2016 has been a crazy year for many individuals in the motorsport community – one of them being Tom Brooks. In an in-depth and exclusive interview, I caught up with Tom to discuss how he found himself in motorsport commentary, what he has been up to these past twelve months, as well as looking ahead to next year.
Katy Fairman: Firstly, how did you encounter motorsport commentary? Was there someone that inspired you to try it or did you stumble on it by chance?
Tom Brooks: Motorsport is something that has been in my family since the early 90s as my Father obtained the racing bug in his early twenties and decided to take a Mk. 1 Ford Escort rallycrossing in the British championship. He was actually rather good and took a couple of event wins, but sadly the increase in costs and the impending birth of his first daughter (my elder sister) meant that he had to give up on his passion at the end of 1992.
Alongside Formula One and MotoGP, I always recall watching old videos of him racing when I was younger and told him that I wanted to race when I got older, so when I turned 11 he decided to buy me a go-kart. It was a lovely machine; Wright chassis, 100cc 2-stroke TKM engine, and it went like the clappers! Sadly, after some testing at locally abandoned car park and a run at the Bayford Meadows circuit in Sittingbourne, we realised that it wasn’t going to be feasible to race due to budget and time limitations, and so we sold the kart and I was left to pursue other interests just a year down the line.
It came around completely by chance, but in April 2010, a local radio station opened inside the secondary school that I attended and having always taken an interest in at least listening to the radio, I decided that I’d like to get involved. I had a few brief conversations with the Manager, but it never went anywhere and so I left it at that.
Undeterred, I decided to try again in the September, just as I started Year 9; we were just about to start an I.T project that involved creating an advertising campaign to air on the station, and being a competitive so-and-so, I decided to get a leg-up on the competition by popping in before school started the same morning in order to find out more information about the station, and what they were looking for. Fortunately, since the initial discussions in April, things had gone my favour, namely puberty hit and my voice dropped!
To cut a long story short, the manager decided to give me a shot and get me trained up to use the desk and eventually develop my voice in order to present a show. Two months later and I was on-air, solo for the first time. I was absolutely petrified. One, because I’d told everyone what date and when I was on, and two, because some joker decided to organise a staff meeting and hold it in the office where the station is based, meaning that DJs with over 20 years’ experience were just the other side of the soundproof glass! It was a case of sink or swim – fortunately, I must’ve swam, because after the one-hour slot I did, they offered me a permanent show!
Fast-forward three years, and I was now presenting daytime shows and looking at career options as my GCSEs began to wind down. I’ve always strongly maintained the mantra of if you’re going to pick a career, you want to enjoy every single day possible.
That’s how motorsport commentary came about; I was just sat in the second studio one afternoon dithering about on YouTube and I stumbled across this video of Michael Schumacher on a qualifying lap at Catalunya in 2004. It was just a raw video, pure V10 engine sound, and whilst it was beautiful, I thought to myself that it would be good fun to commentate over it.
So, that’s what I did. I recorded the raw commentary, edited it over the video and posted it on my Facebook page. To my surprise, my friends and family seemed to like the bloody thing and so I decided to do a couple more videos.
A few months down the line, three videos on Facebook and YouTube later, I decided to pursue commentary on a more professional level and with some money I’d saved up, I bought equipment to turn my bedroom into a mini-home studio and then just two months later I ended up covering a sim racing championship on Motors TV thanks to a colleague at Maplin (where I then worked part-time), and things kind of went a bit crazy from there in all honesty!
KF: When it comes to the start of a new year, do you set yourself goals or just try and take on as many opportunities when they come about?
TB: Honestly, I’ve always been a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person. I’ve always seeked new opportunities and thought about what I’d love to achieve over a given time, but – in the motorsport sector specifically – so many chances come around when you least expect them that it’s often hard to plan how things are going to happen, because most of the time you don’t know!
A key thing with being a commentator is being a ‘yes’ man. You’ve got to be prepared to get called up with a few days’ notice and drop your plans in order to fulfil a commitment, and I think one of – if not the – most important attribute is to be reliable. That doesn’t necessarily mean saying yes to every single opportunity, but not double-booking yourself or dropping a client in hot water for a potentially ‘bigger’ opportunity is essential.
It’s your personal reputation on the line, and far worse than a sub-par performance is being unreliable. That’s what the client will remember and thinking about the long-term game is incredibly important, as you’ll be lucky to get another opportunity with that client.
I turned down an all-expenses paid trip to commentate in Germany this year to cover a championship that I’d been working on since March. The money was better, and it was for a multi-national company therefore meaning it could’ve meant greater exposure for myself, but I had an agreement and I stuck to my word.
I truly do believe that everything does happen for a reason and if things are meant to be, then they will be. There’s no point fretting over something, someone, or a situation that can’t be changed. If it’s meant to work out, it will.
KF: Have you done everything you wanted within the year?
TB: And more! 2016 has literally been ridiculous from the word go and I couldn’t have ever imagined that things would’ve panned out quite the way that they have done.
I started the year out with a championship in place to cover providing circuit and radio commentary, however after some internal politics, it was decided that the coverage wasn’t what they were looking for and in February – right before the motorsport season properly started – I was out of work.
However, a good friend and former colleague, Jake Sanson, threw me a lifeline and offered the chance to cover the Cool FAB-Racing British Minibikes Championship, providing fully-produced circuit and radio commentary alongside my friend Lester Forbes. I’ll honestly never forget that, Jake’s confidence in my ability is incredible and without the opportunity, I would probably have just covered a couple of television bits on Motors TV, the occasional circuit commentary, and that would’ve been that.
After a few rounds working with Lester on Cool FAB-Racing, we realised that we work stunningly well together, so decided that we should take advantage of these skills and form our own media company in June, hence how Motorsport Media Ltd was born.
Within this brand operates Motorsport Radio, which, as the name suggests, is an online motorsport radio station! Alongside live coverage of motor racing events, live radio shows and so on, we are an all-in-one motorsport hub with the core aim of bringing the motor racing community together and increasing that reach to a wider audience; getting more people involved in motorsport – whether that’s as a member of the public with an opinion, a journalist, commentator, or anybody else – is what we want to do and what drives us to succeed.
Honestly, I could never have imagined that twelve months I’d be sat here chatting about even half of what’s occurred this year, so it’s a very pleasant surprise!
KF: You were at the Autosport International Show at the start of the year. Had you been before and how did you find the event in 2016? Will you be there again next year?
TB: It was my second visit to the Autosport International Show this year, I’d attended in 2015 for the local radio station that I work for.
I paid for it all myself, went up on my own, stayed on my own in my hotel room, and spent the entire three days there gathering interviews and networking, all for my own personal benefit; it was quite a scary thing to do in all honesty but hugely beneficial as I met some very key people!
This year I represented ‘Tom Brooks Media’, which is my own personal banner for when I’m freelancing. For this particular event I was producing audio and video content which at the time was for use on Downforce Radio; it was a fantastic experience as I got to spend it with some great friends of mine, and it turned the whole experience into something far more social and enjoyable overall!
In 2015 I had the opportunity to interview people such as Anthony Davidson, David Coulthard and Petter Solberg, who were childhood heroes of mine, and I honestly didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to top that! But to have the opportunity to film an interview with FIA President, Jean Todt, and talk to people such as John Watson, I’d say that this year was very special indeed.
Notwithstanding those things, I also competed in the Dan Wheldon Karting Trophy for Downforce Radio and raced against the likes of Steve Parrish, Piers Prior and so on. It was superb to be back out in a kart, and despite causing a red flag due to a spin that caused another driver to take evasive action into the barrier, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Without a doubt I will be back in 2017, but this time representing Motorsport Media Ltd. We’ve got a few plans in the pipeline for content and it should be a superb experience for all of the team.
KF: What else did you get up to during the first few months of the year?
TB: Moving house was a big thing! I’d had a house fire in the July of last year and such the family had moved out of our home to renovation could take place, so ensuring that was going ahead as planned was quite an interesting time!
Whilst that was going on, I somehow managed to blag myself a test in a rallycross car! Thanks to Todd Crooks from the BTRDA, he and the team were brave enough to let me test their Classic Mini at the Blyton Park Driving Centre in February. With my Father’s previous background in rallycross it really was a case of it coming full circle, and I felt a great sense of achievement in fulfilling a lifetime ambition.
If I had the time and spare cash to go and compete in a round of the BTRDA Clubmans Rallycross Championship, I would do so in a heartbeat; rallycross will probably always be one of my favourite forms of four-wheeled motorsport.
I have to say, I’m really surprised it all went ahead to be honest. My Gran had been diagnosed as terminally ill the Friday before the test, which also coincided with moving day, of course! I’d had about five hours sleep over that weekend and the likelihood of her making it until after I’d returned from the test on Sunday night was slim. Several times I nearly telephoned to call it off, but my Dad insisted that I went to Lincoln and drove the car, as it’s what she would’ve wanted.
I said goodbye to her on the Saturday night before I left and went to Blyton Park some three hours later. The test went well and I was telephoning throughout the day to check up on her condition; everything was normal, but sadly her condition deteriorated around half-an-hour before I made it home and she passed away. It was an emotionally tough but also beautiful time as she’d been surrounded by her closest family.
Moving into March, thanks to covering Cool FAB-Racing and marketing myself well online, I was picked up by a South African production company in March and asked to commentate on their television coverage of Historic Racing South Africa (HRSA) for the whole season; very unexpected, but a real pleasure to shout about some truly great motor cars and drivers battling on tracks including Kylami and the Phakisa Freeway.
Aside from that, I also commentated on the first round of Cool FAB-Racing and provided various sim racing commentaries for GTPlanet. A very hectic and emotional few months, I’d say!
KF: You found yourself with GT Sport back in May. How was that experience for you?
TB: I did! It was fantastic, a truly great event. The team at GTPlanet were invited to the event, and the organiser of the Endurance/Sportscar Series, AJ, said that it would be great to do a Ted’s Notebook-style of report, which is most certainly was!
A number of key people from the forum including staff, members and the site owner, Jordan (who was invited over from the USA) attended the media day on the Thursday, with the Friday being reserved for tickets holders and some media, which is when we shot the video. I really enjoyed doing something different and learning new skills along the way, it was a wonderful way to try my hand properly at presenting and be involved in an event that was showcasing something brand new!
Originally I was only at the event to work for GTPlanet but once I arrived there I quickly discovered that there were going to be several races taking place for the public to be a part of, and I enquired as to whether they had a commentator for the event, knowing that they’d had F1’s Ben Edwards the day beforehand.
They didn’t. So, I asked them if they wanted one! They handed me a microphone, and then I shouted about the racing for five hours. I must’ve left a good impression as Kazunori Yamauchi complemented me during his presentation later and I received a standing ovation from their employees! I was told that “Kazunori never forgets, and he liked you!”, that later turned out to be very true as I ended up commentating on the GT Sport game trailer, which was something that I am hugely proud of.
I’ll be honest, it was my favourite impromptu commentary of this year and I honestly cannot thank the team at Polyphony Digital enough for giving me the opportunity.
KF: Later on in the year you attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed. What did you get up there?
TB: Like with the GT Sport event, I was at Goodwood to present a notebook-style video about the event and show those who were perhaps unable to attend the event what was on offer.
It was great to get up close and personal with so much superb machinery including ex-F1 and sportscars, NASCARs and some beautiful roadgoing machinery. Being a bit of an Alfa Romeo fan though, my personal favourite was getting the opportunity to see the new Giulia in the flesh for the first time – a truly remarkable piece of design!
Unfortunately, it rained. When I say it rained, I mean it absolutely hammered it down! It was a stunning experience nonetheless and I thoroughly enjoyed breaking my virginity at the show, even if it was quite difficult to get out of the car park afterwards!
KF: Do you find you are busiest in the summer or does work tend to balance itself?
TB: That’s a great question. It’s strange because despite my summer this year being very busy, but I had my busiest week of commentary in the last week of October.
Commentary is one of the most difficult industries to be consistent in in terms of regular work and income, especially as a freelancer meaning it’s so important to deliver on every opportunity that is presented to you, as it could be your last. There’s a certain amount of pressure to deliver but when you’re confident in your own abilities, I think it takes a certain amount of that off.
I still get nervous when I work for a new company/client, however, and I think it’s good to have them for two reasons: the first is so that you don’t become complacent and take opportunities for granted, and the second is to channel them into energy. I used to play guitar in a band around three/four years ago and every time we played live I would get horrifically nervous, but I used to turn it into adrenaline and soon began to thrive off it, and I apply a similar mantra with commentating.
KF: The last couple of months have been very busy for you. Tell us what opportunities you have had.
TB: Where do I start?!
I’ve commentated on Cool FAB-Racing’s final few rounds which has been just so exhilarating all season; I’m truly grateful every time that I’m in a motorsport paddock and particularly the Cool FAB one as everybody is incredibly friendly and I know that one day some of the boys and girls that I’m commentating on will go onto be international stars, that really means a lot and hopefully I can shout about them then too!
I’ve also worked for MSV at Snetterton covering the British Truck Racing Championship, which is another opportunity that came about very last minute due another commentator being unexpectedly unavailable. I was alongside Mark Werrell, who is an incredibly experienced television and circuit commentator, and he made me feel incredibly welcome and comfortable throughout the day, which was superb. The following day I was at Buckmore Park to present the latest round of EasyKart UK for television broadcast; being my local circuit, it was great to be a part of something special!
At the start of October myself and my business partner, Lester, officially launched Motorsport Radio, which was a time-consuming but hugely rewarding project to get off of the ground! We were both astounded at the positive response it received and we’re both very excited to continue producing live radio shows and covering various championships into next year.
A couple of weeks later, I was invited to cover the penultimate round of the TW Steel Daytona DMAX Championships from their new circuit in Tamworth. Again, this was due to the original person being unavailable and recommending that I fill their position to present and commentate on that particular event. It was an enormous pleasure to cover something different to what I’m used to, and I must’ve made a good impression as they’ve invited me back next year to cover some more rounds!
As I mentioned earlier on in the interview, I had my busiest week of commentating/presenting in the final week of October with television work for the first two days of the week and then circuit commentary at the Henry Surtees Foundation Karting Challenge at Buckmore Park on the Wednesday, with commentary on the final round of Cool FAB-Racing from Thursday until Sunday. I calculated I must’ve worked around 75 hours that week, so I feel like I deserved the day off I had on the Monday following!
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve also commentated on a new oval racing championship for South African television and have undertaken a new role as Social Media Manager for eSPORTS+CARS (founded by Darren Cox), and have been working away presenting their coverage of the Red Bull 5G eSports event alongside visiting Motorcycle Live at the NEC.
I’ll definitely be having a week off over Christmas at some point, I feel it’s somewhat deserved this year!
KF: What have been your highs and lows from the year?
TB: The highs have definitely been the unexpected commentary and presenting opportunities that have allowed me to further my own freelance career, as well as launching Motorsport Media and Motorsport Radio. Everything from Cool FAB-Racing to presenting the first ever edition of ‘The Superbike Show’ on our own platform. They’re the things that I am most proud of this year, and I certainly wouldn’t change a thing!
In terms of the lows, I’d have to say that dealing with some own personal struggles such as family bereavements, as well as perhaps not making adequate time for family members and those close to me due to hectic working commitments. Being away for several days and sometimes weeks at a time can be difficult to deal with and can really take its toll, leading to having a stressed attitude at times. Having family and a partner who understands that is very important; needless to say, I’m privileged have both of those and it makes life ‘on the road’ much easier!
KF: Any plans for 2017 that you can share?
TB: I’ve got some really exciting plans in the works for 2017 but I honestly can’t share anything with you just yet. I’d really love to tease you and tell you what my plans are but at the time of writing this we’re still sorting out some, shall we say, ‘finer’ details with what’s set to take place.
Honestly, I couldn’t be more buzzed for the year ahead and I’m really very keen to learn all sorts of new skills and develop existing ones to the best of my ability. I’m looking forward to being even busier next year; commentating, presenting, writing, voicing, managing, developing, and whatever else comes my way.
2016 has been more incredible than I could’ve ever imagined, so let’s make 2017 even better. Needless to say, roll on the Autosport International Show in January!