Racing legend Guy Smith retired as a factory driver in 2017, after a stellar career spanning 3 decades, including winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003 and the American Le Mans Series in 2011.
Even though he might no longer be out on the track permanently among the action, that doesn’t mean Guy, brother of Wobblin’ About and Rockin’ Out founder Dom, has left the sport behind completely.
“As I’ve got older I’ve learnt more about the business side – when I started out go karting, it was just about going as fast as possible, but now, the further you get into the sport, you realise you’re actually a business and the driving is a small part,” says Guy of how interlinked the worlds of business and motorsport actually are, with so many skills transferable due to the commercial nature of motorsport in today’s world.
“It’s about understanding your craft,” he explains, and knowing what you need to do to be successful. Motorsport is an incredibly expensive passion, and in order to climb up the rankings, you must have some sponsorship or be a brand ambassador, like Guy. “As a driver, social media is so important, they look at my social media to find my reach, and you’re an extension of that brand, something I didn’t think I’d be talking about as a racing driver, but it’s part of the job now.”
He knew he wanted to go into the business branch of the sport and set up his company Greenlight Sports Management in 2020 where he now mentors and supports new young drivers working their way up the ranks, hoping to have the kind of career he had. Guy says there are two key traits when aiming for success as a racing driver: hard work and being humble. “It’s about hard work like anything. Whatever you choose to do, you get out what you put in. I’ve seen so many good drivers with no work ethic. They’ve been amazing but expected it to fall their way, and not pursued it, not worked hard and not achieved a successful career. But there are others who are not the best but have worked hard and have had a career in motorsport. You can apply it to anything, musicians, or football. Some go off the rails or fall by the wayside. A great work ethic is so important, you’ve got to have that dedication and love what you do. At the end of the day, if you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna be successful. It’s important to be humble and have an appreciation for what you do.”
Having taken up karting in 1986, it wasn’t an easy ride for Guy to the top, with his first senior win not coming until 1995 as British Formula Renault Champion. That same year, he tested with the Williams Formula One team at Silverstone for the first time. From then on, his career went from strength to strength, winning PPG Rookie of the Year in 1999, with his 24 hours Le Mans victory following just four years later in 2003 for Bentley with co-drivers Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello. Teamwork is something that Guy values very highly both in his professional and personal lives. “Within your team you have mechanics and engineers, working together to get a goal. It’s important finding what your skillset is, what you’re good at and not good at and trying to get the people in to fill those gaps.” He finds that teamwork is one of the many skills he was able to transfer from the world of motorsport to the world of business, particularly as he was a business in himself with all of the sponsorship, social media and brand engagement that is now expected of racing drivers if they want to reach the summit.
Although he would not win Le Mans again, he finished in second place the following year before transferring to the American Le Mans series and Dyson Racing in 2005, where he would race for seven years before winning in 2011 with Dyson Racing alongside co-driver Chris Dyson. He won Road America in 2012, recording the closest ever ALMS race finish, with this seemingly being a very successful racetrack for Guy, after he had recorded the two fastest laps there in 2006.
When asked what success means to him, from both a career and personal point of view, Guy sees it as two very different kettles of fish. “It’s really important to differentiate the two,” he says. As an athlete, he saw success in very much a solid form, as it was measured by ways of wins, statistics, performances, and trophies. Despite this, he is quick to point out during our chat that some of his best performances did not always show as his best results. In his personal life, Guy is very open with his meaning of success. “We all want to be happy and content. I know a lot of drivers who are successful in sport but unhappy in life. I listen to a lot of podcasts – they say people are searching for fulfilment through sports and adulation for what they do. As I get older, it’s not about the short-lived wins, being content and happier in yourself, and living more in the moment. That’s what I would class as success.”
For someone that has had such a glittering career, there must be some great motivations, such as watching his father who was a successful businessman while he was growing up. “I take a lot of inspiration from music – you get that buzz of endorphins which make you think I want to do this and that. I think having external influences are really important. Music is a big motivator for me.” Guy’s favourite music genre is rap, but he does admit that whatever his mood is often dictates what he wants to listen to.
Something that has perhaps been in the background of motorsport for many years is mental health awareness. With society now becoming more and more open about talking about people’s mental health, Guy says that everyone has their bad days, even himself, and that the level of awareness in motorsport has really improved over the last few years. “Some days it’s a great day, other days it’s raining outside, you don’t want to do anything. I think what’s important is knowing you are not alone, everyone has days like that, it’s not unusual, it just gets hidden better by others. It’s important to have good friends around, people you can talk to. I’m lucky, I’ve got my wife, we’ll talk about stuff if I’m having a bad day. It’s so important talking about stuff.”
He feels that motorsport can be quite lonely, given that you are always out for yourself. “There are usually two cars per team and it’s you against your teammate, you want to beat them so there’s that rivalry. It’s quite a lonely road, we’re left to our own devices.”
He admits that the sport has improved its mental health awareness in recent years. “When I first started it was never discussed or even mentioned – but in the last 5/6 years it’s become more accepted to talk about it, with more people to talk to. People are a lot more open and more prepared to sharing their feelings and it’s not a taboo subject, it’s a real-life situation.”
There is a danger to motorsport but having a team of qualified mechanics and engineers that you trust is vital, particularly in big races such as Le Mans or Oval. “We’re not thinking what’s gonna happen if I die? You can’t think like that, or you’d never do it. It’s about having respect, I think the mechanics put the cars together, they are well put together and safe but freak things do happen. I think you are aware [of the risk] but aren’t focused on it too much. Once the helmet is on in the car, that’s a great trigger for forgetting everything.” Guy has seen some tragedy over the years, losing friends to accidents on the track. He’s quick to be clear that racing is not as glamorous as it seems, and that it’s all about the work behind the scenes, which makes any victory sweeter.
Now with his company Green Light, Guy mentors up and coming young drivers such as Jess Edgar. Although they don’t have an F1 driver on their books just yet, Guy has spotlighted Jess as “a star of the future” and hopes that it could happen in the next few years.
When asked for his top tips for young drivers, Guy has just three: “Don’t be cocky…work hard and be humble.” Racing can be a tough reality for those that don’t make it to the top, but Guy is clear: “If they don’t make it but they’ve given it everything that’s all I expect from them.”
Words: Sallie Phillips | Interview: Dom Smith
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As a young woman with cerebral palsy (CP), I have always found social situations challenging, mostly when it comes to building friendships and participating in social events or going places. Although my condition is mild, and for the most part only affects my lower limbs, it causes balance issues and limits my running and walking speed in comparison with my peers.
Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition, meaning that although the impact is physical, there is a part of my brain that doesn’t work properly. My friends have found this confusing to say the least, with comments such as “You’re not stupid” made when I try to explain the condition to them!
Growing up, at school I had only one or two close friends who I sadly have drifted apart from over time. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, so I was interested in playing football or some other sporting activity, but my restricted mobility meant that I was often left out or forgotten as I couldn’t keep up or play the game in quite the same way as everyone else.
Socially, I was quite isolated and very quiet, and this unintentional problem at school never did anything to help with that. This may have something to do with being an only child, I’ll never know, but even as a child I was content with my own company and still am, to an extent, as I’ve got used to it.
I was the victim of some mild bullying at school, with comments and impressions made about my walking style and the difficulties I faced in PE, when academia has always been my strength. It was always patronizing in PE, as due to my disability, I was in the bottom set and not a lot was expected of me, so people didn’t always give me the chance to try something or show what I could do, even if it wasn’t what everyone else was aiming for.
I had hoped this would change when I was 10. I had an operation to help improve my walking, leaving me in a wheelchair for a couple of months, and having to learn to walk again using the same kind of frame as when I first learned to walk, at the late age of two years old. My condition meant that I was always going to be slow at learning to walk, but the sheer determination of my physiotherapists, something which I have had all my life, meant that I was able to walk on the whole of my foot, rather than on my tiptoes, like some people with cerebral palsy.
My social circle appeared to improve during my time in a wheelchair, with people taking turns to push me around the school, however this didn’t last, and I was returned to my isolated self, with the bullying becoming more prevalent in my final years at school. My social life was always difficult as I moved through my teens, with my disability meaning that using public transport such as buses and trains were a big no-no, given the balance issues I faced using them. This meant that I was reliant on family or friends to get me around, which made my teen years difficult, but passing my driving test in 2017 gave me some much-needed independence.
One sport I have always loved is swimming. Following my operation, I found a local swim team in Gloucester who had recently created a disability squad. As one of their first members, I swam with them for a decade, alongside numerous other disabled children, competing in local, national and international events over my time as a para-swimmer. I joined a charity called CP Sport, which encourages children and young people with cerebral palsy to take part in sport. They gave me the highlight of my swimming career, the CP World Games in Barcelona in 2018, where I won a bronze medal in my favoured distance event, the 400m freestyle, and helped the England squad finish top of the medal table. This was particularly special to me, as I had just missed out on a place in the squad 4 years previously.
The support of my parents has been crucial to my success in the pool, whether that be my parents acting as a taxi to get me to training and competitions, and spending their weekends and holidays sat by a pool cheering me on, or financing my kit, competititions or anything else that allowed me to reach the height that I did. They have always been there and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, both in and out of the pool.
Shortly after Barcelona, I turned 18 and was due to go to university in September, and so I knew this was likely the pinnacle of my swimming days and would not be able to be the all-consuming part of my life it had been for many years. Due to my success in the pool outside of school, I found school swimming embarrassing as just because I couldn’t swim like everyone else, I was disregarded as being good at it, when in fact, I had achieved a lot more in the pool than my classmates. This wouldn’t be the first time that I was underestimated either, as numerous times throughout school, I was dismissed as being part of a social event with ‘friends’ as they thought I wouldn’t be able to participate, without asking me.
At college, I found a much more supportive group of friends, a few of whom I am still in touch with today, despite being at universities at opposite ends of the country. With this new-found support, I was able to do more things that typical teenagers do, including getting blind drunk with my friends one night while celebrating our A-Level results, and going to a club for the first time. To this day, I have very little recollection of what happened that night, which does give me delight that I was able to have that experience, without being judged for my physical concerns. These were never things that I had considered doing, because the idea of losing more control of my balance and mobility than usual was frightening, but knowing I had that extra support of a friend who understood my limitations and reluctance helped blossom my confidence in a way that meant I could finally have some of the social experiences that I felt had been denied to me by my disability for so many years.Going to university in Cardiff for a journalism degree was a big challenge for me, as it meant moving away from the support network of my parents that I was used to, although I was determined to live away from home as to me, it’s a key part of the university experience. I knew it would be a difficult time for me, but their unwavering encouragement made taking that new and frankly scary step that much easier.
Having my car, which is specially adapted with hand controls, was a massive help as getting to Cardiff any other way was not possible but being able to do that gave me a whole new understanding of the word independence. Living independently is tricky when you have a mobility issue, and it meant that I had certain requirements for both my first-year halls, and private accommodation for years two and three, making my choices limited. I needed a low step shower, parking space and a ground floor flat. It doesn’t seem like much but having those made a massive difference to me while away from home.
During my time in Cardiff, I also had a personal trainer and joined the swim team, both of whom were very positive about making any adaptations that would work for me. Although my swimming level dropped considerably from the heights of 2018, it felt good that I was still able to be included within the university sport world, despite my CP, including winning the only Cardiff medal of my final BUCS competition in 2019. Not only that, but I met one of my best friends here, who I later moved in with in second year.
I made a lot of friends during my time as an undergraduate, and it was refreshing and comforting to know that, unlike at school, I was never treated any differently, I was just Sallie, not Sallie with CP, and was able to ask for help when necessary. It became an inside joke that as I was disabled, I was the driver, but one I was part of, rather than the butt of. I have remained in contact with most of these friends since I left Cardiff in the summer, despite Covid having ruined our final year, meaning we haven’t reunited for graduation yet!
Now, I’m coming to the end of my master’s degree in Multimedia Journalism at UCLan, and I am achieving things I would never have thought possible with my disability. Much of my concerns were similar when moving here, but everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive, adapting things so that I can do them, rather than stopping me if I can’t do something like everyone else, including working with cameras and in the TV and radio studios.
I feel that I have really developed as a person over the years, and my cerebral palsy is a big part of who I am. I hope that my journey is a prime example of what can be done with a disability. I am very proud to be a member of the CP community!