1977 RETRO REPORT

1977dRICK @ the RACES RETRO 1977

By the end of 1976,  I had competed in my third year of BriSCA F1 stock car racing, and in November of that year ,  I raced my BriSCA F2 for the first time at a ‘pilot’ meeting held at the Reading Stadium in Berkshire.

I enjoyed the experience so much , that I decided to concentrate on BriSCA Formula Two  for 1977.

1977aMy BriSCA F1 was sold to Pete Beresford # 56  with my intentions for 1977 being to race the F2 stock car that I shared with Chris Pickup.

1976gOur friend Brian Holmes  # 542 had been using it in 1976, and this meant he was without a car for the coming season.

During the winter months, I spent some of my spare time, down at the Holmes family farm in Eaton Bray, helping  Brian build a new one.1977b He’d been happy with  our car , so he used the chassis as a pattern to build the new one.

There were two big differences, the engine and the body.

Instead of using Triumph power, Brian chose a Morris Marina motor.

Fiat Topolino bodies were now quite rare, so a cut down roof section from a Triumph Herald was used .

Brian's finished car.
Brian’s finished car.

After working on the car, each Monday night, we’d end up in the nearby Five Bells ( pub). From this point onwards, The Five Bells took over as my regular ‘watering hole’ with less visits being made to the ‘Plume of Feathers’ in Markyate

My 1977 season got off to an early start with some SCOTA F1 racing on New Years Day at Wimbledon then again at Ipswich on Jan 3.

I still enjoyed watching my old buddies in action and went to as many of their races as I could. As per normal,  the Spedeworth organization ran throughout the winter, and had given the F1’s a generous portion of race dates.

Between the start of the year and attending my first BriSCA meeting of 1977 (Brafield. Mar 13) , I’d been to six Spedeworth events. Four were at Wimbledon , (two of which were for F1 , and one each for Hot Rods and Superstox) . The others were a F1 and Superstox meeting at Ipswich and an F1 date at Aldershot.

Sometime during March I was browsing through the car journals in my local newsagents and in the pages of the American HOT ROD MAGAZINE I came across something that interested me. There was a photo of modified racing at the Martinsville Speedway Virginia. The cars looked similar to the stock cars we raced in the UK, so I bought a copy and decided to write to their ‘readers letters’ page.

As a result it was published in the July edition under the heading ‘Good Ol English Boy’. I had described racing in the UK and welcomed correspondence from US oval racing fans. I got quite a good response with letters from race fans all over the States. Some were from the North East and followed the Dirt Modifieds. One of the letters came from Bill Goodrich of Fort Montgomery NY, He regularly attended races at the Orange County Fair Speedway at Middletown NY and he told me about one of his favorites ‘Buzzy Reuteman’ (00) . 1977cHe sent me photos of ‘Buzzie’ in his famous DOVER BRAKE Coupe as well copies of ‘The Hard Clay’ ( the OCFS program) that had pictures of a ‘new kid on the block’ called Brett Hearn . I never realized at the time, that I’d meet both of these drivers many years later.

Like in 1976, when I wasn’t actually racing, I would be at the tracks as a spectator , and on most occasions I traveled around with my girlfriend, Maureen in her Hillman Imp.1976i

It wasn’t until Saturday April 9 that I made my F2 debut of the year at the Long Eaton Stadium, near Nottingham.

As mentioned in the 1976 report, F2 was regaining it’s former glory in the Midlands and the rest of the country. It was now popular once more, with drivers, fans and the promoters. They cost promoters a lot less in prize and start money than that of the BriSCA F1’s.

Long Eaton was one of the many tracks that added F2 to their schedule for 1977. They were added to the regular F1 program as well dates with the Bomber Cars. ( Bombers were Long Eaton’s name for Bangers).

This arrangement worked well for me, because I could be racing my F2 without missing out on watching the F1’s. I ended up doing quite a few meetings at Long Eaton that year.

I can’t remember too much about that first night at LE, but the car must have come away unscathed , because the next day I raced it down at the Mendips Raceway , near to Bristol. eff2

Brian’s new stock car was now finished and the two of us traveled down together. He’d got rid of his slow FG Morris , ‘threepenny bit’ truck and had returned to towing a trailer behind his car. He now had a faster, Mk2 Ford Cortina to use for the job. In late 1976 I had picked up a cheap (twenty quid) Hillman Minx Series V to get me by. img029 (3)It hadn’t been man enough to tow my F1 but it was just right for the much lighter F2 .

On Friday April 29, the new Reading Stadium officially opened it’s doors to the BriSCA F1’s and I was there to see Yorkshire’s Alan Barker (179) take the checkers.

I was back at Long Eaton with the F2 on May 14 and after camping overnight in the parking lot, we traveled further north the next day to the races at the Hartlepool Stadium in Co Durham. After unloading in the pits, I discovered, the panhard bar attached to the rear axle had broken. It must have happened the night before at ‘LE’ . It had to be fixed before I could get out on track and luckily, one of the local drivers came to my rescue. I think it was Paul McAleese  (580) who got me out of trouble with the use of his welder.1977e

F2 Review mag scan from Hartlepool
F2 Review mag scan from Hartlepool

The car went well and I picked up a third place in the heat and a sixth in the Grand National.

Getting ready for the Hartlepool Final Unknown Photographer
Getting ready for the Hartlepool Final Unknown Photographer

This meeting happened to be a World Final qualifier, so these points become important.

My next time out was on May 20 for the second Reading meeting of the year. I wasn’t so lucky as my visit there for the 1976 pilot event. This time I was unplaced in my heat, then broke a half shaft in the consolation.

On June 6 , I visited my first new track of the year, when I attended the first ever open-wheeled stock car event at the Bovingdon Raceway in nearby Hertfordshire. For some time it had been an independent Banger racing track laid out on part of the disused Bovingdon Airfield. On this occasion the Boston based, Pete Baines, Three Star F2/Superstox were making an appearance . 1977hBob Iles, one of our local Beds and Herts drivers, had sold his F1 and was out on the track that day driving a Superstox. As a registered BriSCA F2 driver, I was forbidden to drive at ‘pirate’ tracks, so had to be content with watching.

In later years the raceway became part of Spedeworths empire. One thing I recall from that visit to Bovingdon ,was the fact , that it was on that day that I picked up my first and second edition of a new oval racing publication that had been launched. I was called SHORT CIRCUIT MAGAZINE. I would never of guessed that, over thirty years later, it would still be thriving, and I’d be one of it’s regular contributors.

The F2 was still jointly owned by Chris Pickup and me, so I spoke to Chris about buying out my share. 1900670_485079164937084_493772728_oHe was in agreement, but before doing so, wanted to take it out for one race. So, on June 12 at the Brafield F2 Qualifier, Chris (650) made his only F2 appearance.

On June 14 a brand new track opened for BriSCA stock cars at Orby in Lincolnshire, just outside the East Coast resort of Skegness. It was paved, 300 meters and was promoted by Frank Hughes ( brother of veteran racer Nev # 69) . It ran on Tuesday nights during the holiday season.

I was still working as a truck driver on the Cross Paperware contract in Dunstable, and the stock cars were kept at Mick ‘Blacky” Black’s place just round the corner from my base.’Skeggy’ as it became known, was about a three hour drive so we had to leave straight from work ( about 4-30pm) to make it before start time. 1977gWe arrived just as the first race was lining up, so after a quick bit of scrutinizing by the officials ( that’s ‘tech’ to my North American friends) I was out in the second heat. There was nothing to show for that one, but managed to pick up a third place in the consolation.

My main memories of that first ever ‘Skeggy’ meeting was the fog. It was so thick, that the if you stood on one side of the track, you couldn’t see the opposite straight. After the racing we stopped for a drink at the nearby Red Lion ( I think that’s what it was called ) before some late night fish and chips out side the Butlins holiday camp. During the summer , this would become a weekly ritual. We were joined by Rockin ‘Robbie’ Randal (662) and Alan Warriner (723) , who were two other drivers that became ‘Skeggy’ regulars during that first year.

The journey home on that first night became an interesting experience ! After getting a flat tire on the trailer and stopping to change the wheel near Boston, we carried on a little further. I made a stab on the brakes and heard that ‘metal to metal’ sound, which meant the front pads on the Minx were ‘done’. Through the darkness of the night, without using the brake pedal and down-shifting to slow down, we made it home. We got back to ‘Blacky’s’ at about 4-00am in the morning, just in time for a few hours sleep before work the next morning. We must have enjoyed ourselves because we made the trip again the following week for the next meeting. This one was a World Final qualifier and a third place added a few more points to my tally. It started to look like I might have a slim chance of getting a Semi Final spot.

There was another qualifier, at the Rochdale Stadium in Lancashire on June 19, so ‘Holmes and Yo Yo ‘, as one writer tagged Brian and me, drove up north for this one. 1977fRochdale goes down in my memory as the roughest, and dirtiest place I ever raced. For a few days after the event, I was still finding chunks of shale in my ears and nose. I guess it was worth it, as another couple of World Qualifying points were gained and the prestige of place on Semi grid looked very likely.

The Semi’s were to be held at the St Austell track in Cornwall on July 31 and the Mendips track near Bristol on August 7, but both those dates wouldn’t be good for me as I’d made holidays plans for this time.1977d

It was also around this time that Dave Gibson (794) , who’d been driving stock cars on and off since the 1960’s joined Brian and myself on our travels.0209a (3)

While I was having fun with the F2, my buddy Chris Pickup, had began his F1 season in the Triumph GT6 Spitfire bodied Jaguar.

Chris and Jan at Brafield
Chris and Jan at Brafield

During the summer he got offered the chance to drive something a bit quicker. The Beds and Herts club was still going strong, and one of the key personalities was Dave Kiff from Luton, who we all nick named the ‘Godfather’. Dave had raced a few times but preferred to be a car owner. He bought the Fiat 600 bodied , 425 cu in Buick powered F1 car from SCOTA driver Marty Page (18) , and asked Chris if he’d like to drive it. 1977tThis was an opportunity Chris could not refuse.

I had a letter arrive in the post from Len Porter of the Stock Car Racing Board of Control informing me I had been drawn for the St Austell World Final Semi, which had been my preferred choice. 1977qI’d planned to be in the Netherlands on the day of the Bristol race, but even St Austell was not an ideal date. I had an early ferry booking for the Monday morning following St Austell’s Sunday afternoon race. St Austell was a six hour drive back to Dunstable, and the ferry was another two hours away at Dover. I had to make a choice, change my holiday plans or give the race a miss ( which realistically I probably wouldn’t advance from) . On the day of the St Austell Semi, I was at the Brands Hatch Festival of Speed watching the BriSCA F1’s, en route to Dover and the ferry to Ostende in Belgium.

The reason for this trip was important to me. The SCOTA F1 organization had scored a major coup in 1977 , by staging their World Final at the Baarlo Auto Speedway in the Netherlands. As soon as Maureen and I heard the news we wanted to be there, and had planned our summer vacation around it. The Hillman Imp was once again loaded up with camping gear and from Ostende we drove via Gent, Antwerp and Eindhoven towards Roermond. 1977sThis would be a route I would get to know quite well over the next 15 years. Our destination was the nice campsite beside the river that we discovered the year before. The plan was to base ourselves there for the coming week.poster_edited (Small)

During the week, we took a drive out to the track and the first thing we noticed was, that since our visit in 1976, the 1 kilometer oval had been paved. It had formerly been dirt. 1977iThe event which was being promoted by Jac Van Claes and his NACO organization was well publicized and there were posters everywhere advertising it. Anyone living in the area could not fail to know that the ‘WERELD KAMPIONSCHAP’ for ‘STOCK CAR FORMULE 1’ was taking place on the 6/7 Aug. At this point, I must add that in all my years of following auto racing, Jac who sadly passed away in the 1980’s was one of the best promoters I’ve seen, anywhere in the world. He really knew how to ‘promote’.

The things I’ll always remember about Baarlo, were the aromas of the food stands serving Fricandels, Bock Wursts and French Fries covered in mayonaise, the Brand Beer stands and of course the abundance of pretty blond girls everywhere you looked !

Ten SCOTA drivers made the trip, which included Gordon Perrin (5) Rod Smith (6) Bobby Burns (22) Alan England (24) Jim Bashford (88) Jim Wilde (90) Alan Casserley (104) Les Mitchell (238) Dave Chisholm (252) and Ian Ireland (267).les (Small)

There were four F1 races over the weekend, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. As well as the F1’s , NACO’s other divisions, Escorts, VW’s Hot Rods, Rodeo, and Auto Speedway cars were on the program.

The World Final was scheduled for the first race on Sunday, and it was obvious after Saturdays races, that the locals had the edge. The best UK result coming from Alan England with a third and a fourth. On Saturday night a big dance party took place in the equestrian center located next to the pits. We joined the large contingent of Brits who were there having fun and knocking back a beer or two. As well as the UK drivers that were taking part, others who I remember being there were Pete Guinchard (258) Chick Woodroffe (1) Dave Saunders (227) and Paul Martin (201) .

Dutch beer is some of the best in the world , but the only drawback was the quantity. In the Netherlands, it’s the norm for it to be served in tiny glasses with an abundance of froth. To most of us Brits, who were used to having full pint glasses, it was a culture shock. As the the night went on and the beer flowed, it was agreed, that the only way that one of our guys could win, would be if they worked together with some ‘good old fashioned’ contact racing. A plot was hatched to add a bit of ‘aggro’ to the race.lastscan (Small)editre_r (Small)welt (Small)

Sunday arrived, and after a ‘few sore heads’ the race got under way. As it progressed the locals gradually got eliminated by the visitors. thestart (Small)As the checkers fell it was Ian Ireland at the front, Gordon Perrin second, Les Mitchell third, and Jim Wilde fourth. Only two other cars finished the race, local drivers J Flendrig (2) and Andre Adams (99)victory%20lap (Small)

There wasn’t a riot following the ‘hard man’ tactics by the Brits, as most of the Dutch fans were mesmerized by the heavy bumper work they’d just witnessed. I guess they weren’t used to this kind of contact racing. They seamed to love it, and the phrase ‘boom boom’ became the term used for a ‘good hit ‘ from a front bumper.1977r

There was much celebrating in the UK camp before the final race of the weekend took place. This was conducted in a more orderly fashion, and was won by top Dutchman Frans Meuwissen (76) . edited_frans (Small)Frans sadly lost his life two years later in a racing accident at the nearby Heerlen Speedway.

Once the racing was over , we had a three hour drive back to Ostende to catch the night boat to Dover.

The week after Baarlo, it was a Wimbledon and Brafield weekend for Formula 1’s . On Saturday Aug 13 the SCOTA cars were in action and the BriSCA F1’s were out on Sunday Aug 14. 1977jAt Wimbledon the London fans saw Ian Ireland with his newly acquired gold top. World Final winners in the UK paint the roof of their cars gold for the duration of their reign.

On Tuesday Aug 16 ‘Blacky’ and I were back up to ‘Skeggy’ with the F2 . I can’t remember much about that night, so I guess it was damage free, and no placings!

The following weekend Maureen and I went on a mini tour of the East Coast, where on Saturday we saw the independent Pete Baines Three Star Promotions F2/Superstox in action at the Boston Stadium . It was a special event entitled ‘Boston F2 cars versus London Superstox’ It was the start of some inter-promotional co-operation between Three Star and Spedeworth and it was an event I didn’t want to miss. 1977oThe top local guys like Jim Welch, Ian King and Martin Brand were taking on the best of the Superstox world which included, Dave Pierce, Bill Bridges, and the two Eaton brothers, (Mark and Roy). It was done on a points basis and turned out to be quite close with the locals winning by a small margin of 183 points to 175 . The team race Final was won by Trevor Clow (59) and the regular final was one by Jim Welch (298)

After camping in the car park that night, we set off on Sunday morning for the coastal resort of Gt Yarmouth in Norfolk. The paved Gt Yarmouth track was promoted by Spedeworth and this was the first time visit for me. Once again it was the SCOTA F1’s that tempted me to be there. Former three times BriSCA F1 World Champion, Dave Chisholm (252) won two of the races. Alan England got the other one.

The following week it was holiday time again ! It was the start of the August “Bank Holiday Weekend” and of course it incorporated a racing tour. Saturday Aug 27 involved a trip up to the East Midlands for a regular night watching BriSCA F1’s at Long Eaton, before coming home and setting off for the West Country with my F2.

First stop was the Sunday races at the Mendips Raceway (Bristol) , where after taking part , we camped over night. This was a two day event with BriSCA F2’s appearing on the Sunday and BriSCA F1’s on the Monday afternoon.

After staying to watch the F1’s , as soon as the final was over, we were out of the pits heading further west to the Newton Abbott Race Course in Devon. The F2’s were racing that night and I was booked in. 1977mThis was the first time I’d raced at this track, and I have to admit , I found it a bit ‘hairy’, so took it easy, and had no results to show.

After the racing we followed  Bill Batten (667) back to Pensilva, in Cornwall via a fish and chip shop in Ivybridge.  His mechanic had offered us accommodation for the night at his place in Pensilva, which was a short drive from the St Austell track where I’d be racing the next night.

The start time , was not until Tuesday evening, so we unhitched the trailer and spent the day exploring. For readers that are unaware, Cornwall is a popular tourist area in the UK, with quaint old fishing villages and sandy beaches.

When we returned later to pick up the stock car, Bill had sorted out some of his surplus spares for me.

My F2 was not exactly a ‘state of the art’ machine, in fact it was more than five years, behind the times. I was still using beam axles on the front end from 1940/50’s Ford Pops, it wasn’t independent like the modern race cars . My rear axle was also not the current favorite, so I gratefully excepted what Bill didn’t want. Those front beam axles were getting scarce, and Graham Bunter another of the top drivers also kept me well supplied.

I enjoyed racing at St Austell a lot more than Newton Abbott and managed to scrape through to the final with a seventh place in the heat. 1977lThe final didn’t last very long for me as Neil Johnson (571) and I tangled on the opening laps, which put us both out.

The next day was Wednesday Aug 31 and a regular race night back at Newton Abbott, which was to be the final stop of my West Country tour. I did a little better this time, by qualifying for the final. Unfortunately this night signaled the end of my 1977 F2 campaign. The engine had started smoking’ and it looked like it would soon need some attention.

After the Newton Abbott races we drove back through the night and were in Dunstable on Thursday.

Both the BriSCA F1 and F2 World Finals were scheduled for the forthcoming weekend, The F1’s at Coventry on Saturday Sept 3 and Taunton (Smeatharpe) on Sunday Sept 4 .

1977pMy intentions were to attend both, and at Coventry I saw Yorkshire’s Mike Close (199) take the gold. mike

After being overshadowed by the SCOTA F1 World Final in recent years, for overseas content, BriSCA had at last got it’s act together , and this year had representatives from the Netherlands Henk Straver (H1) and Jan Coenen (N1), Belgium’s Martin Quinten (B9) , Germany’s Karl Kroes (D2) and from the USA Harry Davis Stock (A98).img004 (8) img003 (11) img003 (12) img003 (10) COLIN HERRIDGE PICS

All of the foreigners, including Davis-Stock , (who I believe was an American based in Europe), raced for the ACON organization, from the Heerlen track in the Netherlands (Limburg)  with the exception was Straver, who raced with the EVACO from the Voorschoten area.1977n

With the F2 engine smoking , I didn’t want to risk towing it all the way down to Taunton the next day, so decided to go there and watch instead. My buddy Brian Homes had qualified for the big race.

For some reason, and I don’t know why, Maureen and I decided to set off early and go in my old Hillman Minx and not her Imp, which was a decision we’d regret.

Brian who was a Milkman, had his morning milk round to do would leave later in the day .

While we were traveling between Aylesbury and Oxford I hit a bump in the road and as a result, a bottom ball joint decided to break. Suddenly the front of the Minx dipped, and we careered across the road and up the grass banking on the opposite side. Luckily it was early Sunday morning and not much traffic about, but it still meant we were stranded. After finding a phone box ( people didn’t have cellular phones in those days), we got hold of tow truck to get us to a garage in Aylesbury. With it being Sunday, nobody was working, so we had no choice but to leave it there. Another phone call was made to my sister Anne, who lived not far away, and was able to come out and pick us up. She took us back to Dunstable, where we jumped into the Imp and set off once more for the races.

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By now it was too late to get to Taunton , so we settled for a visit to the Oxford Stadium where the BriSCA F1’s were racing.1977k

So instead of seeing Bill Batten win the 1977 BriSCA F2 World Final, I saw Mo Smith (51) get a good final win at Oxford.

The next night, I heard all about the Taunton race from Brian when we took a trailer over to Aylesbury to tow the Minx back.

It was the turn of the Spedeworth Superstox to have their World Final the following Saturday (Sept 10) at Wimbledon. As I mentioned earlier, there’d been some inter-promotional co-operation between Three Star Promotions and Spedeworth and for the big race drivers from Three Star were to be included. When the checkers fell, the locals got a shock when visiting Jim Welch (298) , out-classed everyone to take the flag.

It was Brafield the next day (Sunday) for a regular diet of BriSCA F1’s.

The Minx was now repaired, but I’d not had time to deal with the stock cars smoke problem. Tuesday Sept 13 was the last mid-week race of the year at ‘Skeggy’ , and thought I’d race it there anyway. As the night went on, the smoke got worse, until it looked so ridiculous, I decided to call it a day.

This became the last time I’d race the F2 that year.

So, with the F2 parked up in Mick Blacks back yard, the next weekend I was back watching the F1’s on Saturday night ( Sept 17) at the Leicester Stadium. The next day we were heading down to the New Forrest in Hampshire to see the SCOTA F1’s at Ringwood.

The Following Friday on Sept 23, I made my first time visit to the Odsal Stadium in Bradford, Yorkshire. After a series of serious accidents in 1976 the BSCDA had started up a drivers Benevolent Fund and on this occasion it was the inaugural running of the ‘Ben Fund Trophy’.

The track at Odsal was 345 yards, paved and was promoted by former BriSCA F1 World Champion , Stuart Bamforth (3) . ‘Bammy’ as he was affectionately known, took control of the oval at the beginning of the year, and he soon started making headlines throughout the stock car world for great presentations that race fans were eager to see.

Stuart Bamforth who is sadly no longer with us, was another of the all time great promoters . Like Dutchman Jac Van Claes, Stuart knew how to promote. The first ever winner of the Ben Fund Trophy, that consisted only of the countries top drivers, was Rochdale’s , Stuart ‘Wildcat’ Smith (391).

For the remainder of the season I continued visiting my regular haunts, and even managed to visit another two new tracks before the year was out.

On Sunday October 9,  I went somewhere a little different. For a number of years there had been a grass-track club at Odsey, near Ashwell in Hertfordshire ( between Baldock and Royston) where they raced specials and saloon cars. On this occasion the SCOTA F1’s had been invited, and I wanted to be there. There were about ten stock cars in attendance that competed together, in between the races for the other classes.

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My next visit to a new track was on Monday October 17. This was a boom time for BriSCA F1 stock cars and even on Monday nights the Sheffield Sports Stadium, in South Yorkshire attracted large crowds. The track in the Owlerton part of the city was 368 meters and shale. The stadiums principle use was for greyhound racing, and was one of the best appointed venues in the country with glass fronted grandstands, bars and restaurants. On the negative side, one of my main memories of this place was the disgusting pit area. As a greyhound track, the area allocated for the pits was where (on dog racing night) the dogs were taken for ‘walks’. I found it impossible to visit the pits without picking up something ‘nasty’ on my shoes !1977v

The 1977 season was drawing to a close, which ended with a Christmas visit up north. Belle Vue regularly ran on Boxing Day, and this year Sheffield were running the day after on Dec 27. A crowd of us booked into a Manchester hotel for the night, so we could do them both of them.1977u

I have to say that I feel 1977 was the thin end of the wedge, with regard to the development, of the stock car I used to love. What appealed to me in the 60’s, was the appearance of the cars ( the way they looked) . Part of my enjoyment of going stock car racing, was looking at the cars and trying to figure out what road vehicle the body parts came from. During 1977 many of the cars had started appearing with unattractive ‘boxy’ looking homemade bodies. Somewhere during the course of time the mandatory stock body rule had disappeared.  A really bad decission in my opinion, but there was worse to come !  Within a few years not only would the cars lose their stock body appeal, but they would have silly looking wings and spoilers attached to them.