I will be the first to admit that I have very little knowledge of motorsports beyond the very basics of Formula One, so I very much doubt I was the intended audience for Jason Plato’s autobiography, How Not To Be A Professional Racing Driver – although the title itself encompasses me. I was, therefore, slightly indifferent about reading this book and a little worried I’d feel both bored and excluded by any racing talk. However, had I known more about Jason Plato, I would have realised that this book was going to be anything other than boring, and it became clear from the very first paragraph of the introduction that this wasn’t going to be your average sports autobiography because Jason Plato is not your average sportsman. As well as being the self-proclaimed pantomime villain of BTCC, he’s what is traditionally known as a ‘bit of a character’ and the seeming antithesis of your disciplined, clean-living, whiter-than-white modern athlete, something that he openly admits. In a world where sports stars are nowadays supposed to be models of self-control, bastions of sobriety, there is nothing particularly self-controlled or sober, in any sense of the word, about Plato, and it makes for one of the great sporting life stories.
The autobiography is split into a series of ‘lessons’ – centred on stories from Plato’s life that underpin the ways in which he has veered so dramatically away from the rules and expectations of a racing driver’s journey – hence the how not to be a professional racing driver title. Each lesson is given a customarily irreverent title from ‘A P**s-up with Hunt, Followed by a Great Big Shunt’, to ‘Bugger Off Plato, I’m Not Interested’, and each chapter includes a host of memorable and hilarious anecdotes. There’s a chronological bent to the book, with the first chapter starting on Plato’s upbringing and early years, but the novelty of the sketches and narration means that the book never feels formulaic or contained. Plaudits must go to ghostwriter James Hogg in this respect as in addition to Plato’s obvious character and personality shining through, there is a real sense of his voice and delivery in the narration, which oftentimes get erased for a more formal and standard narration. The writing feels very natural and conversational and there is nothing at all stilted or censored. This gives the autobiography incredible authenticity and style and makes it stand out.
But it is perhaps the stories themselves which deliver the real selling point of this book, as they move from the sublime to the ridiculous, and are always lively and entertaining. Indeed, at times it feels as if you’re reading the chronicles of a rock and rock legend rather than a two-times BTCC champion, but this makes the book all the more fun. Driving and racing stories naturally comprise a part of the book, but they’re much less comprehensive or prosaic than is sometimes the case in sports autobiographies. Whilst this may seem a disappointment for some racing aficionados, the extra-curricular aspects, shall we say, of Plato’s life add so much to the book that they surely more than compensate. It also makes the book much more accessible for non-racing bods, and whereas a lot of sports autobiographies can feel quite alienating for non-sports fans, to my mind all readers will thoroughly enjoy the madcap stories of Plato’s life whether they’ve ever watched a motor race in their life or not. Indeed, I don’t imagine there are too many autobiographies that include anecdotes about cutting off the uprights on a rugby goalpost or getting a Reliant Robin jammed in a door. Fewer still that add in cameos from Roger Moore, Elton John, Cheryl from Girls Aloud, and a particularly boisterous Michael Schumacher. And none that include said sports star irking the future King of England and trying to blackmail a vicar!
Forget everything you thought about sports stars and any expectations of sports autobiographies. Plato is truly an unconventional sportsman, and this is truly an unconventional sports autobiography, but it is all the better for being so.
How Not to be a Professional Racing Driver – Jason Plato / Sports Book Awards Autobiography of the Year shortlisted