It was Christmas 1999. Westlife were number one with I have a Dream and Jumanji was the big BBC Christmas Day afternoon film.
Meanwhile, in the small North Yorkshire town of Northallerton, a four-year-old by the name of Paige Bellerby was excitedly attacking her pile of presents.
But, much to her Dad’s amusement, all of the dolls and prams were quickly disregarded when Paige opened the biggest of the boxes – a 50cc quad bike.
“That’s where motorsport started for me,” said Paige, now 20. “I had that quad for three months before I had a go on an 80cc. From that moment I refused to drive mine because it was too slow. I eventually got a bigger one, which I’ve still got now.”
A year later Paige’s younger sister Drew got her first quad.
“We started driving them around the fields around our home,” said Paige. “Dad would leave us to it. When I was seven Dad got me a little Nissan Micra from the scrapyard, which is where I learnt to actually drive.
“Drew used to sit on my knee because she couldn’t reach the pedals. Dad just pointed us to the right pedals and off we went.
“I remember running the quad into the garden wall when I was four, but it didn’t put me off.”
As the years went on, Paige remembers fondly coming home from school and taking cars apart.
“There was nothing wrong with them,” she said. “That’s just what I did.”
With that freedom to learn, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Bellerby sisters are not only still involved in racing but more than holding their own against adult men.
With backing from FUCHS Lubricants, the world’s largest independent lubricant manufacturer, Paige is competing at the very top of the MSA Supernational Rallycross Championship in her Lotus Exige, while 18-year-old Drew is racing a Suzuki Swift in the Swift Sport Rallycross Championship.
With Women in Sport Week just around the corner (October 3-9), Paige and Drew both insist that they are treated no different to anyone else when behind the wheel.
Paige said: “We’ve never been targeted because we are girls. We’ve grown up in Rallycross and we know everyone in the paddock. They look after us.
“We intend to prove that a woman can be as good a driver as a man. You do get some people who think they can beat us because we are girls but I don’t believe that for a second. We’ve already proved that. We’ll just keep going and keep showing them.”
Dad Dave Bellerby has had more to do with his daughters’ interest in racing than just buying a quad as a gift in the mid-90s. He himself has won five British Rallycross titles and in 2006 he became the first person to win a Super Final in a two wheel drive car competing in his Lotus Exige at Lydden Hill.
“I was always pleased that that they chose to follow in my footsteps, but I’ve never pushed them,” said Dave, aged 52. “I bought Drew a horse and then one day she got on a quad and she’s never ridden a horse since. Paige was glued to the cars right from the off.
“We did a bit of practice in the back field to get them drifting and sliding, but they picked up most of their skills from just playing on the little quads.
“It’s been a great way for us to bond, whereas perhaps some Dads struggle with girls. I did my first full club championship in 1999. We had an old blue Transit van and we used to kip in there.
“They couldn’t have learnt what they’ve learnt if we lived in a city. You’ll never get streetwise living out here, but there’s no better place to be.”
Paige started competing in Rallycross when she was 14, the youngest age allowed. She had a 1 litre Mini in the junior class – and won that championship in her first year against boys aged up to 17.
During the following season, Paige turned 16 and moved up into the Suzuki Swift Senior 1.6L class and continued to make great progress.
Last year she competed in her Lotus Exige for the first time and, after getting to grips with the 270bhp machine, Paige managed to secure third place in the Super National Championship, as well as picking up the Most Outstanding Performance Award.
Drew also started at 14, joining the season halfway through yet still managing to finish third overall in her Suzuki Swift. In the subsequent two seasons in the juniors, Drew finished second by just one point on both occasions.
The first time she was runner-up against Kevin Hansen who is now European Rallycross champion – and whose Dad is 14-time European Rallycross Champion Kenneth Hansen.
Drew did, however, become the first female to win the Grand Prix in the junior class in 2013 – and she’s certainly shown her mettle in her first season with the big boys.
“Recently I was going on the outside of the corner and the car on the inside just didn’t turn left,” she said. “He was just going straight.
“I was heading for the concrete wall and another car just wiped me out. I got out of the car, went to the paramedic centre, changed my tyre and I was there for the re-run. That was all within 10 minutes.
“I’m the only female in the competition and I’m the youngest, but I don’t let that worry me.
“It’s been a big step up from the juniors. At that level the slightest touch and you’d be called in to see the clerks. This year I’ve been put out three times and I’ve not been called in once.
“I don’t think the men treat us differently as females intentionally, but some people are a lot more competitive than others and don’t know when to back out. They look for a way through not round.”
Along with Dad Dave, another key member of the Bellerby team is mechanic Kevin Franks.
Former Prodrive mechanic Kevin has previously worked with rally drivers Richard Burns in his Championship year and Petter Solberg and has been with the team right from the start.
Paige said: “Kev is great. He isn’t just a mechanic but also a friend. He has had a long and successful career and there is no doubt that he is one of the best in the business. We will be forever grateful for the help and support he provides the team. There is no-one else we would rather work with.”
Rallycross has enjoyed a boom period off the back of the successful World and new European Championship with TV coverage in place with BT Sport.
The sky is the limit for both Paige and Drew – but sponsorship and funding remains a constant challenge.
The sisters have been supported by FUCHS Lubricants for the last three years, allowing them to invest in their cars and pay their fees.
Paige said: “FUCHS have been incredible sponsors. We wouldn’t be racing without them.
“Motorsport can be very expensive but we have always operated on a very strict budget, and FUCHS have given us the support that we need.
“The company also supplies us with an array of top quality product, including all of the engine oil and gear oils. It’s top quality product and we would never use anything else.”
Dave, who is chairman of British Rallycross, added: “Some teams are able to spend £25,000 on an engine. We bought a Toyota Corolla and put the engine in Paige’s Lotus Exige. It’s a huge difference, but we are where we are and it’s about dealing with what you have the best you can. Then when you win something when you’ve not got the same resources, that really matters.
“FUCHS have given my girls amazing support. For us, it’s about finding more funding in the years to come to allow them to take the next step. When that happens, I believe they’ll be ready to go.
“We just need to keep progressing. We’ve now got all the cameras in place so that we can look afterwards and pick out the weak parts and the strong parts.
“This year we’ll have a lot more time to do testing due to life circumstances. Paige and I have both changed routes in work. It’s about having the life that we want and making work fit in around it.”
Paige added: “Rallycross is more than a passion for all of us – it’s what we live for. I would never let things get in the way of racing.
“Who knows what lies ahead in the future.”