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A sunny race day in 2003

The spring of 2003 was warm and sunny to a rare degree. Most of March had been lovely and it was continuing into April. Walking the dogs was wonderful. The ground was drier than in many a summer, it was warm enough for long walks in short sleeves, and it was too early in the year to encounter cattle. Bliss.

The MG racing season started, as usual, in March. Gerry had been working on the car and wasn’t sure how it was going to perform. As always, he was anxious about how his blood pressure would fare when he went for his medical, but it was OK and he got his racing licence once again.

The MGOC had 14 races in the season, and Gerry usually also competed in the MG Car Club’s Silverstone weekend in July, largely because his firm held a hospitality weekend there. This year he decided to do a couple of extra MGCC races, the first being on 5 April. He usually raced under number 24, but for the MGCC he had to change it to number 7. Might have been thought lucky as it’s my birthday.

He set off early as usual on 5th. Another lovely day. He rang me during the morning to say practice had gone well, he was really pleased with how the car was running and the lads were now all sat in the sun together chatting. As usual, he would have been going as brown as a berry as the day went on. How brilliant to be getting a tan in the UK in early April! I asked if he knew his position on the starting grid, but he didn’t yet. “Ring me back when you know it.” Even by his own standards, Gerry was fairly buzzing. He said he had almost called me earlier just to blow me a kiss. I asked him to do it now. He blew me a kiss down the phone and told me he loved me. We were both laughing.

He rang back later and said he was in third place in his class and thought he had a good chance of getting past the person in front to finish second.

The race started around four on the shorter national circuit. By the last lap, Gerry had passed the person in front as he had predicted and was in second place in his class – his best placing ever. He must have been really excited. They came round the right-hand corner at Copse for the last time and down towards the gentle curve of Maggots before the next right-hand corner. The video footage shows four cars dicing for position towards Maggots, followed by a single car, followed by Gerry. Just before Maggots, he must have felt faint; he started to pull off to the left and changed down to third gear. The car hit the wall gently and ran along losing speed for about 50 yards, clipping the wall twice more before coming to a halt by a marshals’ post. Gerry was unconscious before the car stopped. The marshal realised this as soon as he got to the car and raised a hand to indicate medical help was needed. The medical team were only a few yards away, by Copse, and the silver Audi was there in around a minute, closely followed by a medical van. The doctor could see at once that Gerry was blue and unconscious. He had no pulse. At this stage, there was no telling whether there were accident injuries or whether the accident was the result of a heart attack. Either way, they had a few minutes to re-establish heart function before oxygen deprivation would cause brain damage. The doctor got in the passenger door, administered oxygen and began heart massage. They needed to get him out of the confined space of the car before they could do anything more. A spine board was brought in case of injury and, before they got Gerry out, marshals held sheeting up to deter sightseers. Gerry was pulled out of the door – they were all surprised at how tall he was – and laid on the spine board. By this time the defibrillator was ready. It was used three times – the video footage shows everyone sharply standing back each time. He was given several shots of epinephrine; a text-book resuscitation exercise. It was less than ten minutes between the heart attack and the medical team taking Gerry to the medical centre, and his heartbeat had been re-established by then. The team thought his chances of recovery were good. However, resuscitation had taken too long. Also, the excitement of racing probably meant his brain was using oxygen faster than normal and needed more than his restarted heart could supply.

The medics didn’t know it, but he was already gone. Whatever made him Gerry Thorn – that funny, vibrant, witty, warm, loving and very special man – was already dead. His body, though, lingered for three more weeks.

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