NOT many schoolchildren can say they have their very own “Stig”.
But pupils at Blackhall Colliery Primary School can do just that.
Just like the anonymous character Stig on TV’s Top Gear, the school’s assistant headteacher, Andrew Cowan, regularly dons overalls and a helmet as part of his hobby of stock car-racing.
Andrew, from the Hart Lane area of Hartlepool, said: “The stock-car racing I do is very different to what people think of as banger racing.
“People think of banger cars everyone would recognise as being off the road, with their windows taken out and that it’s all crash and smash.
“I do British Stock Car BRISCA F2 racing.
“It’s the largest short oval track race with over 600 drivers and more than 25 tracks all over the country.
“It’s not just crash and smash, but the contact element does add a significant attraction to it.”
Andrew said drivers start the race on a reverse grid, unlike in Grand Prix where the fastest cars start at the front.
Faster, more experienced drivers start at the back and must fight their way through to the front.
“Unlike in the Grand Prix, where you’ve got a massive circuit and only 20 or so cars, here you have about 30 cars on a quarter-mile oval circuit,” added Andrew.
The 32-year-old, who is originally from Thornley, first became interested in the sport when he was about 10-years-old, when he would visit the former tracks in Hartlepool and Newton Aycliffe with his dad, John.
He said: “The Hartlepool track was where Morrisons now stands.
“I think a lot of people in Hartlepool in particular thought once the track disappeared the sport disappeared.”
The former Thornley and Wellfield School pupil went off to university to study teaching, but the driving bug never left him.
In 2004, he bought his first stock car.
He said: “It was a steep learning curve, even after decades of watching, you can’t imagine how much harder it was to compete than it actually looks.
“The resounding memory I have is thinking you are working as hard as you can and driving as fast as you can and seeing other people actually fly past you.
“You try different set-ups to get the car running the way you want it to and as soon as I won a race and I knew I had a set-up that was working. I just made progress from there.”
He bought his second stock car in 2006 and this motor was built to a much higher specifications.
He said when he won his first race with his chosen set-up it was “just fantastic, especially taking into account the amount of money I had thrown into the sport”.
Drivers must have a BRISCA licence and must start the first three meetings as a novice.
A heat consists of 16 laps and each race can last four or five minutes.
A final will have 20 laps.
Andrew races at the Barford track, near Barnard Castle, which is where next year’s world championships will be held.
He said he got a real buzz out of competing against drivers on bigger budgets than him.
His dad helps with the mechanical side of maintaining his car, but Andrew does the majority of the work himself.
He added: “The thing I enjoy the most is that working on the car is a complete opposite extreme to the day job and the competitive element in a sport I have loved since being a child.
“The budget that I can put into it doesn’t allow me to get into the realms of challenging for major titles and trophies.
“But I have got some nice memories of good race wins and winning a final and a memorial trophy.”
Andrew admitted it was a “very expensive hobby” and said he had had some “nasty crashes”.
But he added that a lot of crashes looked worse than they actually are.
He said you do see some cars roll over when faster drivers nudge others out of the way.
But Andrew described himself as being “level-headed”.
“I pick a moment rather than a fight,” he added.
He said a lot of the children at his school, in Coast Road, Blackhall, have seen pictures of him racing.
Andrew, who has been assistant headteacher at the school for two years, added: “I think for any child, seeing a racing car and thinking they know somebody who does something like that it will be exciting for them.
“I have had pupils in the past who have decided to come up and watch a meeting and in some cases, the parents have become interested in the sport.
“You have inspired someone and it leads to the children seeing you not just living at school all day.
“You have something that makes you a person rather than just an educator.”
This winter, over the closed season between November and March, Andrew aims to build a stock car from scratch.
He is looking for help through sponsorship in return for businesses’ logos on his car.
Anyone who can help can call Andrew on 07922005186.