The winter of 78 / 79 turned out to be quite an eventful one. For the past three years I’d traveled around the race tracks with my girl friend Maureen but at the beginning of the year we parted company and went our separate ways.
Even so, we still remained friends and on a few occasions we still went to the races together.
The Vauxhall Cresta that I’d bought in 1978 was rear ended while parked in Dunstable and although it was still drive-able , the insurance company decided to write it off.
I replaced it with a 1970 Austin 3 Litre which was quite a rare beast and would certainly be a collectors item today. It was a lovely car to drive, but it did have one bad point. It had an unusual hydro-elastic suspension system which was operated by a pump. The pump on mine had quit working and often the rear end would sit down low when excessive weight was added. I had no luck in finding a replacement part and was unable to get it fixed.
My insurance company had asked me to dispose of the Cresta, so I traded it for a V8 Cadillac engine.
One of my old friends from my motor cycle days at the “Axe and Compass” , Steve Marcuccio ( we new him as Cooch) was now racing bangers at the local Bury Farm track, in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire .
Somehow he managed to get hold of a 1956 Cadillac to race as banger.
Of course I begged him not to race it ! because it was heartbreaking to see a classic American car going to waste. Anyway, the dastardly deed was done, and once it was wrecked, I had the engine. My Cresta then ended it’s days in Cooch’s hands at the Bury Farm banger track.
I was still truck driving for a living on the Cross Paperware contract in Dunstable and at the start of the year there was a National Truck drivers strike in the UK to improve the poor wage structure. I was required to be in the union where I worked and Cross’s were a strong union company too. I had no choice but to stop work and join the picket lines.
The strike lasted about three weeks and at the end of it, like in most cases, the workers ended up losing more than what they gained.
Later in the year the Cross’s contract was taken over by Field Transport of Dunstable. The bosses at Cross’s were happy with my work, and recommended to Fields that they take me too. I liked the job I was doing, so went to work for Fields. I would now be driving a Leyland.
I’ve mentioned before about the lively social scene of the BriSCA fraternity in those days, and once again most of the winter weekends were taken up attending various functions.
Before the season got under way, I went to the Glyn Pursey (175) Supporters Club Dinner and Dance (banquet) that was held in Bedford.
The guest of honor was TV and movie actor , Bill Maynard. He was a regular cast member, in the famous British ‘Carry On’ movies of the 60’s and also appeared on many TV shows. He played the character of , the lovable rogue Claude Greengrass in the ‘retro’ police series called ‘Heartbeat’.
Bill who lived in Leicestershire , was a big fan of BriSCA F1 and and was often seen around the Midland tracks. During his Guest of Honor speech he recited the words to a record he was releasing entitled ‘Stock Car Racing is Magic’ . It was a fun song which included some interesting lyrics ! I still have it in my collection today.
While I was on strike, I’d been earning some extra cash working behind the bar in a local night club.
The club , DIDOZ , was part of the California Ballroom complex in Dunstable that was famous in it’s hay day for attracting many of the big names in music.
At this time DIDOZ was a disco but live bands played on a few occasions. They also put on stag nights with strippers. This seamed like a good deal to me, as I was getting paid for working on those nights ! I recall almost falling off the chair I was standing on at the back of the bar while trying to get a better look !
The strike, also gave me plenty of time to get on with preparing my BrISCA F1 for the coming season.
When Roger first debuted the car it had a really nice Ford Anglia body , but during the course of time it got abbreviated.
All that remained of the once neat bodywork was the roof section. Instead of finding a replacement body I added some sheet metal in an attempt to give it more shape.
I replaced the bent Ford Transit front axle and found a nice chrome Mercedes Benz radiator grille in the local wreckers yard to stick on the front. The ‘T’ Bird engine ran well, so I didn’t touch that. Of course, I’d got the Cadillac as a spare if I needed it.
One of the exciting new editions to join the BriSCA F1 ranks from FISCA in 1979 was Richie Ahern (18), who was a former top Banger racer before moving on to the Spedeworth Saloon Stox and FISCA F1’s . In all my years of following racing, I have to say, Richie was one of the most spectacular and entertaining ‘real’ stock car drivers of all time. I had the pleasure of knowing him for a short time before he sadly passed away in the 80’s.
1979 was the Silver Jubilee year for British stock car racing and many special events were planned to celebrate the occasion.
On Good Friday 1954, at the New Cross Stadium in South London the very first stock car meeting took place in the UK. The Stadium which will always be remembered as the sports birth place had been demolished by 1979, so twenty five years later, on Good Friday 1979 (April 13) the Harringay Stadium in North London was chosen for the special celebration event.
It was sponsored by the Daily Mirror, the national daily news paper and was to be part of the DAILY MIRROR JUBLIEE SERIES.
I was lucky enough to get a booking for this prestigious event which turned out to be one of the last meetings to be held at the track.
Unfortunately someone came up with a crazy idea for the Series where the races were started in a non-graded order. As you’d expect this diluted the action, with with the top drivers being allowed to start at the front.
INFO FOR THE BENEFIT OF MY NORTH AMERICAN FRIENDS. Most stock car races in the UK are started in graded order. Drivers are graded , according to their points success, and have to paint the roofs of their cars to whatever grade they are. Starting from the bottom there are whites, followed by yellow, then blue and on to red which is reserved for the top guys. ( The Gold roof is for the World Final winner) . The better the driver is, the further back in the field he starts. That means the ‘red tops’ have to work their way through the field before getting to the checkers. It makes better racing, but sadly for the Jubilee Series, this was lost. As a result , quite often a top driver would start near the front, and get a run away victory.
I must admit that my BriSCA F1 , didn’t go as well as I’d liked. The engine was good, but it handled like a ‘pig’, and kept wanting to push on into the bends. I decided to confine my racing to the local Brafield track until it was sorted. The Austin 3 Litre I had bought for towing had the suspension problem, so on a couple of occasions my Beds & Herts club buddies helped me out, Brian Yates towed me once with his Humber Sceptre and another time I used Dave Kiffs Bedford TK tow truck.
I can remember taking a turn to drive the coach transporter to Bradford one night.
Other tracks I went to, as an extra helper were Hartlepool and Rochdale.
Following the truck drivers strike earlier in the year, I had returned to working on the Cross Paperware contract , and one of the guys that worked there, had a Skoda for sale that was only a few years old.
For those people not familiar with the Skoda marque, let me explain.
1979 was prior to the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ and Communism in Eastern Europe. Skoda’s were cheap little cars built in the ‘Eastern Block’ country of Czechoslovakia.
Skoda’s like the Russian built Lada’s were the butt of many jokes, because of their dated and unusual looks. ( How things have changed ! Skodas are now one of the classiest cars in Europe)
During May, I decided to go on a racing vacation, not with the stock car, but to the Netherlands in the role of spectator.
I’d enjoyed my trips there in recent years and spotted a permutation of events on the NACO schedule, where I could visit two different tracks in a short space of time.
Thursday May 24 was a public Holiday in the Netherlands (Hemelvaarts Dag) and races were taking place at Baarlo .
A few days later on Sunday May 27 it was the annual ‘Crazy Races’ at the Goffert Stadium in Nijmegan.
I booked my ferry with Sealink, and chose the Harwich (Essex) to the Hook Of Holland crossing.
I left Dunstable solo on Wednesday in my newly acquired Skoda which I’d covered with stock car stickers, and loaded with camping equipment.
I will never forget the words of the Port of Harwich dock worker when he spotted me pulling in to the embarkation area. Pointing at my car, he said laughing, “ you ain’t taking that thing overseas are you ? ”. I think my reply went something like, “ well if it breaks down, I’ll just leave it there, and have to walk home.”
This particular crossing was longer and normally more expensive than Dover to Ostende , but I found a good deal by booking a day time crossing for the outbound, and a night time one for coming back.
As it was an early season meeting, promoter Jac Van Claes and his staff were on hand in the main bar, issuing various track passes. 1979 was a time before it became the fashionable or ‘ in thing’ for British fans to make visits to domestic NACO events. When Jac spotted me in the bar, with the BriSCA patches on my jacket, he beckoned me over for a chat. Within a few minutes my photo was taken and without out hesitation he’d issued me with a Season Pass. I’ve said this before in my reports , Jac was one of the best promoters I’ve ever known.
Long Track Champion Frans Meuwissen (76) was there in a new car, and did a parade lap for the fans with his Championship Trophy. Sadly this was the last time I saw Frans in action, as just a few weeks later, he tragically lost his life in an accident at the Heerlen track.
I made a few new friends while wandering around the pits, including Dirk Ris (18) , a driver from the Amsterdam area. We exchanged addresses and we kept in touch for a while. We met up again a few years later when I visited the Midland Speedway at Lelystad (NL) .
One of the top NACO drivers at this time was Lambert Keulen (104) who was the owner of the ‘Cross Carrousel’ Disco Bar at nearby Geleen. On Friday, following Thursdays races I had a free day , so took a ride out to Geleen. where I met Lambert in the ‘Cross Carrousel’. He gave me a tour of his workshops, which were located at the rear of the building.
Saturday morning I left Roermond and set off in the direction of Nijmegan , arriving at the municipal campsite in the center of the city soon after lunch. After I’d put up my tent, I needed a beer and was soon sitting in the camp site bar. It wasn’t long before I struck up a conversation with a couple of girls from Almelo, a city in the North. They were sisters on a weekend camping trip and by late afternoon we’d all got to know each other quite well. They then suggested I join them for a night out on the town . We went to the movies and visited various disco bars. I will never forget that night, being driven around the city at high speed in their little Citroen 2 CV . For those that don’t know , a Citroen 2 CV is one of those small French cars that were seen all over Europe at the time, and resembled a ‘chicken shack on wheels’ . Nettie , the youngest of the two sisters was about my age, we got on well, and stayed in touch for some time after.
It was a late night and I had to be up early in the morning to take down the tent and load the car, as my plans were to head for home straight after Sundays races. I arrived at the Goffert Stadion around midday for the afternoon staging of the ‘Crazy Races’ as they were titled , and used my new NACO season pass for the first time. There were no F1 stock cars on the program, just the small VW , NSU and ‘Autospeedway’ classes. The ‘Crazy Races’ were an annual event held at the impressive multi purpose Goffert Stadion. The dirt track for the cars was located between the football pitch and a banked bike racing track. The cars were forbidden to ride ‘high’ on to the paved bike track and had to remain on the dirt. I was told that the stadium was home to Nijmegan’s football team and was also the venue of many international matches.Once the racing was over, I was on my way to the Hook of Holland to catch the night boat back to Harwich. To keep the cost down, I hadn’t booked a cabin, so spent much of the crossing, trying to sleep in a reclining chair. I never seam to get much sleep in those things but, it saved me a bit of money.
I remember the ferry getting in to Harwich at about 6-30am on Monday morning. After clearing customs, I was on my way back to Bedfordshire. The Skoda went well, and never let me down !
Like I mentioned earlier, Maureen and I were no long dating, but we still remained friends, and when I arrived back in Dunstable around mid morning, I jumped into her Hillman Avenger to join her on a trip to Bristol.
It was the traditional Holiday Monday races for BriSCA F1 at the Mendip Hills Raceway.
Three days after Bristol, I ended the month of May with a Wednesday night drive up to Skeggy to watch the BriSCA F1 World Final Qualifier.
Through the months of June and July , I attended my usual tracks which included , Bradford Jun 1, Coventry Jun 2, Brafield Jun 3, Nelson Jun 9, Hartlepool Jun 10, Leicester Jun 16, Brafield Jun 17, Sheffield Jun 18, Belle Vue Jun 23, Rochdale Jun 24 and Long Eaton on Jun 30. All of those, except possibly Brafield were done in the role of spectator.
My records are a bit vague around this time but know one thing for sure , that I had put my BriSCA F1 up for sale.
I’d started to enjoy the way of life in the Netherlands and was seriously thinking about moving over there to live. I managed to sell the Skoda for the same price I payed for it and had put the stock car on the market.
It was about this time I made my first tiny step into auto racing journalism when I was asked by Graham Bunter, editor of the FORMULA TWO REVIEW magazine if I’d be interested in doing some meeting reports.
I agreed and under a pseudonym, I made my debut into the world of racing media. These were in the days before we all had PC’s , and it turned out to be a quite a lengthy task of trial and error using Mums old typewriter and a bottle of whitener.
The beginning of July started out much the same as June, where I attended races every weekend.
One notable event took place at Brafield’s BriSCA F1 meeting on July 8, when Ted Janes (66), one of my favorite drivers from the past , made a one-off re-appearance before finally retiring. Ted was from Missouri in the USA and had started his UK racing career whilst stationed at the USAF airbase at Alconbury in Huntingdonshire. He was quite successful in the 60’s and early 70’s before taking a lay off until that day in 1979. He came out in a radically designed car before retiring for good and selling up.
I was there to see Jim Welch take the checkers. I remember having a good chat in the pits with Barry Van Den Oetellar, the promotor from the dutch track at Tilburg. As mentioned in my last RETRO report (1978) he was a former BriSCA F1 driver (386) based in Reading ,Berkshire who’d returned to his native Netherlands to become promoter of the Tilburg track.
His sons Adri and Anthony both raced Superstox and were there at Great Yarmouth representing their country.
One week later I went along to Arena Essex to see the F3 stock cars for the first time. Promoter Chick Woodroffe’s Promotasport concern was part of the PRI organization ( PROMOTORSPORT RACEWAY INTERNATIONAL) They had introduced their own version of BriSCA’s F2’s and Spedeworth’s Superstox .
They named them F3 Stock Cars. Later in the year my former F2 traveling partners Brian Holmes and Dave Gibson would switch over to race with them.
The Long Track World Final for F1 stock cars was being held at Baarlo in the Netherlands on the weekend of 11/12 August and was now an annual event I didn’t want to miss.
I mentioned my plans of attending to a couple of my buddies and as a result, the three of us arranged to have a two week racing vacation around it.
I was joined by Nigel Harradine and Martin Budgell. Although there were only three of us we decided to take two cars and our own personal tents, to give us the freedom to do our own thing if we wanted. We took my Austin 3 litre and Nige’s Ford Capri.
Our adventure started off on Saturday July 28 when we all attended the BriSCA F1 races at the Harringay Stadium in North London.
When the races were over we headed straight for Dover, where we caught the night ferry to Ostende in Belgium. We arrived in the early hours of the morning and then drove towards Venlo in the Netherlands.
We were there for the Sunday afternoon Superstox races. There weren’t too many Superstox in attendance, with most of the program made up of cars from the economy divisions. None of us got much sleep on the boat ( in the reclining chairs) so we were all ‘cream crackered’ by the time we got there. We stayed awake for most of the races before heading back across the border to my usual campsite at Roermond.
For my friends across the world who are not familiar with the term ‘cream crackered’ let me explain. It’s Londoners ‘cockney rhyming slang’ for ‘Knackered’, and Knackered is a slang word for ‘being tired’.
Sadly, a few years later the Kaldenkirchen track was forced to close. I understand it was due to pressure from a group of local ‘tree hugging’ environmental ‘do-gooders’. This sort of thing makes me mad, I’m sure the existence of one little quarter mile race track isn’t going to end the world !
I find these ‘I want to jump on the green bandwagon’ type of people a real pain in the butt.
While we were in the Roermond area we took a drive out to look at the nearby Posterholt circuit that I visited, but saw no racing back in 1976.
When we arrived at the track we came cross a guy who asked us in very good English with his Dutch accent “Hev you come for de vence” ?
We thought he’d mistaken us for workers who’d come to repair the fence. After a while, we realized what he really meant !
He was asking if we’d come for the vans which he pronounced as ‘vence’ . Apparently there was a show coming up the following week for customized vans, and he assumed we were early arrivals. When we figured out the mistake, we all had a good laugh about it.
After a few days in Roermond catching up from our lack of sleep, we moved up north to a campsite at Wierden close to Almelo.
While we were there, I took off for a couple of days and visited Netty, the girl I met earlier that year in Nijmegan.
Our original intention was to stay at Wierden for a few days before moving on to the Gelsenkirchen Speedway near to Essen in Germany.
On my previous trips to Baarlo, I’d picked up a German magazine called ‘AUTOSPEEDWAY SPORT MAGAZINE’ and it was there that I learned about Gelsenkirchen.
The campsite bar at Wierden was a lively one, with plenty of pretty dutch girls on hand , so our visit to the Gelsenkirchen Speedway never materialized !
There were six BriSCA F1 drivers representing the UK in the big event, which included Bert Finnikin (55), Dave Mellor (304) John Jebson (384) , Andy Stott (160) and a couple of my buddies, Danny Clarke (203) and Martin ‘Hoss’ Fernihough (208) .
Another of my old buddies from the opening 1977 season at the Skeggy, Alan Warriner (724) who was there with Paul Broatch (722) . They had both brought their BriSCA F2’s to race in the Autospeedway class.
As usual there was much partying during the weekend, and after a nice sunny Saturday, Sunday’s big race was held in the wet.
After returning from the Netherlands I visited my usual tracks of Leicester, Brafield, Sheffield, Rochdale and Bristol in the role of spectator watching my preferred diet of BriSCA F1 Stock Cars.
At Bristol I was pleased to see that one of my photos had appeared in the race day program. This was probably my first racing photo to be published . Earlier in the year one of my Beds & Herts buddies, Bill West (39) was involved in a spectacular crash where his car vaulted the safety fence. I was there with my Kodak Instamatic camera to capture it.
The Beds and Herts Club was in it’s final days and it was about this time that it eventually folded.
A few of the original Beds & Herts drivers were still active in F1 including Chris Pickup (50) Glyn Pursey (175) and the new additions to the clan, Lionel Shaw (362) and the aforementioned Bill West.
On Sept 9 the BriSCA F2 World Final was held at the Newton Abbott Racecourse in Devon.
Unknowingly on Sept 22 , I attended what was to be the last ever BriSCA F1 event at the Harringay Stadium in North London. This famous old track which I’d visited regularly since the 1960’s was located on prime development land and for quite a while had been living on borrowed time. Already much of the site was starting to look neglected and we all knew it was just a matter of time before it would succumb. Although no announcement was made, this night turned out to be the last time F1 stock cars appeared there. Not long after , it was demolished to make way for a giant retail outlet. The meeting final that night was won by Richie Ahern (18).
The BriSCA F1 World Final this year was being held at the White City Stadium in Manchester on Sept 29 .
Of course I was there to see Frankie Wainman (212) win the ‘gold’. There were six overseas entrants which included Harry Van der Spuij from South Africa, with Jim Hopkinson, Larry Burton and Gene Welch representing the USA. They were all racers from the All American Speedway, at Roseville, near Sacramento, California, and like Van Der Spuij were using loaned cars. Completing the line up of overseas drivers were Rien Rutjens and John VT Veer from the Netherlands who brought their own cars.
While on the subject of overseas drivers, I must mention a USA driver who made his UK debut during the 1979 season. Frank Zett (420) used one of Ray Scrivens (110) spare cars. Ray from Fairford in Gloucestershire lived close to the local USAF Base where Frank was stationed. According to race day programs , Frank was from Austin, Texas .
From the World Final onwards to the end of the season finale at Long Eaton on Nov 10 , I attended the usual weekly BriSCA F1 races as well as any Spedeworth meetings I could fit in.
The FISCA/SCOTA F1 Stock Cars that had been racing on Spedeworth tracks had been going through a rough patch and their days were numbered . There were plans afoot for a new diluted version for 1980 . The cars would be smaller, less powerful and were to be named FORMULA 80. They were similar specifications to a similar type of stock car that had been introduced in the North of England . These were called Hot Stox and used the plentiful Rover V8 engines.
I can’t remember the exact date, but it was about this time that I sold my stock car. It was bought by two brothers, Dave (93) and Paul Abraham (393) from Great Barford in Bedfordshire. Neither of them had raced before and were going to share the driving in the coming season. They went under the nick-name of the ‘Big Abe’s’.
As mentioned before, I had ideas about moving to the Netherlands and had started taking evening classes to learn the Dutch language at the Luton College of Further Education.
While I was on the course I met up with a girl called Trish Wilson, who was also planning to move to the Netherlands. We became friends and during the year had joined me on some of my racing trips.
On my previous trips to the Netherlands I’d found out that the big British RAF base located at Bruggen in Germany, just a few miles from Roermond hired civilian truck drivers. I had made inquiries and was told to come in and fill out an application form. There was a race meeting at Baarlo on December 9, so I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to get over there and do it.
It was the wrong time of the year to be in a tent, so instead I borrowed a caravan that belonged to my mum and dad and towed it behind my Austin 3 Litre . Although the Austin’s suspension wasn’t up to hauling an F1 stock car it was OK for the relatively light caravan.
This was my second solo trip of 1979 to mainland Europe. Being December, my regular camp site at Roermond was closed for the season so I had to find an alternative site close by.
The job application form was filled out at RAF Bruggen and then I took full advantage of my NACO season pass and attended the races at Baarlo. I wasn’t the only ‘Brit’ in attendance, Dave Mellor # 304 from Derbyshire was racing.
On my return to the UK, the season was not yet done and a group of us made the usual trip to the North of England for the Christmas meetings.
For some reason the Belle Vue track was not available for it’s annual Boxing Day extravaganza and the fixture was moved across Manchester to the White City Stadium. After stopping over night in a city hotel we all traveled across the Penine Mountains to the Owlerton Stadium at Sheffield for the second of the festive double on Dec 27. It was a special meeting to honor , racing legend Willie HarrisonMy 1979 racing calendar finally came to end a few days later at my local Brafield Stadium where a rare meeting for BriSCA F1’s was held on Dec 30.