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Keeping the wheels on

Paul Brown | 01.03.2007

Paul Brown's positive attitude has not let his stammer stop him from building a successful career in motor racing. He is now a number one mechanic for Team LNT, and responsible for a GT2 car that was the winner in its class in Le Mans last year.

Paul Brown next to a racing carI got my first job as a race mechanic with Radical Motorsport when I was 21. When I applied for the job I had been seeing a speech therapist in Stoke-on-Trent and my speech had been going really well. Because my stammer is always worse when I'm on the phone, I didn't want to stammer while arranging an interview with Radical. Instead, my mum told them I was busy at work and arranged an interview time for me. The first time I spoke to them was at the interview. It went really well and I hardly stammered at all. I explained that I had a stammer, they said it wasn't a problem, and I stayed with them for four years.

When I first started we each had to look after a car at the track. As the mechanic in charge, this meant I had to talk to the driver on the radio through testing and racing, informing him of lap times, how long left to go, what's happening on the track and when to make a pit stop. It was difficult. I was always worried about not being understood and causing the driver to make a mistake such as a pit stop too early/late, or try to go faster and crash. The drivers are very understanding and we worked through it and we won the championship that year.

It can be difficult at race tracks trying to talk and explain things when everything is happening fast and it's noisy. We have radio head sets but in a way these are like phones, so I try to talk on them as little as possible. I still don't like using the telephone and would rather be able to face the person I'm talking to but when I do have to use the phone I just battle through it and do my best. It is important to be able to communicate but it is more important that you're good at your job and you don't make mistakes. Having a stammer hasn't stopped me achieving my goals at all because I'm good at what I do and the people that count can see this.

My stammer only started to bother me when I got into my teens. It varies and at times can be quite severe, but I was never bullied or picked on at school - only the odd comment now and again. I think I'm a likable person and I think my close group of friends at school helped. I was never treated any different by the teachers. I still had to talk in class and answer questions.

Going to college at 16 was a bit more difficult because of not knowing anybody. I was a lot more self conscious of my stammer, there were one or two who laughed and took the mickey, but it was never malicious. It didn't upset me - just made me feel embarrassed - but never enough to stop me going. I have never tried to hide my stammer and always been able to talk about it, and take the mickey out of myself, which I think helps other people be less apprehensive.

I plan to go to Le Mans this year but with two cars, which involves long hours, early mornings and late nights (which doesn't help the stammer), so I'm going to try harder and aim to make my speech better.

My long term challenge is to take the next step in motorsport and become a chief mechanic, where I would oversee the number one and two mechanics working on the cars.

I think having a stammer is not such a big thing and while it can be difficult sometimes, so can a lot of other things for other people. It only stops you doing things if you want it to. It's easier to give up than work for something.

From the Spring 2007 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 8