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Life on the Road

How can I tell you all what it feels like to pick up the phone with Stew Robert's Double Platinum No-Limit American Express Card in your hand, and order ten of everything in the catalogue from Spendle's and MRD? Yeah. That's what I said. Ten of EVERYTHING, Gary. Cars, spares, motors, track, track accessories, decals, paint. Except the poxy rally cars. 'Which particular poxy rally cars, sir?' 'All of them, of course. All rally cars are poxy. Send everything else round to Stew Robert's mansion. Address? You really don't know? Shame on you. It's Dorset Devon and Wiltshire. The van driver can't miss it.' I can't describe the feeling we got driving a VMG McLaren into his swimming pool. Then another. Then another. Do you know how many 1/29th scale McLarens it takes to fill Stew Robert's swimming pool? Well, how could you? Rock stars- what can I say? Such a mischievous sense of fun.
Since hooking up with Stew at the West Hamley gig, I've been his full-time slot car-and-guitar roadie. I was OK straight away with the cars- that's what Stew wanted me for really, my tuning skills. But my guitar tuning skills I had to work at. Until I realised that a guitar was just a very big slot car that didn't go. The pick-ups are just static motors, with windings, magnets, all that stuff. The machine heads have gears that need meshing and grinding in, there are little resistors behind the tone knobs that are just the same as you find in your hand throttle, and the body- well, it's just like a big hand carved car shell really. When I resprayed Rod's vintage Gibson SG in light blue with an orange fingerboard, he was so chuffed to have the world's only Gulf Racing Guitar that he got me to do the rest of the band's gear. Shag Baddely's Strat is now dark green with a yellow fretboard and a little Lotus badge on the scratchplate, and Vleeg Hadstrom's Precision Bass looks good in metalflake midnight blue with a white neck and Dan Gurney's number 48 on the headstock. I fashioned a whole new image for the band overnight.
The first day on the road was sheer insanity. The whole band were totally hyped after the West Hamley gig and the monster race session after, and just didn't want to stop- even on the coach. So I had this idea. I rigged up a drag strip down the aisle of the bus, and had all the guys thumbing their cars down from a start gantry beside the driver and into a couple of cushions at the back window. It was going great- we were on the M47, cruising at 80 mph, when Flak Jakkit whipped the cushions away while Stew's Williams was three quarters of the way down. I'd put a bit of time into that car. It was flying. And continued flying straight through the back window in a shower of safety glass crumbs, and out into the motorway. Stew screamed blue murder. 'That's my best car! Clint fixed that up good for me. You're gonna pay for this, Flak!' 'Be cool man' said Vleeg. 'See where it is? Just get the driver to knock off a few revs and pull into the slow lane.' We all hung out of the smashed back window, and saw Stew's Williams lodged in the roof rack of a Volvo Estate just a couple of car lengths behind. So the coach driver, as requested, slowed down and pulled over. As the Volvo signalled to move to the outer lane, Vleeg opened an offside window and leaned out. 'Hold on to my boots, guys' he muttered. So there we were, 60 mph northbound on the M47, with Vleeg hanging out of the window five feet above the tarmac. Good job we did hang onto his boots- he was more out than in by the time the Volvo steamed past. Vleeg plucked the Williams cleanly off the roofrack, pausing only to smile big at the speed cameras with a long plume of aromatic tobacco smoke peeling out of the sides of his mouth and both nostrils. We hauled him back in, Stew kissed his Williams, and we broke open a few more Tangos. It made all the papers when the video footage was shown on 'Police Camera Action Stunt Tips for Vandals' and sold at least ten thousand extra copies of Stew's new album, 'Crosslane Traffic'. 'I was really flying, man. What a high.' Was Vleeg's only comment.
I learned from that, and during the next stop-over, at the Grantham SuperBowl, I knocked up a full Carrera circuit inside the coach, running along the storage racks all the way around above the seats. Big success. That coach instantly became the most famous tour bus on the road. The boys never needed to stop racing, from one gig to the next. But it did provoke a bit of jealousy.
At the end of the last tour, we were up against Iron Kanopener in the Rock 'n Roll Slot Racing League. An away match. And they had it in for us. We were old and flash, and had a bongo player. They were young and heavy, a stripped down three-piece. Everything black. All their stage gear, all their equipment. And all their slot cars. They even had twin silver stripes painted down the middle, so as soon as you put them on the track, they seemed to disappear, especially in the smoke filled gloom of their basement raceway. You never knew where you were with Iron Kanopener. They only spoke in very loud grunts, knew only three chords and one way of racing. Thumb hard down. They'd put extra lead in the back of their cars, and were determined to tailslide the Stew Roberts team into oblivion. And when you can't see where the opposition is, it's hard to take avoiding action. Then the atmosphere froze solid when the Kanopener's new roadie sauntered in, presaged by the unmistakable scent of patchouli oil. I had to admit Badger looked good in her Iron Kanopener leathers, and I remembered with a slight quiver how close we'd come that night in West Hamley. She wore unfeasibly high stilettos and tight black leather pants, which stopped well below the level of a heavy silver navel ring which she fiddled provocatively, black nail varnish glistening on the end of her long white fingers. Her short black singlet emphasised the fact that she had a couple of other new piercings, too. From under a red headband, her long shining black hair, now with two bleached white stripes, flowed over her bare shoulders as she wrapped herself slowly round Thugg Mee, the Kanopener's singer and bassplayer. They disengaged after a few minutes snorting, and Stew stared coldly as Badger dropped her pitbox on the track with an extremely heavy thud. 'Still rather have Clint in the band than me, Stew?' she said in a husky drawl. 'I go with the winning teams. C'mon Thugg baby, let's race.'
We were never going to make it. The start of heat one was signalled by Kanopener's new single 'The Multiple Suicide Addict Death Reel' grinding out of the multiple speakers, and it's relentless slow thud accompanied the entire race sequence. Of course, it might have been several different tracks from their album, but in the absence of a tune or a key change by which to make a comparative judgement, it just as well might not have been. On top of the fact that all our guys' ears and heads were throbbing, their eyes watering from the herbal smoke and the glooping light show, they still couldn't see when a black Kanopener Camaro came hustling up on the inside curve preparing to sideswipe our lightweight Lotus' into the boondocks. And the corner marshalling was none too hot, either. The Kanopener roadies were generally so stoned that their reaction time could be counted in hours, if they had any reactions at all. At one point Dwight Knightly's Dyson was nerfed off at high speed and flew straight down the throat of the geezer slumped at turn six. 'Mmm. Munchies,' was all he said as he swallowed. And belched. The Camaros were showing quite a decent turn of speed, too, despite the lead ballast. Our cars generally could keep ahead in a straight race, but then another phenomenon became apparent. Every time one of Stew's cars came close to winning a heat, the motor blew. There was no doubt about it, we were running hot. I put it down to the close atmosphere in the room, but it was not a problem I'd come up against before, with the motors I'd all carefully tuned, balanced, timed and lubed.
Stew came up close and wrapped an arm round my shoulders, and yelled mightily in my ear over the cataclysmic throb of the soundtrack. 'Don't worry, man. We'll take 'em on home ground. I've been through stuff like this before. Like in the 80s when I didn't even have a record deal. But we kept touring, working- now we're back at the top again. These heavy metal punks'll wear 'emselves out before my next set of braids.'
So we started to pack up our gear. Not that it amounted to much. Three bent chassis, six shattered bodyshells, ten burnt out Puma motors, and one Dyson-Ford completely lost, consumed by a semi-comatose roadie. All replaceable, thanks to the power of Stew's double-platinum credit card. But it was a defeat, all the same. I couldn't work it out. Then Badger came sashaying towards us, her stiletto heels bending slightly under each footfall. 'You chose wrong , baby, huh? I can make a slot car go just as well as I can make it stop, ya senile old creep. Get back on your luxury padded tour bus and collect your pension. I'm gonna party like it's 2099!' She swung away from us dramatically, but it was too much for her heels. One snapped in half with a loud crack, and she keeled over onto her black leather butt, clawing at a black curtain that hung beneath the circuit as she went. All the under-track wiring and power packs were exposed as the curtain wrapped itself round Badger's thrashing body, and I knew straightaway why we'd gone down in the race. A row of power packs, all with glinting LEDs and voltage regulators. All turned up to the max. And each dial went up to eleven. 'Blast it, Stew. We were taken by the oldest trick in the book. The Spinal Tap Strategy. They turned up the power to eleven. Most power packs only go up to ten. That's one more. So we were running on too much juice. No wonder the motors burnt out.'
Stew said nothing at first. He leaned down and threaded a finger through Badger's navel ring, and pulled until she winced. 'You need more than one riff to beat the Stew Roberts Band, Badger. We'll have you next time.'
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