Way back in November, there I was, sat with Assistant District Governor Clive Warcup’s very own 1040 East South Group’s ‘President Elects Preparation’ get together with representatives from the Rotary Clubs of Beverley, Bridlington, Driffield, Filey, Malton & North, Pocklington & Market Weighton and Weighton Wolds. I suddenly realised that I had just agreed, not only to attend the Market Weighton Whacky Races, but actually to take part in their ‘Soapbox Challenge’!

How we all laughed, what a wonderful thing to do, then I got into my car and wondered what on earth I had let myself in for?

Self denial can only go on for so long and the ever smiling and often reassuring President elect Carol Watson would gently remind me of my promise from time to time. Each week Sunday 16th July seemed to come ever closer and still I refused to acknowledge that I had committed, not just life and reputation, but my sanity too. What exactly was I supposed to do I wondered… but not for long, the entry form and information pack arrived!

I read through it quickly; “Have fun”, “raise lots of money”, ” medals for the best dressed”, “the slowest team”; ‘I can do this’, I thought! I read on a bit further, “Soapbox should be fitted with roll bar’, 2 people must wear full faced crash helmets”, “the soapbox must have a braking system as they can reach high speeds!”

A sudden reality just dawned on me, I have volunteered to do something and I had no idea what I was supposed to do! Still I had become District Governor in exactly the same manner, what have I got to lose? “Make the best of it Robert”, I told myself reassuringly, “you just need some help, but where from and in what form?”

What should I call the cart? “Dead Cert” replied Carol helpfully!

District Governor Elect Nigel, said “I know someone who might be able to help you”

So I rang David Sugden from the Rotary Club of Cleckheaton “David” I said with as much authority as I could summon “I have a coffin and I need it converting into a vehicle I can race down a hill in a soap box challenge, can you help?”
To my surprise and without a moment’s hesitation he said “Yes, bring it to the workshop and let’s see what we need to do”.
I put the phone down and stared at the wall ‘stunned amazement’ doesn’t quite cover it!

David Sugden (left) with David Phillips with “Dead Cert”

David Sugden and Bill Stevenson from the Rotary Club of Cleckheaton and David’s motor racing son, Tim provided much needed expertise, enthusiasm and knowledge, they were prepared to back my stupidity with their time and skill. How lucky am I?

Time was against us and David had other commitments, we needed more help, I turned to District Community Chairman; David Phillips – he would know someone who could help. I didn’t need to look any further, “I can do that” he said.
The following day he turned up with a car boot full of tools and a seemingly endless supply of energy and ability. There was no going back now.

5.15am Sunday 16th July the alarm woke me after just 4 hours sleep following the Charity Ball the night before. What would the day bring?

I arrived in Market Weighton at 7.30am with a van, inside was a coffin suitably prepared to carry two people (That must be a first!) and carefully fitted to a racing cart chassis. I was greeted by the ever smiling Newly installed club President Carol and many of the RC of Weighton Wolds team. I gently made my way up and through the developing course; car tyres piled here and there, bales of straw carefully lining the route and with numerous tractors and farm machinery strategically parked or working away preparing for the day ahead.

A few minutes later David and Joan Phillips arrived with their daughter and her unsuspecting boyfriend Matthew. Matt was to be the ‘front man’, he would sit in the front of me, he had no control over any aspect of the vehicle. Having never met him before, I introduced myself, “Good morning Matt, I’m Robert, Do you trust me?” I said

He shook my hand; “yes’ he said almost inaudibly.


David Phillips (left), Robert (Inside “Dead Cert!”) and Matt

Two hours later we were at the start line, after several dummy runs, numerous photographs and much polite laughter at the same jokes from visitors to the pit lane; “I wouldn’t be seen dead in that” I heard a hundred times and still we pretended it was the most original joke ever.

There was no where to go now except down! (Another coffin Joke!) Could we get down that hill safely and over a ramp situated in the middle of the course. Not a large or a high jump by any stretch of the imagination, but I was sat in go cart chassis that was not designed to ‘jump’ and my bottom was less than one inch off the ground.

Should we try for the slowest time of the day, I wondered out loud? No chance of that! How could we return to the ‘constantly texting’ David Sugden and his professional racing driver son Tim and tell him that we aspired to win the trophy for the slowest competitor in the race? I resolved not to touch the brakes at all until I got to the bottom of the hill.

5. 4. 3. 2. 1.

David gave us the push start we needed and we were on our way. Nothing could stop us now?? Even with Matt sitting directly in front of me, the ramp soon came into view and still I refused to use the brakes. Bang, we hit the ramp and took off. Matthew came out of his seat and my head hit the roll bar, I opened my eyes and remarkably we were still going in a straight line.

How the crowd cheered when we got the bottom. Never before had a coffin travelled so fast with two occupants who could get out to tell the story!!!

Could we do it a second time, this time with a different configuration on the ramp and with a much higher ramp added at the bottom? We agreed not to, we might be in a coffin but there was no point putting it to its original and intended use!

The day was a great day, a fun day and the thousand or more people that came to watch must surely have taken home many great photographs, memories and stories to tell. I wonder how much money the Rotary Club of Weighton Wolds raised on the day? In so many ways it is probably incidental because the day was a tremendous occasion made all the more remarkable by the commitment of the Rotary Club, the Beverley motor club, the Young Farmers and the people of Market Weighton.

(See the coffin approx 1 min into this clip!)

My final words and sincere thanks must go to Rtn David and Tim Sugden, to Bill Stevenson for his ‘can do’ attitude, to Rtn Keith Halford for making the roll cage, also to David Smith for providing the a second seat and the ‘all important’ braking system at the last moment. I must not forget David Phillips and his family for making the journey to Market Weighton and for ‘being there’ when I needed them (and a piece freshly baked cake). Finally to Ken Robershaw for the loan of the helmet, leathers and camera – unfortunately the vibration ‘on reentering earths atmosphere’ caused it to work lose and it ended swinging freely at the finish line!

Without all these committed and dedicated people the humble coffin would not have made so many people laugh and help this District Governor keep his promise to President Carol Watson and everyone in the Rotary Club of Weighton Wolds for putting to together such a great day for all concerned

Rotary Club of Weighton Wolds
Website link;

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