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1978 RETRO REPORT

155702_10207508945420282_6183409739724879457_nRICK @ the RACES RETRO 1978

EPISODE 12

My last RETRO report covering 1977,  detailed a busy campaign traveling all over England with my BriSCA F2 stock car .

As usual the winter was spent attending many functions on the racing social calendar.

Maureen and I , even held our own ‘ Fancy Dress do’ at the GPG Sports and Social club in Dunstable.1978u 1978v

I’ve mentioned before my love of the vintage Rock n Roll, and  during the winter,  I remember going to see the late Del Shannon perform at the Baileys night club in nearby Watford . He had many hit records but the big ones were, Run Away and Little Town Flirt

My BriSCA F2’s 1200cc Triumph Spitfire engine had expired at the end of 1977 and was in need of major surgery. Rule changes were made during the winter which upped the engine limit from 1200 to 1300cc. Instead of rebuilding it, I decided to go for the extra cubic centimeters and install a Triumph 1300 .

The Fiat Topolino body had become very battle-scarred, so I replaced that too. The Austin A40 roof section from my first F1 stock car was still lying around in Mick Black’s yard so with the addition of some new sheet metal, I used that. The bent bumpers were replaced , a new bonnet was made and a smart Wolseley radiator grill was grafted on.img030 (2)

At the start of the year, there was a major blow to the BriSCA scene when it was announced that Chick Woodroffe and his Promotasport concern were pulling out of the organization and going independent.

On the brighter side,  BriSCA announced a link up with Jac Van Claes and his NACO organization in the Netherlands with a Long Track World Final scheduled for the weekend of August 5/6.

Meanwhile Spedeworth who had previously been involved with NACO were now working alongside Barry Van Den Oetelaar at his Tilburg track.

As normal , before making my 1978 track debut , I started off my year by attending many other events.

I was at Wimbledon Stadium in South London on Jan 14 for the SCOTA/FISCA F1 stock cars where I saw Les Mitchell (238) take the Final win.

Les Mitchell at Arena Essex in 1978

The drivers from the SCOTA organization had now changed their name to FISCA.

For the last couple of years most of my racing trips had been made in Maureen’s Hillman Imp, but for 1978 her Imp was replaced by a Mk 1 Ford Escort.

I also got rid of my Hillman Minx,  which went to Mick Bird to be used in Banger racing.

I then acquired a Vauxhall PC Cresta. 1978aThis was one of the perkiest British cars I ever owned. It had a fairly lightweight body with a 3-3 litre engine that would throw you back in the seat when you ‘floored’ the loud pedal. I recall one occasion when having a bit of fun, I burned the clutch out !

On Feb 5, I returned to the place where I first saw stock car racing, as a toddler back in the late 50’s, when I visited the Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich. I saw Dave Pierce (320) take the checkers in a Superstox meeting.dp

I’ve never been a big fan of motor cycle speedway, but over the years I’ve been along to the occasional meeting. The sport started in the UK in 1928 with the first race taking place at High Beech in the Epping Forrest (Essex) .

1978 was Speedway’s Golden Jubilee year and a special celebration event took place at the Hackney Speedway in East London. This was a track I’d never been to before, so on Feb 19 Mick Black and I went along to take a look.

Veteran promoter of speedway and stock car racing, Johnny Hoskins was in attendance and prior to the afternoons racing the old tradition of somebody taking off his (Hoskins) hat and setting fire to it on the track , took place.

On Saturday Mar 4, I was at Wimbledon for the Superstox where John Cayzer (380) was the winner.cay

The next day I visited my second new track of the year when I went to the Wisbech Stadium in Cambridgeshire.

It was paved, rough and bumpy concrete if I remember correctly, and I was there to see the FISCA F1’s . My old buddy , Bob Boddington (196) from Haddenham, Bucks was the Final winner.

Some years later, Bob and I discovered we were distantly related through the marriage of my sister Anne . Her mother in law being a ‘Boddington’1978c

The following weekend ( March 11&12 ) the BriSCA F1 season started so I made trips to Long Eaton and Brafield.

Ian Russell (38) who was brother of Alan (621) that I’d known since I was a school kid, won at Long Eaton and Stu Smith ( 391) did like wise at Brafield.

On March 19 , I did something a little different when I visited my third new track of the year. I joined Mick ‘the beard’ for a trip to the famous Silverstone Circuit, Northants.

For the first time, I was to witness the highest level in world auto racing. It was the Race of Champions for the F1 Grand Prix cars and it was Finland’s Keke Rosberg who took the checkers. Little did I know at the time that within five years I would be living just a few miles away from the track.

Ian Russell was on a winning streak and over the Easter weekend I saw him win at Long Eaton (Mar 24) , Brafield (Mar 26) and the Bristol (Mar 27) .

Meanwhile Stu Smith (391) and Glyn Pursey (175) were over in the Netherlands representing the UK at Baarlo for the first event in the BriSCA/NACO affiliation.

On Tuesday Mar 28, I visited yet another new track, not for cars, but again for motor cycle speedway. For many years there had been a greyhound racing track at Bletchley , Bucks, close to my home in Totternhoe. After many months of rumors and talk it opened up for speedway.

It’s official name was the Groveway Stadium, Milton Keynes. Bletchley was one of the many small towns and villages in an area north of Luton and Dunstable that became one, during the development of the new city of Milton Keynes. The Speedway team became known as the Milton Keynes Knights.

On Saturday April 1 , I was watching the BriSCA F1’s at Coventry, then on Sunday April 2 , I made my 1978 BriSCA F2 debut at Brafield.

1978jThis also turned out to be my last race of the year! The newly installed Triumph 1300 engine failed to perform, and I came away very dejected.1978y1978z

I had great fun competing in the F2 division during 1977, but knew in my heart that I wanted to get back in to BriSCA F1. In the following months the F2 stock car was put up for sale.

During the next few weeks of April I was at my regular haunts of Brafield, Long Eaton, and Leicester for the F1’s .

On Thursday April 17 Mike Parker opened a brand new track at Blackburn in Lancashire in the north of England. img005A large crowd of us southerners traveled up to attend the inaugural event where Dave Hodgeson (272) won the Final. llIt was paved, 360 meters in length and ran regularly on Thursday nights. This was a boom time for BriSCA F1’s in the north and it was quite viable to stage mid week shows.

The early part of May saw me at Coventry, Brafield, Long Eaton, Leicester and Sheffield .

On May 25, I made my second visit to the Odsal Stadium in Bradford. Chris Pickup (50) was still driving Dave Kiff’s Buick powered BriSCA F1 and I joined the team for the trek up north.

1978i Dave had bought a converted coach as a transporter and about a dozen of us went to help out that night.

Dave Kiff's coach (Chris Pickup Pic)
Dave Kiff’s coach (Chris Pickup Pic)

I previously mentioned that promoter Stuart Bamforth had got a reputation for putting on special events that fans were eager to see.

This night was no exception, and the big attraction that night was the appearance of BriSCA F2 World Champion, Bill Batten (667) behind the wheel of a loaned Frankie Wainman (212) F1 car.1978h We arrived early enough in the pits to see the Wainman car sign written and numbered with Bill’s F1 number ( 467) . At another Bradford meeting later in the year Bamforth arranged for top Hot Rod driver Barry Lee to appear.

Although auto racing is my main passion, I also enjoyed watching football ( my North American friends prefer to call it soccer ) and I followed the fortunes of three football clubs.

My local team of Luton Town, who’s games I went to see as a school kid, Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) which was the nearest top team to where I lived, and of course my all time favorite was Ipswich Town ( the town where I was born) .

Well, 1978 was Ipswich Town’s big year and they qualified for the FA Cup Final . It was held on the afternoon of Saturday May 6th at the famous Wembley Stadium in London and they were playing against Arsenal.

My dad managed to get two tickets from someone he worked with , so the two of us made the trip.1978k

It turned out to be a very hectic day ! I had to work on Saturday morning, and as soon as I finished we drove to Stanmore in Middlesex , where we parked the car and got on the ‘tube’ (subway) to Wembley.

Under the great leadership of manager Bobby Robson ( who later became manager of the England Football Team) , Ipswich beat Arsenal 1-0.

After the final whistle, we were running down the road to catch the ‘tube’ back to Stanmore. As soon as we were back in Dunstable, Dad dropped me off at Maureen’s place . I then jumped into her Ford Escort and we sped up the M1 to Coventry for the nights BriSCA F1 races.

It felt great sitting in the grandstand, proudly wearing my Ipswich Town rosette .

Lincoln’s Brian Tuplin (155) got a rare final win that night.

Although I’d lost interest in racing my F2 , my buddy and touring partner of 1977 Brian Holmes (542) was still at it. He was continuing  his travels all over the country and while I was watching the F1’s at Long Eaton on June 10, he was up at the Nelson Stadium, picking up his first ever Final win, in the car I’d helped to build during the winter of 76/77.

The social scene was still a big part of the fun at the time, with Coventry, Leicester and Long Eaton being the most lively. There was quite a crowd of us from all over England that would hang out in the bar after most of the meetings. To name just a few , from Essex there was Pete Mayhew (94), Mo Smith (51) and the brothers, Bob (380) and Ian Hall (381). Stu Ralls (379) from Hampshire, ‘Hoss’ Martin Fernihough (208) from Worcestershire, Pete Doran (428) of Leicestershire, Danny Clarke (203) of Northants, and Howard Davis (327) from Gloucestershire .1978e 1978f

We were often the last ones to leave the bar and the regular routine afterwards was to visit the nearby Fish and Chip shop. My usual late night feast , consisted of Cornish Pastie, Mushy Peas and Chips. For the benefit of my North American friends let me explain . A pastie is a pastry filled with hot meat and vegetables, Mushy Peas are a sloppy mess of mashed up processed peas and of course Chips are french fries.

Long Eaton’s chippy was located right by the pit gate, Coventry’s was in the village of Wolston just down the road from the stadium, and after Leicester we stopped at one beside a Cinema on the cities inner ring road.It was always a good social gathering and much fun was had by all.

The monthly Monday night Sheffield meetings also become one of my regular destinations, where I traveled up with the two Micks, ‘Blacky and ‘the Beard’ . Our favorite place after the racing was a Chinese chippy in the same road as the stadium.

When Sheffield wasn’t running the Five Bells at Eaton Bray was still my regular Monday night watering hole . Many from the Beds and Herts F2 fraternity met there. They were Brian Holmes (542) , Dave Gibson (794), Geoff Dunsby (649) , Mick Coady (653) and Nigel Harradine (717), as well as local Spedeworth Superstox guys Kenny Edwards (394) and Lance Blackledge (33) who dropped in occasionally .

The Beds and Herts Supporters club still had their monthly get togethers at The Bell on the village green at Toddington Beds .

During June and the first part of July, it was business as usual traveling to all my regular tracks in Maureen’s Ford Escort . Brafield, Coventry, Leicester, Long Eaton, Bradford , Skegness, Belle Vue, Harringay and Aldershot.

Following the newly formed BriSCA and NACO alliance a European Championship Series for F1 stock cars was devised for the weekend of July 22/23 at Long Eaton and Rochdale respectfully. Jos Adrians, Rien Rutjens, Peter Alderson, Lambert Keulen, Jo Kessells, Tony Ver Plak , and John Naabe were the seven Dutch drivers that visited the UK.

This was the same weekend that Chick Woodroffe and his Promotasport organization staged their Festival of Speed at Brands Hatch. As he was no longer part of BriSCA the headline division were the FISCA F1 stock cars.

I missed all of these meetings, as I had other plans !

When I was a child I was fortunate enough to have some really good family holidays. Mum and Dad took us on some great camping trips around Europe. One place we visited on more than one occasion was ‘Kims Camping’ at Llafranc on Spain’s Costa Brava.

Llafranc was a small town in an unspoiled part of the Mediterranean coast far away from the commercialized package tour resorts . The campsite was situated among the trees on a hillside about a mile from the beach. The drive down from the UK took about two and a half days to do it comfortably.

The biggest thing to come from the BriSCA / NACO link up , was the 1978 Long Track World Final for F1 stock cars scheduled at Baarlo on August 5/6 , so Maureen and I planned to be there,  via a holiday in Spain !

On the weekend of July 22, the Ford Escort was packed with camping equipment and we set off for Dover and the ferry to Boulogne in France.

On the two day drive through France we passed through the cities of Tours, Limoges and Toulouse before crossing into Spain just south of Perpignan.

The further south that we drove the hotter it got and we found great pleasure buying fresh peaches from the road side sellers.

Once we’d crossed the border into Spain , there were a few more hours of driving to do before reaching Llafranc  that is located to the east of Gerona.

Unfortunately we hadn’t booked in advance, and on arrival we found ‘Kims Camping’ to be full up. We had to look around for an alternative camp site, so ended up at the next little town of Tamariu.

I hadn’t planned on seeing any racing while I was in Spain, but things turned out different !

Located close to Tamariu, was the Palafrugel Karting Club, which not only had karts to rent, but on the night we were there, they had some competitive local racing. This became an unexpected new track for me. ( Please note. this track, will not be found on my official TRACKCHASING list.

The TRACK CHASER group have some strange ways of counting tracks and certain types of Kart racing, Motor Cycle Speedway and Drag Strips are not considered countable forms of racing within the rules)

After basking in the sunshine on the beach all week, it was time to head north in the direction of the Netherlands.

On the journey back through Southern France we spotted an old SIMCA on the forecourt of a Datsun dealership that looked very much like a French Stock car . 1978lNow that would have been great if we could have sampled some of their kind of racing too, but we had places to be and didn’t have time to stop. In fact, because we wanted to be at Baarlo a couple of days early, we pressed on through the night, sleeping in the car for a few hours beside the road , instead of finding a campsite.

After skirting around the edge of Paris ( We thought it wise to avoid going through the center) then driving up via the Belgian city of Liege and into the Netherlands by way of Maastricht, we arrived at ‘our’ campsite in Roermond on the Thursday prior to the weekends races.1978w

Another of my Interests not previously mentioned is Die-cast model cars and trucks . At this time I was concentrating on adding to my truck collection and in Spain I’d picked up a Pegaso Fuel tanker and a Dodge Cement mixer. straight trucks 009 straight trucks 018While walking the streets of Roermond I found an old style toy shop and bought a Commer Walk Thru Van.artic2 443

As for Music, It wasn’t just Rock n Roll that I enjoyed, and soon got hooked on the ‘Euro Beat’ that was popular at the time. Stuff like ABBA, Sheila B Devotion, Bacara and Patrick Hernandes come to mind. I really liked an all girl Dutch group called Luv and ended up buying a couple of their LP’s from the Netherlands big department store Vroom & Dressman.

On Friday afternoon we took a drive to the track and already a couple of UK race transporters had arrived.1978m

The UK drivers making the trip were Bert Finnikin, (55) , Dave Mellor (304), Stu Smith (391) , Glyn Pursey (175), Dave Hodgson (272), John Jebson (384), Brian Powles (154), and Gerald Taylor (250), as well as defending Champion , FISCA F1 driver Ian Ireland (267)

On this vast paved oval, the local Dutch cars ran with racing tires so the UK drivers who’d done their homework came prepared. jebbyJohn “Jebby” Jebsons car had some massive racing tires, and instead of his traditional Morris LD truck back axle, had fitted one from a Cadillac.

BriSCA F1 had developed as a ‘working mans’ answer to racing so there were measures in place to keep costs down. At this time racing tires were banned in the UK, so the drivers that could afford it sought out the next best thing. Fifteen inch Dunlops that were found on Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys were what the top guys used , while the rest of us scavenged around the wreckers yards for what ever we could find. In later years as supplies dried up Hoosier Racing tires were allowed.1978o

The weekend’s races at Baarlo consisted of two qualifiers on the Saturday with the World Final race being the first of two on the Sunday.

The Saturday races were supposed to have been non contact, but it didn’t work out that way !

Stuart Smith (391) crossed the line first in both races, but was disqualified in the second for giving John Neis (105) a good hit in the closing laps.

Defending Champion Ian Ireland (267) was unfortunate to blow his 427 Chev engine, but overall and after the first days racing  things looked good for the Brits. Stu Smith and Dave Mellor seemed the most likely to clinch the big one.155702_10207508945420282_6183409739724879457_nAs you’d expect, much partying went on over night resulting in a few hangovers on Sunday morning. One person who’d been busy overnight was Ian Ireland. He’d acquired a replacement engine from a wreckers yard across the border in Germany.

Following his use of contact during one of Saturday heats, Stuart Smith started Sundays big race towards the rear of the grid.

Frans Meuwissen (76) who had always looked fast started at the front and at the drop of the green , shot away with the rest of the field in pursuit. Most peoples eyes were on Smith and Mellor who were weaving there way through the pack, and gradually homing in on the flying Dutchman.

As they got closer , the starter unexpectedly put out the two laps to go board just as Smith started tapping Meuwissens back bumper. After some good driving , he survived the first assault, and managed to hang on to the lead until the checkers.1978n

Apparently, the starter mistakenly shortened the race from the agreed 20 laps, which didn’t go down too well with the Brits. The big question being, if the race had ran the full quota would Smith have past Meuwissen ?winnerWe will never know.

The last F1 race of the day, which took place in a rain storm was won by Glyn Pursey, one of our Beds & Herts club drivers.

When the checker flag dropped, it signaled the end of our holiday, and we set off for the three hour drive to Ostende for the 10-00pm ( aprox) ferry back to Dover. The Dover to Ostende crossing takes about four hours so I tried to grab some sleep before we got back to the UK around 2-00am and the two and a half hour drive home to Dunstable.

As mentioned earlier, I’d become a bit disillusioned with my BriSCA F2 and wanted to get back into F1. It was around this time, it was sold to Tony Butterfield from Coventry, who was part of BriSCA F1 driver Mike Shirley’s (395) crew.1978s

Our Beds & Herts Club was still going strong, and we had two new drivers making their BriSCA F1 debuts late in the season. They were Lionel Shaw (362) and 1978bBill West (39) who were both from Luton. In the coming months they would both become good friends of mine. l2Lionel was driving Chris Pickup’s Triumph GT6 bodied Jaguar and Bill a former Tony Allen (348) crew member, was in a self built Buick. Another driver making his BriSCA debut who would become a friend in later years was Colin Casserly (176) .1978d Colin from Stevenage, Herts had previously been racing F1’s with FISCA and his brother Alan (104) was their 1977 World Champion. Many years later Colin became involved in the media side of the sport as a photographer.

The week end (12 /13 Aug) after returning from the Netherlands I was up at Belle Vue watching the BriSCA F1’s, followed by Brafield the next day for the semi final of F1 World Championship.

The last part of August saw me at Leicester, Sheffield, Long Eaton, Bristol, Brafield (again) , plus Arena Essex.

Arena Essex was another new track for me. It was opened in 1978 by Chick Woodroffe and built in a former chalk quarry at Thurrock, close to the Dartford Tunnel . Originally it was scheduled to run BriSCA F1’s but when Woodroffe left the organization, his domestic PRI formulas of Bangers, Mini and Anglia Rods became the regular bill of fare. It was paved, 400 meters in length, and it was these formulas I saw, on my first visit (Aug 20).

During early September I attended Coventry, Brafield, LongEaton. Bristol, Bradford and Leicester during the weeks leading up to the BriSCA F1 World Final at Belle Vue.

img002 (4) (Medium)

It was held on the Sept 23 and there were four of the top Dutch drivers taking part. They were Friedhelm Welters (8), Rien Rutjens (15), Frans Meuwissen (76) and Lambert Keulen (104). Rutjens and Keulen brought their own cars while Meuwissen used the loaned Ian Ireland car and Welters used Alan Casserley’s.

There were also two US drivers , Frank Burgin (USA 1) and Jamie Pfeifer (USA 99) in loaned cars and both from California. 1978qThe big race was won by Dave Mellor (304) from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, with Yorkshire’s John Hillam (229) second, and Glyn Pursey (175) coming in third.1978p

Two weeks later on Sept 10, I was at the BriSCA F2 World Final at Bristol, which was won by Cornwall’s Jeremy Deeble (530).

img001 (10) (Medium)

1978rI missed out on the Superstox World Final , which was held at the Kaldenkirchen track in Germany and won by Scotland’s Gordon McDougal. It would be another year before I visited that track.

Into October I continued going to my local tracks as well as a doing the northern tracks of Blackburn, Rochdale and Belle Vue.

Late in the year I bought another BriSCA F1 which belonged to Beds & Herts driver Roger Gunnell (181) . Roger had quit racing and it had been parked up on a farm for a while. When he first debuted the car it appeared with a neat Ford Anglia body but after getting involved in a few wrecks only the roof section remained. 1978tIt had a 390 cu in V8 Ford Thunderbird engine, a Morris LD rear axle and a the front was Ford Transit. My winter project was getting it ready to race for the 1979 season.

As usual I was at the traditional Belle Vue Boxing Day races, then finished my racing year at a special New Years Eve BriSCA F1 session at Brafield which was held with snow on the ground.1978x