At any HERO-ERA Prize Giving the biggest round of applause is for the Mechanical Assistance crews or ‘Sweeps’ as they are known in rally parlance. The applause can be accompanied by cheers from the crowd but for Rob Dominy, a senior ‘Sweep’ and Chief Scrutineer for HERO-ERA it can be embarrassing. Rob; “Yes, because it’s a big team effort, whilst the team of mechanics on that event may have got them to the end, the marshals have done their job, the clerks have done their bit, but we are all one big team, we are what we are, and do what we can to get them to the end”.
The competitors have a very different view. In many cases they spontaneously stand to applaud at the end of an event ceremony. They are incredibly grateful to reach the finish which they otherwise may not have done without the skill and commitment of the ‘Sweeps’ who will persevere to find a ‘fix’ and get the crew on their way again under the HERO Assist banner. After all the investment, car preparation and planning something has gone wrong, a mechanical failure or an ‘off’ is about to end the adventure, ruin the enjoyment they have been relishing. It was put to Rob that if it wasn’t for him and his colleagues they wouldn’t be able to fulfill their ambition. Further, that is why teams label the Tech Assist crews as ‘unsung heroes.’ They are very grateful.
Rob; “OK yes I understand that, but we are there doing our jobs so we do the best we can and hopefully help get as many crews to the finish as possible.”
Seasoned competitors with a record of success such Bill Cleyndert, winner of the Flying Scotsman 2019 and second in the Vintage Class on the 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, explained how valuable Rob and his team can be. “Without the skill, ingenuity and dedication of Rob and the sweeps I might never have seen the end of many a rally. Rob comes to the rescue in a positive, untiring and calm manner engineering solutions to even the most dire situations. A true asset to the HERO Team.”
Paul Dyas, a former UK Tarmac Rally Champion and Gold medal winner on Le Jog 2019 who has achieved some very strong results on HERO events, had this to say about the service the HERO Assistance crews provide; “They are always there, they just seem to rise up out of the ground! How they get to some of the remote places I have no idea, you see them one moment then half an hour later they are ahead of you by the side of the road having a nifty sandwich.
“In many ways they typify the ‘chase’ service crews of previous rally years. With classic rallying there are no service crews, you are on your own, except you’re not. They will always pop up to help whether it is with a cable tie or to change a gearbox. They are not phased by anything, an amazing team of people.”
Arguably the ‘Sweeps’ endure the longest days of everybody, yet despite the hours chasing and fixing they really enjoy their work; Rob “We do like to do it otherwise we wouldn’t do the job. On an average rally day we are out early, we may get back late then start work again. The longest days tend to be on the bigger rallies, that’s why events like Peking to Paris or even the Adriatic Adventure we would leave at least an hour before Guy Woodcock and then arrive a couple of hours after the last car. Then we start work on our own or with the car crew helping with repair and maintenance to be ready for the next day. We all really enjoy it, if we didn’t we’d do another job!”
Naturally there are times when work stacks up, particularly on the endurance rallies when the pace and schedule can take it’s toll. In those tougher periods how does Rob keep everyone going?
“There are times when you are really up against it and we need to keep each other going, but we stick together as a team and motivate each other. You will notice that we will never leave a mechanic working in the rally park on his own, we all will join in and help until it’s all finished.” This is a further example of why the competitor crews label the Mechanical Assistance crews the unsung heroes as they know all the technicians will carry on through the night if need be to get the job done. Again Rob finds the description of unsung heroes not appropriate to just them. “I understand why we sometimes receive that label but what about the marshals trying to stand in the horizontal wind and rain at three am at night or freezing on the moors waiting to check all the cars through the control in the darkness?”
When Rob is asked what has been the toughest mechanical issue to fix on an event, he finds that difficult to answer as there have been many. “That’s a really hard question, it is quite tough to pinpoint as there have been a few as my involvement in motorsport goes back a long way. There have been a few challenges but if we sort it, it’s a completion and we are all happy.
“As an example a Bentley gearbox had really let go, it proved a big challenge, I think we were on the 1000 Mile Trial. It was a major problem and we had to take the gearbox out then enlisted the help of Bentley expert William Medcalf who was at the end of the phone! I explained the issues and he gave me instructions how to fix the internals, and we got away with it!
“Last year on the Peking to Paris there were a couple of challenges. A few major fuel system issues which proved difficult, on one we had to make a jury-rig so we could get the car into camp at night and then sort the job properly. With other majors such as diff failure, we have no option other than to leave them to be picked up later to transport to a local garage. Such can be the consequences on Peking to Paris as it such a fast moving event”.
Conversely how does Rob feel when a rally car can be brought back to life? “I Feel great, they’re overjoyed so hopefully they are going to finish the event and can continue to enjoy it, that’s what it’s all about.”
But the on event duties do not end there. In between chasing and fixing rally cars the multi skilling Mechanical Assistance crews can often be found manning Time Controls which Rob is happy to add to the work mix on a rally. “Many of us started as marshals and then worked in other areas but we still have that training. I have no objection, I have marshalled all over the world.
“I enjoy officiating and the travel. I like the people, the countries we visit, I’ve travelled all my life and that’s the bit I love, but I still think the P2P is the most amazing event there is, such a variety of countries we go through and the people who change almost on a daily basis. Africa is great as well but on the Peking to Paris it is like going from one side of the world to the other in terms of culture.”
Rob gets to combine his love of motorsport with travel but he has earned his mechanical and scrutineering prowess through building his experience over many years. “It began when I went to Agricultural College at 18, one of the lecturers was into road rallying and 12 car events, I used to navigate for him. I was never really a circuit racer but I really loved rallying.
“After college my involvement in the rally scene dwindled a bit then I took up off roading myself which I still enjoy as a competitor including some 12 Car events here in Norfolk with local clubs.”
Part of the engineering skill set required is to be able to diagnose and improvise a repair in remote places. Rob feels that this is where his training and vocation helped to develop his all round engineering skills. “My first job was as an Agricultural Engineer, it gave me an amazing fixing back ground. When you are in a field in the middle of nowhere there is nothing for it but to get on and find a way of sorting the job out. It also meant I did a lot of learning as I went along!”
After his agricultural engineering role, Rob worked as a technician at a Ford main dealership but was then made redundant. He continued; “There wasn’t a lot of work about so I started my own business in servicing and car restoration. The servicing grew faster than the restoration side but I built the business over 35 years and it still operates as a service centre today although under a different name as I sold the customer base to a friend – but it is still going well.”
That leads us to six years ago when Rob got involved with his first HERO event. “ I got into HERO with Dave Smith as we were good friends together from the Philip Young run Lombard Rally Endurance series where we helped Peter and Betty Banham and Andy ‘Skippy’ Inskip. The endurance championship later became a separate entity run by Paul Heal.”
Rob was up and running with HERO Assist but recently he has taken on even more duties adding the Chief Scrutineer for HERO-ERA to his role. “The scope of this job is continuously growing so expanding the knowledge is important to ensure competition cars comply.
“Keeping the knowledge is important which is why I also work in stage rallying and racing, it helps keep my Scrutineering licence up to date. Last year I worked at the Asian Touring Car Championship, an amazing series held in amazing venues, with great organisation, it’s good to go out and see something different. One was a street circuit, you could just lean out of the window or go to the corner of the street and just see great racing!”
You wouldn’t think there was any time time for hobbies but Rob still competes at a high level in off road events in his Land Rover 90, home built 30 years ago. “It’s done me proud over many seasons winning a few trophies! One of the best was when all the national clubs came together for a European event, a long weekend of top competition, and we won!”
Prior to that he sailed competitively in north Norfolk waters which are tidal, that meant getting up at 4.00am for 7.00am starts. He thought there must be something easier to do so now he spends even more of his spare time mending cars for the next off road event!
Although Born in Aldershot, Rob spent the early part of his life with his family in Malta until the Maltese achieved independence. A brief spell back in the UK, the family then followed his Dad to Germany as his father was in the army.
Following a family holiday in Norfolk when Rob was 17 his father took a job there where they have been since. Rob is now renovating a legacy of those earlier family days and by a strange quirk it is a Land Rover!
Rob; “I have resto project back in my workshop at home, it’s an early Discovery which was bought new by my parents in 1990. I am restoring the whole thing, I’m on the chassis now, it has no computers which is great and I’m really looking forward to getting it running. Land Rover used the new Discovery literally straight out of the box for Camel Trophy Russia-Siberia in 1990 and the only thing that went wrong was the clock stopped when they waded above dashboard level on river crossings!”
In finality Rob summed up his love of HERO-ERA events of which he has become such an integral part; “The organisation really is made up of an amazing bunch of people. It is an incredible experience working with such people on both the event and competitor teams. You can sit down at night next to someone and learn more about them and their experiences that you never knew, some you might even have bumped into 20 years ago. I really enjoy my job for so many reasons.”
Photos by Blue Passion and Will Broadhead