Meet the boss who raced Ayrton Senna

The Advertiser Series: Graham Payne leading the field in the National British Kart Championship Graham Payne leading the field in the National British Kart Championship

SPOT the odd one out - Senna, Mansell, Piquet, Payne.

For motor racing fans some of those names conjour up a golden era for the sport, but only one of them is still winning championships.

In his younger days, Graham Payne the managing director of Darchem Engineering in Stillington, near Darlington, competed in the karting and Formula Ford tournaments where budding F1 stars learn their trade. His rivals went on to become legends of the track.

A lack of cash prevented Graham, 53 from turning professional, but his enduring need for speed saw him crowned National British Kart Champion last month - a title he first won 22 years ago.

The Darchem boss, who lives with his family in Wolsingham, County Durham, is the Michael Schumacher of the karting world, pitting his wits against drivers more than half his age. "You look around on the grid and think 'am I getting too old for this?' In the class I race in you have to be 17 and above. I comfortably meet that requirement. The majority of the drivers are in their twenties and I raced against some of their dads.

"I play it down, because I don't like to sound boastful, but I drove against Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet was on the scene, and I drove against (Ayrton) Senna in Formula Ford. It would be more accurate to report that I was on the same grid as Ayrton. He had the best equipment and came from quite a wealthy family, but he was a very special talent. Where you really noticed it was his entry speed into corners which was quite phenomenal. If I tried that I'd have probably ended up spinning off the circuit."

Tragically, Senna, who is widely regarded as the greatest driver of all time, was killed in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

"I got to know him quite well. My father-in-law was chief mechanic at McLaren and worked for Senna when he was at Lotus," recalls Graham.

"Through that link I knew Ayrton, and also the likes of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen. They were great times.

"I didn't have the money to go as far as I would have liked. I flirted with Formula 3 and the testing scene, but when you are doing speeds above 150mph it becomes another world. It's a bit like golf. Getting to scratch is an everyday event but becoming professional is another matter entirely. If I am honest I probably didn't have the extra special quality that marks out the great drivers like Senna."

After concentrating on his management career, Graham made a return to the karting circuit in the 1990s, where the new crop of talent included Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

Graham's other great passion, for engineering, has also provided some enduring memories.

His job at the Royal Ordnance factory in London saw him manage the weaponry needs of MI5 and MI6. He later became production manager at Electrolux and then operations director with audio equipment manufacturer Tannoy Limited, and managing director of Goodmans Loudspeakers.

His spell with BAE Systems saw him handed responsibility for Portsmouth Naval Dockyard and the upkeep of Nelson's flagship HMS Victory.

Graham adds: "I'll let you into a secret. Only 2 per cent of the ship is from the original woodwork. The rest is refurbished. Let's say I had a big team of carpenters working for me."

FIVE minutes with Graham Payne.

Favourite North East building, and why?

Probably St James' Park because that's where West Ham are playing next month.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

My first job was at the Royal Ordnance factory at Enfield in London as a production manager and was paid around £12,000 per annum. It made all the small calibre weapons for various military and civil defence requirements and was really challenging and technically demanding, and I loved it.

What is the worst job you've had?

The worst job was being part of the project management team for the Sting Ray torpedo programme with GEC-Marconi which I took just after graduating from university. The pace of these long cycle defence projects was so slow that I was really bored and it did not suit me, so I left quickly.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

Not quite cooking but I started making cheese last year which is quite an involved process. The taste is wonderful and it beats what you can buy in any supermarket; also it's a real novelty when anyone comes round to dinner.

What would your superpower be?

The ability to go back in time. I think being able to see back to key points in history would be wonderful, and in my eyes being able to see the D-Day landings from a safe position would be incredible.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.

Cheating a bit but it would have to be a group of comedians and a band because a good dinner party revolves around music and laughter. I would have Jack Dee, Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay and Coldplay.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?

A Breitling chronograph calibre 13 watch which was a bit more any I would like to admit.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Umm, what's Twitter? My social life is pretty full and I have no time or fully understand social media, so the phone is as far as I go at my age.

Favourite book?

One of my favourite books is The Business of Reshaping our Nation by Digby Jones which was recommended by Geoff Ford of Ford Aerospace.

When did you last cry?

The day my father died was the last time I really cried.

What is your greatest achievement?

Regaining the National British Kart Championship title.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?

Probably two pieces always stick with me. Firstly, never worry about telling good or bad news because news is news. Too many people only ever want to tell good news and never communicate a balanced position. Secondly, always tell the truth, and if you can't, don't say anything. Credibility is critical in any business including maintaining a high level of morality, where lies undermine both.

Favourite animal and why?

A racehorse. We own a horse and I've come to appreciate their power, but when you see the physique of a racehorse it is something of beauty especially at speed.

Most famous person on your mobile phone

My mum. She lives in London and talks to everyone so she's extremely famous in the locality especially with the local police who are constantly being entertained with gossip, tea and cakes.

What was the last band you saw live?

I went to see Genesis a few years ago in London and they were amazing; I really would have liked to have seen Coldplay at Sunderland in the summer but was on holiday at the time.

Describe your perfect night in.

My perfect night in certainly involves my wife and absolutely does not include the kids. Once you get to this point life becomes much easier whatever the outcome.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Rowan Atkinson, not that I have had a life like Mr Bean, but I would like to think that my life has had some fun along the way.

What irritates you?

Anything to do with setting up items of technology i.e. computers, TV's, DVD players, etc. The instructions never make sense, which doesn't help when I never read them and then wonder why nothing ever works.

What's your secret talent?

I guess driving at speed.

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