banger_280Amid a thick haze of exhaust fumes and the scream of revving engines, a pair of clapped out cars ram headlong into each other. The bumper hangs off one, and the other has lost both its rear wheels, barely recognisable as the Vauxhall Astra it once was. The race is over and Pikey Mikey is the only car still moving. He can now disengage his victim, pick his way through the wreckage of his adversaries, and begin his victory lap.

Throughout the South East, Banger racers meet regularly to smash up the cars they have been working on all week. Stripped of normal features and fitted with re-enforcements, the cars are daubed with colourful paint and scrawled with slogans advertising junkyards, hair salons or messages to girlfriends. Racers travel from Eastbourne to Yarmouth, from Aldershot to Ipswich to take part – all with a banger strapped to the back of a truck. Drivers pour hard-earned cash and hours of physical labour into resuscitating a car to compete with, and as the week progresses, excitement builds.

The infamous Destruction Derby epitomises the banger spirit. In this final race of the night, the oval track is turned into a figure of eight and the winner is the last car moving. This gladiatorial contest leaves the audience roaring with applause and falling about in hysterical laughter. Both driver and spectator visibly lust after this violent and explosive moment, which seems to satisfy a fundamental human instinct for destruction.

However, behind the reckless bravado is a surprising resourcefulness, entirely at odds with the 21st century climate of consumerism. While Lord Mandelson’s recent “bangers for cash” scheme is promoting the purchase of new cars and the disposal of used ones; this community bash the dents out of misshapen door panels and reuse parts time and time again. The lovingly painted vehicles look like relics from a traditional fairground as they are winched off the trucks by cranes.

I asked a number of racers whether they saw their sport as a simultaneously creative and destructive activity. The response was always the same, “Nope. It’s just a good day out”.

Chloe Dewe Mathews