dad I didn’t manage to get close enough to overtake.
The frantic race ended by lining up at the start and dropping the cone.
The race certainly got the adrenaline pumping. At the end of lap one Dad was in first place in our team, I was second and Granddad was third.
We then got to watch the remainder of the participants race against each other around the course. The racing along the straights never looked as fast as it felt in the cab though there were a couple of competitive people who managed to get two wheels off the ground along the straights! It was also funny watching other people frantically trying to drop the cone at the end of the course when they never managed to pick one up in the first place!
Before long lap two came around. This time we knew what we were doing and were better prepared. I didn’t let the spatial awareness problem or suspicious tactics get in the way and both Dad and I managed to get to the cone picking area at the same time. My hand-eye co-ordination let me down here (always an excuse!) and again I trailed in second place, though only just. I had a very good view of his rear bucket all along the straight but couldn’t find the speed (or courage) to overtake. We were almost neck-and-neck at the finish line but he won that by a whisker. Granddad was in third but wasn’t too far behind either.
Our third (bonus) lap came around and it was the same again. This time instead of the slalom we had to go into a ditch and come up the other side, meaning a steep descent and a steep incline. This was quite scary as you had to accelerate down to have enough speed to get back out. We completed this lap in the usual formation.
At the end of the three laps the points were tallied and it turned out that we were no-where near the top of the overall leader board. In our little race Dad was triumphant (and claimed the bragging rights), I came second and Granddad came third.
The experience drew to a close with a head-to-head between the highest scoring. The line-up consisted on those with guts, courage and a hugely competitive streak. This closely fought battle was neck-and-neck all the way along and was awesome to watch. They were definitely the best of the group as they stuck together like glue, battling their way for first place.
Whilst the scores were added up we were treated to a couple of moves from a Digger Dancing troupe team member. He showed us exactly the kind of gradients the JCB 3CX could be safely subjected to. Whilst racing in the cab we felt that we were pushing the boundaries of machine tolerance but this display confirmed we were nowhere near them!
The awards ceremony (okay, the certificate hand-out) then commenced with everything receiving a certificate of achievement and one member taking home the accolade of digger racing champion.
Overall, this experience was way more fun than I ever could have imagined. We went in with the attitude of competing against family members rather than other participants and this was great fun. Each of us went away proud and triumphant, safe in the knowledge that we had participated in a competitive motor sport still in its infancy.
If you love diggers, you’ll love this. None of us three had ever stepped inside a digger before yet we came away with knowledge and a great experience that we’ll remember for life.
Furthermore, we also got to spend the afternoon in Diggerland playing with the full-size machinery. There’s something bizarrely satisfying about digging a great big hole!
This experience was unique, fun-filled, and adrenaline inducing. It felt so much better value than a couple of laps around a track in a supercar as it lasted around 4 hours in total. We would all definitely do this again without a shadow of a doubt.
Disclosure: Red Letter Days gave us two free tickets for Digger Racing. We paid for everything else, including getting to the venue and for the third ticket. My review above is uninfluenced, honest and factual based on my own experience on the day we visited.
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