By the end of 1974, I’d completed my ‘rookie’ year of BriSCA F1 stock car racing .
In order to race on BriSCA tracks, I was required to be a member of the BSCDA ( British Stock Car Drivers Association). This can be compared to joining ‘the union’ while BriSCA ( made up of the promoters) were ‘the bosses’.
The two parties have had a history of disagreements over the years with intransigence coming from both sides. At the end of each season they get together to discuss pay schedules and various issues which have arisen. This was usually the point when disputes started .
The winter of 1974/75 was no exception !
I attended the drivers AGM which was held on a Sunday afternoon in a school hall in Stony Stanton, Leicestershire.
There was a pub a short distance from the hall, so when the meeting got under way, soon after lunch, many of the members were already well-lubricated. The usual moans about pay schedules were brought up as well as the apparent short fall in races available for the increasing number of registered drivers.
The predominantly southern based committee, chaired by Les Suckling # 132 was given a mandate by a predominantly northern based membership, to approach the promoters for a better deal, or look elsewhere to race (at non BriSCA tracks) .
There were threats of a drivers strike and ‘gung ho’ suggestions of picket lines (at the tracks) from the noisy crowd.
Following the AGM , the committee did as they were instructed, and after the expected intransigence of the promoters, they went into talks with the Spedeworth organization.
As a result, Les Eaton of Spedeworth offered Suckling and his committee the chance to race on their tracks.
An extraordinary AGM was called, and the offer was put to the membership.
The locations of the Spedeworth tracks on offer were in the south ( and quite a distance for the majority) so it was unanimously rejected.
The ‘boozy talk’ of strikes were no longer heard and the committee resigned after being ‘stabbed in the back’ by the membership.
From this point onwards, the control of the BSCDA went to a northern bias. Was this a conspiracy , I wonder ?
I was there when all this took place, and this is my version of what happened, but I’m sure some people reading this will have differing opinions.
On February 1 , just a few weeks before the racing season started, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Mum and Dad put on a party at the GPG Social club in Dunstable.
At 21, I was now old enough to drive an HGV ( Heavy Goods Vehicle) so the Export and General Transport Co that I worked for put me through their training school. I took my Class 3 test in Leighton Buzzard in a flat bed Ford D Series.
Class 3 permitted me to drive a rigid lorry ( straight truck) of over 3 tons. I was then given a Dodge with a van/container body delivering Cussons soap products around London.
Within a few weeks of the BriSCA season getting under way, Les Suckling and a small band of loyal followers left BriSCA/BSCDA to race on the Spedeworth tracks in a newly formed SCOTA organization.
Many people in BriSCA circles never saw it like it was, and in my opinion, Suckling was wrongly slated as the ‘villain’ by many fans and the media. Those of us that were present at those closed season meetings will know different. He was ‘stabbed in the back’
Although we sympathized with their actions, Chris and I , decided against joining SCOTA.
We were getting enough race bookings for our needs, and by living in Bedfordshire, we were handy for the BriSCA tracks in the Midlands and South. We would have gained nothing by choosing to race elsewhere.
As well as renewing our BriSCA F1 licenses, we both took out BriSCA F2 licenses. I was issued with # 567 and Chris # 650.
The BriSCA F1 season got under way at Long Eaton on March 15 with Brafield running the next day. Brafield ran again on Easter Sunday (March 30).
On Easter Monday , the breakaway SCOTA group had their inaugural meeting at Ringwood. In recent years the Matchams Park Stadium at Ringwood had switched from Gerry Dommett promotions (BriSCA) to Spedeworth. It was #3 Ray Pearce, # 4 Brian Phillips , #6 Rod Smith, # 8 Pete Webb, # 17 Mel Bassey, # 24 Alan England , # 25 Mis D Jounas, # 26 Ian Ireland, #32 Bob Cottrell, # 81 Pat Driscoll, # 90 Jim Wilde, # Geoff Weston # 100 Gerry Higginson, # 104 Alan Casserley # 111 Roy Wilson, # 121 Ken Sanders, # 132 Les Suckling # 159 Ken Longmore, # 196 Bob Boddington, # 227 Dave Saunders, # 240 Pat O’Sullivan, # 258 Pete Guinchard, # 274 Dennis Driscoll, # 308 Frank Handyside # 404 Ernie Smith that turned up to race on that historic day. Suckling won heat one, Guinchard heat two, England heat three and Webb won the Final. I missed this first meeting, but was at their second one at Wimbledon on April 12 where Dennis Driscoll took the win’
Chris and I started 1975 much the same way as we ended 1974 by racing at our usual tracks, but as the year progressed we added others to the list. We continued to share both stock cars, but because I preferred the original one, I tended to use that more often.
Tony Allen # 348 went ahead with his plans to emigrate to New Zealand and during the winter had built a Jaguar powered ‘special’ to take with him. He used it a few times in the UK prior to his departure.
We ( his racing friends) put on a ‘farewell’ party for him and his family at the GPG club in Dunstable, the same place I had my ‘twenty-first’. My father worked at GPG ( along with Mick Gale # 567 & # 18) , and was on the social club committee. He was able to hire the hall for a number of stock car functions during the 70’s.
Instead of winding up the Tony Allen Supporters Club on his departure the club was reborn as the Beds & Herts Stock Car Club, to support the many drivers of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Among the new committee members were Pat and Gordon Budgell, who were long time friends of my Mum and Dad, Bob and Ann Cowell , as well as Brian Yates, and Malcolm Burton.
The Cowell’s oldest daughter, Barbara had taken to the track with the # 348 in a new MiniStox formula recently introduced for kids up to 16 years of age. ( she would later progress to racing BMW’s on the large racing circuits)
During the winter my ‘Plume of Feathers’ buddy Steve Bird # 52 acquired the former Dick Sworder # 150 /Dave Chisholm # 252 Bedford Duple coach transporter, so a crowd of us climbed aboard for the Hednesford Raceway opener on March 23 where Steve was competing.
Chris and I had our first races of the year at Brafield on March 30 . Also on that day , my old friend Mick Gale , formerly # 567 in F2 made his F1 debut as # 18.
I was in the ‘Marty Car’ that day and remember mixing it with Willie Harrison # 2.
He gave me a good ‘shove’ early in the race as he went past me, so later on when he came to lap me, I conveniently ‘swerved’ his way.
He was dueling with a couple of others for the lead at the time, so after my actions, he went spinning, out of contention. Oops !
Following the race, he wasn’t a happy camper. This sort of thing was all part of the game, and it wasn’t long after that incident, we’d be found chatting together in the bar over a beer.
I admired Willie, he was one of the sports all time greats, I just took objection to the push, and wanted to get my own back. Over the years we became friends.
When not racing I’d go along to see my SCOTA buddies in action. The Aldershot Stadium which ran on Thursday nights had their first taste of SCOTA racing on May 1 and I was there to see it. Actually, the Thursday night F1 sessions at Aldershot were some of the best night outs in those days, and I really enjoyed them. Mick ‘the beard’ would pick us up straight from work and then after a quick dash through the Buckinghamshire countryside and a short cut through ‘Her Majesty’s’ Windsor Great Park we’d be there, for a good night of racing and a beer or two.
Also joining the ranks of SCOTA , was my friend Kevin Dowdall # 26 , who used to run the Harringay Supporters Club with his wife Linda. Kevin had not raced before, and he purchased the former Terry Coell # 133 Jaguar to make his debut.
On May 4 , the Oxford Stadium, located next to the British Leyland plant at Cowley reopened for BriSCA F1 stock cars under Chick Woodroffe’s Promotasport banner.
We were still regularly competing at Chick’s other tracks, of Brands Hatch and Lydden Hill which also ran on Sunday afternoons. Most of our trips to these we’d be teaming up with our friend Brian Bedford and his crew.
I recall that we always tried to get back to Dunstable in time to stop at the Greyhound Pub in High Street South.
It was the ‘in pub’ at the time and Sunday was a popular disco night. There were always plenty of hot looking chicks there, and we usually arrived early enough to park the stock cars right outside.
Call us posers if you like, but we didn’t do too bad for girls at that time ! I had no steady girl friend so was happy to play the field !
Even though it was a long haul, we also started racing at the Mendips Raceway near Bristol. I can remember one trip down there when the exhaust manifold on my Austin Westminster tow car broke in half. It sounded louder than a farm tractor and on the journey home in an attempt to avoid attention of the cops, we got lost somewhere near the Clifton Suspension Bridge close to Bristol Zoo. It was not uncommon for us to come away from there with a lot of damage too.
The old ‘Wessy’ was on it’s ‘last legs’ and following further problems with the cylinder head, It was replaced with a later model.
The Westminster was an ideal car for towing, with it’s strong body and 3 litre engine.
In the meantime, I was helped out by friends to get the stock car to the races. Gordon Budgell towed me to Brafield on one occasion with his Austin 1800, while his son Martin helped in the pits.
Another time, my old friend Jonny Hewer # 116 came to the rescue. I remember making a dash over to his place in Essex to borrow his ‘three penny bit’. (the name given to the FG model of BMC truck) he used as a transporter so I could race at Brands Hatch.
Midweek, our ‘gang’ were still hanging out at the ‘Plume of Feathers’ in Markyate. During the year our ranks increased as Bob Isles # 294 from Dunstable, and Anne Bedford, wife of Brian took to the tracks.
Bob bought an ex Ken Brown # 35, John Hillam #229 car from Brian Holmes which he’d never got round to racing, while Anne drove an ex Frank Handyside # 308 car.
I remember Brian asking me to help him out when he went to pick it up from Dave Taylor # 30 who he bought it from. . Dave had acquired it for it’s Jaguar engine and had discarded the rest of the car. Somehow it had rolled into a pond on the land where he kept it. When we arrived, we found it half submerged and it had to be towed out by a tractor.
Another person to join the ‘Plume Gang’ this year and someone who would become a life long friend was Colin Herridge a race fan from Dunstable.
Joss Davis who was Mick Bird’s girl friend ( and later his wife) wanted to take part in a Ladies Banger race at the Crayford Stadium in Kent. The old Hillman Minx I used to own prior to the Austin Westminster tow car, was still kicking around the neighbourhood. It was on it’s last legs ( rusted through) and the guy that now owned it, was trying to get rid of it.
Mick bought it and prepared it for racing. I remember a gang of us going down to Crayford on a Friday evening to watch Joss race.
1975 was the year I got my first taste of racing abroad, when on the weekend of 14/15 June , I visited the LeMans 24 Hour sports car race in southern France. I went on a package tour organized by Page & Moy a company that specialized in auto racing trips. I went with a group of other stock car fans which included Chris Pickup and Mick ‘the beard’.
The LeMans trip was very popular and each year a large army of UK race fans assembled at one of London’s Rail Stations (I can’t remember which one) on the preceeding Friday evening. A train then took us down to the port of Newhaven where we boarded the night ferry for Dieppe (France).
On arrival in Dieppe a fleet of coaches were waiting to drive us down to LeMans. The journey via the city of Rouen seamed to take ages, for someone not yet used to long haul racing trips. The coaches remained at the track for the duration of the race and were left open for anyone needing a nap.
The LeMans race lasts 24 hours and I have to admit, I don’t recall too much about it. It was difficult to find a decent place to watch with the cheap tickets we had. We spent some of the time checking out the various attractions on offer. I remember visiting one side show that featured a ‘snake woman’ ! This was also my first experience of attending a typical high profile event where concessions were marked up at rip off prices. The race was won by Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx in a Gulf Ford GR8. When the race was over the fleet of coaches transported the Brit fans back to Dieppe.
With many of the southern F1 stock car drivers now driving on the Spedeworth tracks with SCOTA, the task of getting race bookings became easier for our ‘gang’ (Chris Pickup, Steve Bird, Brian Bedford and myself).
We were now getting invitations to appear at the Coventry and Leicester tracks.
Through July we raced at the usual Brafield, Bristol. Lydden Hill and the Brands Hatch Festival of Speed.
In August we had, what turned out to be our final ‘holiday with the guys’ to see the BriSCA F2 racing down in the West Country (St Austell and Newton Abbott). Later in the year we started settling down with steady girlfriends. I began dating Maureen and Chris did the same with Janice, who he later married.
On Saturday 6 September, I had my first race at the Coventry Stadium, regarded by many, as the mecca of UK stock car racing.
A week later on Saturday the 13th of September, , Chris and I were both racing at Long Eaton.
I wasn’t there to see Colin Higman # 778 take the F2 gold at Bristol.
But I was at ‘the Vue’ to see Dave Chisholm # 252 take his third consecutive title.
On October 4 , I had my second outing at Coventry where I survived my heat to get an eighth place. Only six cars advanced to the Final, so I was forced into the Consolation, where my luck ran out. I clipped the safety fence by the starters rostrum, which took out both front and rear axles. It needed two tow trucks to get it off the track. I remember the cheers and waves from the crowd as I sat aboard the wrecked car on the slow journey back to the pits. Wow, I was a star !
I don’t have any pictorial memories from the two occasions I raced at Coventry, so if anyone has any, I’d love to see them.
SCOTA had their first ever F1 Stock Car World Final at the Wimbledon Stadium in London on November 8. Essex driver , Pat Driscoll # 81 took the checkers in front of a massive crowd to become the first SCOTA World Champion.
In second place was my friend Bob Boddington and third was Ernie Smith who were joined in Victory Lane by John Coughlan and Rick Parfitt of the top UK rock group Status Quo.
This was made possible by the many years that Spedeworth’s had been affiliated with Jac Van Claes and his mainland Europe NACO organization.
I remember traveling to Wimbledon that night in Maureen’s Hillman Imp, a mode of transport I would be using quite a bit in the coming year.
Although she was a Dunstable girl, she was working and living in North London at this time, so much the winter was spent in the capital.
We sampled many west end restaurants and attended various musical concerts, John Denver and the Blue Jays (Moody Blues) are a couple that spring to mind.
1976 to Follow