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1976 RETRO REPORT

1976tRICK @ the RACES (RETRO 1976)

EPISODE 10

By the end of 1975 Chris Pickup and myself had completed our second year in BriSCA F1 stock car racing, in cars that we jointly owned and maintained.

Chris preferred the ‘Marty Car’ while my preference was for our original. During the closed season we both agreed to split the assets and go our separate ways for 1976.

This did not stop us going half shares in a BriSCA F2 that came up for sale.

After a few years where BriSCA F2 racing had been loosing popularity in the Midlands, it had gradually gained ground again. One of our buddies, Geoff Dunsby who’d helped us when we first got started had bought the ex Bob Boddington (596) , Pete Poole (642) built car to race during 1975.

Mal John Photo
Mal John Photo
Here it is When Bob Boddington raced it
Here it is When Bob Boddington raced it

It was powered by a 1200 cc Triumph Spitfire engine and featured a classic Fiat Toppolino body. Geoff’s plans for 1976 were to build his own car, so offered us this cardun at a price we couldn’t refuse.

The Beds and Herts Stock Car Club had been growing in size and was now supporting many other drivers from our area, with monthly get togethers at the Bell Public House in Toddington, Beds.

The roster at the offset included Chris (50) and myself (67) , Mick Gale (18), Steve Bird (52), Ted Else (64), Tony Abel (100) Glyn Pursey (175), Brian Bedford (209), Ann Bedford # 210 ,Bob Isles (294) Dick Harvey (445) and BriSCA F2 driver Brian Holmes (542). Brian had returned to F2’s in 1975 after a couple of years in Mini Rods. The list increased as the year went on, to include two more F2 drivers, Mick Coady # 653 and Nigel Harradine # 717.

A new track had opened in Hartlepool in the North East of England, and as well a running Brisca F1’s, they had introduced F2’s too. This was a completely new area for the smaller formula, and suitable cars were in short supply. Brian sold his F2 to a North Eastern driver at the end of 1975 because he’d bought an ex John Hillam F1 from Ken Brown. Before he got round to racing it, it was sold on to Bob Isles.

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This meant that Brian was without a race car for 1976 so Chris and I agreed to let him use our newly acquired F2. We were so busy with our F1’s that we hadn’t got the time to race it anyway.bhr

Maureen was now my steady girlfriend, and my winter months had been spent between Dunstable and her apartment in North London. Before the year was out, she had moved back to live with her parents in Dunstable. I was still driving trucks for a living and the company I worked for, Export & general Transport Services, had put me through my HGV class 1 .

This now permitted me to drive ‘artics’ (tractor/trailers).

My regular truck was a Cummins powered ERF and a typical days work would be transporting CKD packing cases for General Motors (Bedford Trucks) on flat bed trailers, to either the Felixstowe or London docks.

My racing plans were to continue, much the same as before, where as Chris had a major rebuilding project planned for the ‘Marty Car’.

He was going to strengthen the chassis , install a triple carbed Jaguar E type engine and drastically change the body work.9869_818530951591902_4940301291076088734_n 11006414_663318020446530_1087919685406210093_n 11021088_663318420446490_3737774304814702811_n

A friend of his had been taking part in local Rally’s with a Triumph GT6 Spitfire and had the misfortune to ‘roll it’.

Chris was offered the body to use on his stock car.

1976dMy first race of 1976 was at Brafield on March 14 , which ended up with a trip by ambulance to the Northampton General Hospital.

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I was involved in a wreck, which turned out to be one of many that year.

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There were no broken bones after that incident, but the pain kept me off work for three weeks.

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On my return to work, I was put on light duties, shunting trailers between the Cross Paperware factory in Dunstable High Street and their warehouse in Frenchs Ave, the other end of town. I was now driving a Bedford KM and hauling canvas sided tilt trailers.

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Cross Paperware also happened to be the place where my ‘Plume of Feathers’ buddy Colin Herridge worked. I ended up staying on this job for several years. It worked out good for my racing, as there was plenty of ‘down time’ and Mick Blacks place, where we kept the race cars was just a short distance from the warehouse.

I was able to do jobs on the car during my quiet moments.

My first time back on the track after the Brafield crash was at the Leicester Stadium the following month, where I was involved in yet another wreck.

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The back end of the car was ripped out, and I made another visit to see the medics. I wasn’t hurt in this one, but was checked out as a precautionary measure.

1976hAt this stage Chris was still yet to make his appearance with the GT6 Spitfire, but when it did make it’s debut, the unusual body work caused plenty of attention.8971_10203810584403568_8941627357100528832_n

After the traditional first Saturday in the month visit to Coventry on May 1, to watch the BriSCA F1’s, I was  at Ipswich the following day to see the SCOTA cars in action where Les Suckling (132) won the final.

I remember a crowd of us, which included Phil ‘Bootsie’ Chance dropping in to The Cock, at Glemsford on the way home for a pint or two.

Former F1 stock car driver Dennis Driscoll (274) was now the Landlord of the pub in this small village close to Sudbury (Suffolk)

On May 12, I visited another new track, not for stock car racing but to watch a British League Motor Cycle Speedway event. It was the White City Stadium in West London where the Ipswich Witches were racing against the home team. There were three stadiums in the UK that went by the name of White City, (Glasgow, Manchester and London) All three had ran stock cars during the years, but this one in London, an athletics stadium close to the BBC studios in Wood Lane was the most World famous.

June was a very sad month for British stock car racing when Brian Wallace (119) was killed in a crash at Manchester’s White City ( June 5 ) . I was racing at the Oxford Stadium the following day when the news was broken.

On Saturday July 10, I accompanied Brian Holmes to the Stoke Stadium for a rare afternoon session of BriSCA F2 racing. He’d been doing well in the car that Chris and I jointly owned and I wanted to see how he was getting on.

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When the races were over at Stoke we traveled across country to watch the evening BriSCA F1 show at Long Eaton.

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The next day tragedy hit the Beds & Herts Club, when one of our drivers, Tony Abel # 100 was injured at Brafield. He was involved in a crash and suffered severe neck injuries.

1976 also heralded the beginning of the end for the larger tracks.

Snetterton had disappeared from the fixtures in 1975 and Lydden Hill went the same way at the end of that year. For 1976 the only ‘big track’ date was for the Brands Hatch Festival of Speed on July 25. This was the last time I was to race at this track.

On Aug 1, the British Stock Car Racing Supporters Association were holding their annual FAN CLUB DERBY at Brafield and the Beds & Herts Club entered most of it’s driver members. The Club chose a theme of the EEC ( European Economic Community) and the cars were to be decorated to depict the various countries. We all drew lots and I picked Luxemburg.

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Committee man Brian Yates built a radio mast out of wood which we placed on the bonnet and I sat their with a microphone dressed up as a disc jockey.  In those days, the BBC provided a very poor service for pop music lovers , and Radio Luxemburg was the station most young Brits listened to in the evenings. The side of the car was covered in cardboard and painted up as the Grand Dukes Castle . Maureen sat on the roof dressed in national costume waving the Luxemburg flag.

Brian Holmes # 448 made also made his F1 debut that day driving Brian Bedfords spare car decorated as a Venetian Gondola (Italy)

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My second Austin Westminster had come to the end of the road and my old friend SCOTA driver Johnny Hewer # 116 towed me to Brafield that day.

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Like many of my old cars the Westminster ended it’s days in a Banger race.

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One of my buddies, Gordon Morrison, raced it a Wimbledon. Then Gordon helped me out later by towing me to Brafield.

 

I bought an old Hillman Minx ( Series V) like I’d had before just to get me by, but it wasn’t ‘man’ enough to tow a big F1.

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I had to rely on friends to help me, hauling the stock car, if I wanted to race.

Many of the races attended as a specatator were done in Maureen’s Hillman Imp. In August we made a midweek trip to the West Country to see some BriSCA F2 racing.

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As well as revisiting St Austell, Cornwall, (Aug 3) and Newton Abbott, Devon ( Aug 4) , we visited the Weymouth Stadium in Dorset (Aug 5) for the first time. The track that was located in Radipole Lane, just outside the popular coastal resort was 365 meters in length , shale surfaced and promoted by Roy Goodman. Roy, a veteran racer from the 1950’s had competed in both BriSCA F1 (163) and BriSCA F2 (800) over the years and at it was him that took the checkers that night. Like so many of the venue’s mentioned in my reports, the Weymouth track soon succumbed to the developer.

Graham Bunters F2 in the Weymouth pits
Graham Bunters F2 in the Weymouth pits

On Sunday August 15, while I was attending a Banger Racing event at the Brafield Stadium, the Superstox World Final took place at Cowdenbeath in Scotland. Local hero Gordon ‘Spotty’ McDougal # 41 took the gold.

The BriSCA F1 World Final was at White City , Manchester on September 11 and I was there to see Stuart Bamforth (3) take the Gold.

The Bamforth World Final winning car at a heritage get together , many years later at Coventry
The Bamforth World Final winning car at a heritage get together , many years later at Coventry

There were only two overseas drivers on the grid both in borrowed cars, Dick Zimmerman from California, USA and Harry V/D Spuij representing South Africa. Zimmerman was in a Sam Ostle car where as V/D Spuij was in a Derek Coleman car.

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The next day Colin Higman (778) won the BriSCA F2 World Final at St Austell, while I was at Brafield for the BriSCA F1’s.

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The Austin A40 body on my stock car was getting quite scruffy after all the wrecks I’d been having, so decided to re-body it during the summer . When Chris built the Triumph GT6 special he’d removed the old Ford Y TYPE body and it laid in Mick Black’s back yard doing nothing. It was a lot tidier than the Austin, so I used that. Her’es Gordon Morrison behind the wheel being towed off after I’d had a Brafield wreck.

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My interest in BriSCA F2 had been rekindled and as well as going to see them them, I was regularly going to watch the Spedeworth Superstox at Wimbledon and the Pete Baines Three Star stock cars at Boston.

SCOTA, the breakaway F1 stock car group were now into their second year and still providing some great action on the Spedeworth tracks. I attended many of their events as a spectator.

After seeing the Dutch F1 stock cars at the 1975 SCOTA World Final, I wanted to see them on their home ground.

I contacted Spedeworth in an attempt to get some mainland Europe race dates for a planned vacation in September. Of course this was in the days before internet and information was hard to get. I did get some tentative dates for the Posterholt track near to Roermond in the Netherlands, so a trip was organized.

Maureen’s Imp was loaded up with camping gear and our plan was to tour through France, Germany, Luxemburg and Belgium before heading for the Netherlands. I remember us getting as far as the Black Forrest and Kehl on the River Rhine in Germany before we headed back for the races. We arrived in the Dutch town of Roermond on the Friday where we found a nice campsite on the banks of the River Rhur, just outside of town. Once we were settled, it was time to search out the local track.

After driving out to the tiny village of Posterholt and chatting to the locals, it soon became evident there was no racing taking place that weekend.

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Roermond was also close to two other tracks that I’d heard about, so we checked them too.

Both of them, the Baarlo Auto Speedway near Venlo and the Kaldenkirchen track just across the border in Germany had no racing on offer that weekend either.

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Little did I know, that Baarlo would be a track I would visit many times in the future. It was shale surfaced (dirt) at this time , and was paved later that year.

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Things didn’t look good for any racing, so on Saturday we took off on a sight seeing trip to the German city of Munchengladbach . While driving close to the town of Pulheim we spotted a poster saying AUTOCROSS 19 Sept . This happened to be Sunday the very next day.

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So determined not to be beaten we returned on the following day. The track was a temporary course laid out on farmland, Most of the cars were VW specials with an assortment of Citroens, Datsuns, Renaults and Fords. It was a typical club type event consisting of local drivers.1976m 1976n 1976o 1976p

 

I had now tasted my first piece of German auto racing.

After the racing we went back to Roermond and spent the evening sitting outside a local bar. As we sat there, we were amazed to see some stock cars going by on trailers. We later found out that the some racing had taken place at Tilburg.

Oh well, at least we did get to see some racing !

On our return to the UK, my renewed interest in BriSCA F2’s continued and on October 17 , I joined Brian Holmes on another trip. Brian was using a Morris FG ex post office truck ( they were given the nickname of ‘threepenny bit’s) to transport his stock car, and to say it was slow, would be an understatement !  It would barely go over 50 mph and the long trek from Bedfordshire to the Smeatharpe Stadium near Taunton (Somerset) took ages to get there. It was my first ever visit to this track and it rained all the time from when we arrived to when we left.

We made another marathon journey in the ‘threepenny bit’ on October 31 to the North East of England when he raced at Hartlepool.

This was another track I hadn’t visited before. Unlike Smeatharpe which is located in the ‘middle of nowhere’ at the top of a hill on a piece of ex Ministry of Defence land, Hartlepool was a tidy, purpose built Stadium in the center of the town. I liked it a lot. It too was a track that was later lost to developers. Both tracks were paved.

My big memory of that first Hartlepool meeting , was of Mick Coady (653) one of our Beds & Herts drivers having a scary accident. He’d had a problem with his car and retired to the center. After making his exit, he walked into the path of the on coming Wilf Blundell (775) car. Mick was struck and thrown into the air like a rag doll. Everyone feared the worse ! Miraculously, after a medical check up, he was found to be OK, not seriously injured and he was back out racing a few weeks later.

On November 13 at Wimbledon it was the SCOTA version of the F1 Stock Car World Championship. Once again the overseas content put the BriSCA event to shame. ( this must have acted as a ‘wake up call’ because from then onwards, BriSCA got their act together to make their event worthy of the title). Alan Casserley (104) from Stevenage, Hertfordshire took the checkers at Wimbledon . Actually Alan was racing under the # 184 that night. As a courtesy gesture to visiting Dutch driver Lambert Keulen # 104, Alan changed his number.

At another late season Wimbledon meeting I recall seeing the new Superstox World Champion , Gordon McDougal # 41 from Edinburgh in action.

15894936_10209625927743517_5959530320053522946_nAs the 1976 BriSCA season drew to a close, it was announced that the St Austell and Newton Abbott promoter Trevor Redmond had plans to stage racing at the newly built Reading Stadium in Berkshire for 1977. In the 1960’s Spedeworth had staged racing at the Tilehurst Road track in the city, which had been lost to development. After pressure by the local Motor Cycle Speedway fans a new site was found at Smallmead on the Basingstoke Road. Redmond had secured the promoting rights for stock cars and a ‘pilot’ BriSCA F2 meeting was scheduled for November 26 (1976)

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When I heard the news, I knew I wanted to race there. I let Brian Holmes know my intentions, a plate with my # 567 was made to cover his # 542 and ‘Dick Young’ was attached to the bonnet.

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As we set off from his place in the ‘three penny bit’ everywhere was wet. It had been raining all day and when we arrived at the track the pits were like a swamp. We were wading through sloppy piles of mud. The 350 yard shale track wasn’t so bad, but still wet enough to give us problems.

My recollections from that first night, was of me going wildly sideways on the first bend, then after recovering, glancing back and seeing a bunch of others, including Bill Batten (667) wiping out. Later in the night I remember getting a big hit from Isle of Man driver Wilf Blundell ( he was a real gentleman, a great ambassador to the sport who I had much admiration for)

The final winner on that damp and miserable night was Ian Illman (784) from Devon. I really enjoyed my first taste of BriSCA F2 racing and came away with the Rookie of the Night award. I decided then , that BriSCA F2 racing would be my direction for 1977.

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Our winter evenings were often spent at Ceasars Palace, a night club in Luton where quality acts would often appear. I remember seeing a couple of my old favorites performing there. Gene Pitney and the late great Roy Orbison. ( Even to this day, I love Orbison’s records, and once I have a few beers inside me, I might be persuaded to give you a Karioke rendition of ‘Pretty Woman’ ! )