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1983 RETRO REPORT

1983eRICK @ the RACES (RETRO 1983)

EPISODE 17

At the beginning of December 1982 Pat and I became the proud parents of a baby daughter that we named Carla, and later that month I became the owner of another BriSCA F1 stock car.

Pat had bought the E Type Jaguar powered Triumph GT6 Spitfire bodied car from my old buddy Chris Pickup (50).

At the end of every racing season the BSCDA ( British Stock Car Drivers Association) held their AGM which I always attended. 1983z 1983yOne of the rule changes that year, regarding car construction  related to roll cages. It became mandatory for cages to have ‘six posts’. In the past, four posts had been acceptable.

In addition to this the cages were to be steel plated above the drivers head and down the sides. The idea behind this was to give added protection in the event of a rollover or a heavy side swipe.

My newly acquired race car had a four post cage, so major surgery was needed to make it comply. 1983aAfter giving it some thought, I decided that instead of adding two extra posts, it would be better to build a brand new cage. This meant my return to the tracks would take longer than expected with a rebuilding project to keep me occupied for most of the year. 1983bI didn’t possess any pipe bending equipment to make one from round tubular steel, so chose to build it from 2 X 2 square box section, similar to the one used on my first car. My original idea was to retain the Triumph Spitfire body but a larger roll cage made it impractical.

I tried to fit the battle scarred Fiat Toppolino body that I’d saved from my BriSCA F2, but that didn’t work either.

In the end I decided to use just the roof section from the Spitfire combined with some sheet metal. A new bonnet was made from sheet metal too with a radiator grill from a Van Den Plas Princess 1100.1983c 1983d

I guess you could say that the early 1980’s were the ‘thin end of the wedge’ as far as car design was concerned. The new rule for  roll cages and the doing away of real stock car bodies set the trend for the modern day ‘cookie cutter’ BriSCA F1 stock car.

Buy now a lot of cars were appearing with sprint car style wings and other silly looking aerodynamic ‘bolt ons’. You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t think much of the new look , but reluctantly excepted they are here to stay. I felt it was a bad thing for the sport because cars lost their individuality. If I’d wanted to see sleek speed machines with wings, I would have spent my Sunday afternoons watching the planes take off at Luton Airport ! The cars were turning in to something far removed from what I’d learned to love in the 1960/70’s.

This was also the end of the road for Jaguar powered BriSCA F1 Stock Cars. In the past, an average working guy with a modest budget and a bit of mechanical knowledge could be on the track with a Jag picking up the occasional placings. These days were over as technology advanced and more and more wealthier drivers began importing big block Chevy’s from the States. I’d realized this before starting my project , so my intentions were to race only at my local Brafield track and to have a bit of fun. I think it’s fair to say that I was one of the last few drivers to race with Jaguar power.

The re-construction work took place gradually throughout the year while we attended our nearby tracks of Coventry, Brafield and Leicester as a spectators.1983f1983g

One long distance track I visited early in the season was the Smeatharpe Stadium near Taunton . Pat’s sister lived in West Lydford, near Yeovil and not far from Smeatharpe.

img004We drove down there for a visit in our Austin Cambridge on the May Day holiday weekend ( April 30- May 1 / 2 ) so the relatives could see Carla for the first time.

While the sisters spent time chatting in the house, my nephew Peter and I went along to Smeatharpe to see the BriSCA F2’s in action. This was my second visit to this track. The first time was in 1976 when I accompanied my buddy Brian Holmes (542) who was racing there. Back then, it poured with rain all day , and it did the same on this occasion too. Heat and Final winner was long distance traveler Andy Horton (574) from Cheshire.

I was still driving for a living on contract to Bejam  in Wolverton , Milton Keynes and my regular truck was a Leyland Marathon with a sleeper cab. Once or twice a week , while on long hauls, I’d run out of legal driving hours and have to sleep in it. 1983hOn one occasion (Thurday 23 June) I ran out of hours and had to park up in the Aldershot area of Hampshire.

Thursday night was race night at the Aldershot Stadium so things were looking up !

I parked the truck at the rear of the towns BEJAM store then got a taxi to the track . I spent my evening watching the Spedeworth Superstox in action before ‘thumbing’ it back to the truck to sleep.

This was my last ever visit to this great little track that like so many others, eventually succumbed to the developer.

Another time while driving my truck I happened to stop at the Watford Gap Services on the M1 for a ‘cuppa tea ‘ . While there I bumped into Al Henderson the well known ‘Mr Starter’ from around the BriSCA tracks.

At the time he was secretary of the VSCA ( Veteran Stock Car Association) , a group of people dedicated to keeping the sports veteran drivers, fans and officials in touch. He invited me to become a member, I decided to join, and I’m still a member to this day.

The Spedeworth Superstox were first to have their World Final, with the event taking place for the second year running at Cleethorpes (13/14 Aug). I missed this one, where Anthony V/D Oetelaar (4) from Tilburg in the Netherlands took the victory.

Mid 1960's picture of Barry VD Oetellar in his BriSCA F1
Mid 1960’s picture of Barry VD Oetelaar in his BriSCA F1

He was the son of Barry , the 1960’s BriSCA F1 driver (386), who’d moved from his base in Reading, Berkshire to live in his native land and become a promoter. Cleethorpes was one of the few UK tracks I never got round to visiting.

1983iAs you’d expect, I was at the 1983 BriSCA F1 World Final which was held at the Coventry Stadium on September 3 and won by Stuart Smith (391). 1983mDefending champion Willie Harrison (2) came home third with my old buddy Danny Clarke (203) getting the runner up spot. 1983jThe Netherlands representatives were Friedhelm Welters (8), Leon Cox (17), George Kroonder (217) and Piet Keyzer (10). The USA reps, once again came from the Beech Ridge Speedway in Maine , and they were Larry Tanguay (61) and Dick Wolstenhume (99). 1983k 1983lWolstenhume was the best placed overseas driver with a twelfth place finish.

A week later ( Sept 11) it was Carla’s christening, which took place in the tiny chapel, just around the corner from our house in Maidford. 1983nThis was sandwiched between the next big race on the agenda, the F1 Long Track World Final  ( Sept 17/18) .

The 1983 event was run a little different from previous  years.

Instead of it being based solely at the Baarlo Autospeedway in the Netherlands , for the first time it was held in two different locations. On Saturday the first leg took place at the Gonne Circuit at Gruitrode , near Bree in Belgium and on Sunday, the second leg was held at Baarlo.

Just a  few days after Carla’s christening we set off from Maidford in the Austin Camebridge en-route to my birth town of Ipswich in Suffolk. We had arranged to stay overnight at my Aunt and Uncles (Geoff and Sheila Westlake) place so we could catch an early morning ferry from the Port of Felixstowe.

With Carla being so young this was the best way to do it. Once we landed in Zeebrugge , Belgium, we drove up the Dutch coastline to the sea-side town of Noordwijk an Zee . This was close to the world famous Zandvoort Racing Circuit which used to host the F1 Dutch Grand Prix . Unfortunately there was nothing going on at the track while we were there.

For this years vacation we chose Bed and Breakfast establishments ( or pensions as they are called in Netherlands)

After a day by the coast we drove to Roermond where we based ourself at ‘Willems’ the same small hostelry in the center of town where we stayed in 1981. img003The town of Roermond was in a good central position to attend both the Gruitrode and Baarlo tracks.

What made this years two day event even more interesting was the fact that Gruitrode was a dirt track of approx 1/3 mile and Baarlo was a 1 kilometer paved track. This meant that some drivers used two different cars. 1983o

A pre-race rainstorm at Gruitriode made the going tough as Rien Rutjens took the heat races and Friedhelm Welters the Final.

This was the first and only race meeting I’ve seen in Belgium,  and at the age of 9 months was Carla’s first overseas race.1983q1983p

Following Saturday’s races the ‘traveling road show’ moved across the border to Baarlo  which was about an hours drive away.

Once again the day started out wet, and it was local hero , Rutjens who took both F1 races  including the prestigious Long Track World Championship. 1983s 1983tOne of the Dutch drivers competing that weekend was Jan V/D Goot (7) and in the next few years we got to know him and his family.1983r

Normally once Sundays races were over, I would be dashing from Baarlo to catch the ferry, but not this time . Instead we traveled to the small town of Chaam near Breda where we stopped overnight. Pat’s late mother had been Dutch, and her uncle lived in Chaam , We paid him a visit before driving back to Zeebrugge on Monday for the ferry to Dover.

While we were enjoying ourselves in mainland Europe the BriSCA F2 World Final was taking place at Newton Abbott in Devon. q2David Bunt of Plymouth clinched his second world title.

1983eBefore making the Long Track trip I’d completed the rebuilding work on my F1 Stock Car and was now ready to give it a try .

October 2 was the big day when I was joined by my old buddy Brian ‘the Duke’ Bedford ( 209) at our local Brafield Stadium. As mentioned previously , Brian, like myself had relocated to Northamptonshire and he’d been watching with interest the reconstruction work I was doing. The temptation became too much for him and by the time I was ready to make my 1983 debut he’d got himself another car to race. 1983vHe bought the former Geoff Weston (96) built  ex Bob Boddington (196) and Jim Wilde (90), car from John Plant (390). John from nearby Long Buckby was yet another southern driver who’d  moved to Northamptonshire.

I towed the stock car the short distance from our home in Maidford, to the track  behind the Austin Cambridge with the aid of my towing ambulance. img005Brafield wasn’t far away so Brian and I drove in convoy through the country lanes.

I was now a member of the VSCA and during the year , they organize many special events and get togethers. One was scheduled for Brafield this day so it seamed like a great time to make my return.1983u 1983w

Our Morris Marina came to the end of it’s life at the end of the year when the transmission quit. It was replaced by a British Leyland Princess acquired from my Dad. 1983x

I traded the Marina for a set of Morris LD truck axles to use as spares, for the stock car at a local wreckers yard.

As the year came to and end, and quiet winter was ahead, with very little work to do on the stock car.