October 19 1999 became a defining moment for BTCC racing car champion, James Cole from Liverpool but not for the reasons you might expect.
Aged just 11 at the time, this was the day he was knocked down by a car whilst crossing the road to catch his awaiting school bus home.
After being rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital with suspected severe brain injuries, following further investigations it was confirmed that he had a frontal temporal brain injury, which was likely to take him at least two years to recover from.
When James did make enough of a recovery to return to school the following year, it was only part-time and he continued to battle with poor concentration and memory loss, and other major barriers to his learning and development.
James explains of this period, “For some time after this, my life continued to consist of regular hospital appointments, brain scans, and constant monitoring and psychological tests, and I was also unable to participate in any sports activity too, which was another major blow to me, being the complete sports fanatic that I am.”
For most people, undergoing such a horrific ordeal would understandably be enough to put them off driving or cars forever. Yet for James, the accident and his gradual recovery process became his very inspiration and motivation to start exploring his interest in motor racing.
His post collision medical care, which was overseen by the late Professor Sid Watkins, the FIA’s Formula One safety and medical delegate, inspired him further and despite some parental reluctance initially, James began racing in 2006, taking part in the North West Formula Ford Championship.
Almost instantly proving a natural behind the wheel, he went on to win the Championship the following season…and the rest is history. He quickly graduated to the main British Formula Ford Championship, then continued to rise through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2, adding a string of championship titles to his name.
This year 26 year old James has been racing a United Autosports run Toyota in the 2014 British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), where he has been making a name for himself for his work off the track as much as on it after launching his brand new ‘drivecool’ campaign.
James explains, “The experience of being hit by a car and suffering such major injuries as an 11 year old, has become the inspiration for launching this new road safety brand.
“The phrase drivecool is something my dad used to say to me when I first started racing competitively, and it quickly became my motto: Race hard, but drivecool James. Keep a cool, calm head behind the wheel. But I think that it’s an attitude we all need to have. We all need to ‘cool it’, and to be more aware of what’s around us on the road.”
“Even the most experienced professional drivers can lose their focus for a second or make a mistake whilst driving. On a race track this is less risky because there is so much safety equipment involved, but when this happens on ordinary roads, the effects can be devastating.”
It’s a road safety message that James is now busy promoting far and wide, both on and off the track. As well as racing a ‘drivecool, save lives’ branded car in the BTCC throughout his last season, and giving away thousands of free, signed drivecool caps at BTCC autograph sessions, he’s also been busy delivering educational sessions in local secondary schools, and even teamed up with the government’s THINK campaign to help promote road safety messages nationally earlier this year.
James continues, “Great Britain has one of the world’s better road safety records, but despite that, nearly 2,500 young persons are still either killed or seriously injured on the UK’s roads every single year, and arguably, every single one of those collisions is preventable.”
He adds, “I know that despite what I went through, I am actually one of the lucky ones because I survived, and the experience has given me this incredible opportunity to promote greater awareness of the importance of our message; drivecool; save lives.”
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