Walero’s ‘Real Racers’ campaign intends to shine a light on the personalities, stories and characters across all levels of grassroots motorsport. All members of the campaign compete up and down the land and have independently chosen Walero to keep them cool under pressure and help them fight it out at the front of the grid. This month’s article focuses on Ben Stiles, a late entrant to the racing ranks whose love of the sport was sparked by his family and whose immediate success behind the wheel has even taken himself by surprise!
Every route that leads a racer to getting behind a wheel for the first time is different. For 25-year-old Ben Stiles that journey was a family affair and one that took an unexpected turn. Nearing the end of his three year course at the University of Bath where the youngster was studying motorsport engineering, Ben had geared himself up for a career working on the car rather than in it.
The son of former Formula Ford driver, Trevor Stiles, Ben had grown up surrounded by motorsport from an early age. Nearing the end of his studies, Ben’s dad found himself competing in New Zealand in Formula Ford only to fall foul of an awful accident behind the wheel. The accident would curtail Trevor’s career but also see the start of a new one for Ben himself as the family were brought even closer together.
“My dad had done fifty years of it behind the wheel, on and off. I had headed down to Bath for university with a fair old work ethic. I have to admit to being a bit of a sad, old student – I spent more time working than I did going out! That meant though at the time it came to finishing up, I had managed to save up a bit of money too.”
“At the same time, my dad had gone out to New Zealand and he’d had a fairly big accident, he’d knocked himself about quite badly and was honestly pretty lucky to walk out of the car. At the time, it was fairly worrying of course but before I knew it my dad was on the phone to me.”
“There was a bent up old car sitting there in New Zealand and my dad felt that he’d got to the age where the time had come for him to step away from the car for other people’s sake. And so it goes, he asked me whether I fancied heading over to New Zealand to have a crack in the car.”
Although the opportunity had arisen in unlikely and worrying circumstances, the chance to get behind the wheel was something Ben had always longed for but never expected.
“When you’ve spent your life watching your dad behind the wheel, it is natural to have dreamt of being able to do the same. I think it probably took me all of two seconds to decide – so I took all the money I had, went over to New Zealand and entered into their National Formula Ford Series. Of course, it was properly jumping in at the deep end. I was up against guys who’d been doing this all their lives.”
“I can’t hide from it – you really do get it handed to you but it is one fantastic learning curve and I suppose that is where your motivation comes from. You pretty quickly feel embarrassed when you are six seconds off the pace, so you either chuck the towel in or you get your head down.”
And get his head down was exactly what Ben did. Taking to one of New Zealand’s most competitive championships, Ben’s natural ability behind the wheel soon became apparent. The decision then came to head back home to the UK to take on the domestic Formula Ford roster – but first he had to get his mum on board!
“My racing has always been a family affair and that is massively important to me. My dad has easily been the biggest inspiration of my career and he’s obviously the one that is driving me to push so much when I am behind the wheel. Naturally after seeing some of the incidents that dad had had over the years, my mum was incredibly worried about me taking part. Luckily we got her along to one of my first races at Brands Hatch which kind of swapped her from worried mother to proud mother!”
Alongside their time on track, the Stiles family use their racing participation to benefit as many people as they can off the track as well. Working closely with Chestnut Tree House, the children’s hospice for Sussex, Ben and his family can often be found welcoming many guests trackside from the charity at each race weekend. With Ben behind the wheel, dad working on the car and mum sorting the catering – the family feel is clear for all to see.
“Firstly, I am the incredibly lucky one that gets to be in the seat but for us it is all about involving as many people as we can with the sport. We are lucky to have this small little glint of motorsport but it is about bringing in as many people as we can to experience it as well and help create some new memories for them all along the way.”
The early days of his racing experience in New Zealand hold strong memories for Ben and he is keen to bring that relaxed, raw approach to the UK wherever he can.
“I think the first impression you get with racing in New Zealand is it is a bit like the UK fifty years ago. There’s no nastiness, no secret squirrels about…everyone is friendly in the pits and it’s violent on the track which is great! I get that motorsport is big business now but it can be a bit too corporate and a bit too sanitised – we’re just keen to get as many people involved and as close to it as we can.”
With next to no experience under his belt, Ben’s achievements in his first full year of racing and his first experiences of racing in the UK are all the more impressive. Taking eight wins out of the eleven races he entered, Ben stormed to claim the National Formula Ford 2000 Championship notwithstanding having to miss the series’ visit to Croft as he couldn’t afford to make it up there!
“Last year was my first full season in anything, ever, so to come out of it with a National Championship was a real coup and nothing like I could have expected. You sort of amaze yourself when you step into a car as a nobody and then a year later, you’ve tasted what it is like to win and you’ve all of a sudden got a little bit of interest.”
“Like everyone who commits themselves to grassroots motorsport, it is more than a passion and you have to make sacrifices but without that you couldn’t be there so we just try to do what you can in the week to make as many ends meet and then get yourself out there on the weekend. Last year we had to miss out the Croft round which nearly took the Championship away from me but there are a lot of people in the same boat and we are some of the lucky few who do find themselves on the grid.”
After tasting incredible success in just his first year of formal competition last time out, Ben is looking to continue his upward momentum when the time finally comes to getting back behind the wheel again.
“Who knows what the future holds, it’s all been a complete surprise to me how far we have gotten already really. It blew my mind last year and I never even thought I’d be getting behind the wheel if you’d have asked me two years ago.”
“It is really a case of aiming for the sky and seeing how far we can go. It’s a little bit of a shame that the current situation has halted our momentum a little bit but there are more important battles to fight at the minute. Once that race is won, we’ll turn our attention to getting back on track and fighting it out for some more victories.”
When the season gets going, Ben will be taking to the track to defend his National Formula Ford 2000 Championship to help him toward his goal of competing in The Classic Formula 3 Championship. With such progress made in such a short amount of time, you’d be hard pushed to bet against him doing exactly that.