A TRIBUTE TO 212 FRANKIE 'SMILER' WAINMAN
But let's go baThe thought of Frankie retiring in 2007, even after 37 years of racing, is hard to accept. He seems to have been ever present and has contributed to every facet of F1 stock car racing both on and off the track. Not only has he been a skilful exponent of the sport but also a great ambassador, never afraid to speak his mind as well as being innovative and ready to embrace positive change in the interests of progress. The man is a true legend of BriSCA F1 and up there alongside Stu Smith and Willie Harrison.
ck to where it all began in the late 60s. Frankie went along to two Nelson meetings and what he witnessed convinced him he wanted to take part. But even he couldn't have foreseen just how all-consuming the sport would become in his life, when he ventured out on track at Rochdale in September 1970 for his debut race. That first car took three weeks to construct at a cost of £50 and it was powered by a 3.8 Jaguar engine which set him back £20. Lining up with Frankie were 2 Willie Harrison and the current World Champion 391 Stu Smith. It was Willie who gave him a proper introduction to F1 stock cars by fencing him good and proper. Frankie managed to finish in one of his three races that day at Rochdale.
That first car lasted the season and was replaced in 1971 with one powered by a 401 cu in Buick. Unfortunately, the Buick blew up big time early in his second season of racing and he had to fall back on the Jaguar engine. His first heat win came at Aycliffe in 1972 by which time he was in another new car powered by a V8 Ford. In the last grading period of 1972 he was promoted to Star Grade.
In 1973, another new car saw Frankie invest in a 496 cu in big block Chevy but first time out at Nelson it let go and Frankie had to rely on his trusty Ford. Despite this setback, his first Final win came at Nelson during the 1973 season and he ended the year in equal 10th place in the National Points Championship. By now the MG radiator on his cars had become something of a trademark along with innovation and neat sign writing. His fan club was launched around this time proving hugely popular with hundreds of members.
By the end of 1974 he had risen to 6th place in the National Points and improved still further in 1975 to 4th spot. He was consistently in the points during these two seasons but regular Final victories eluded him apart from at Wolverhampton, Long Eaton and Rochdale.
A turning point in his career came in 1976 with two Final wins at Rochdale and one each at Aycliffe, Coventry and Bradford which were but a taste of the success he was to enjoy with eight Finals in 1977, ten Finals in 1978 and no less than twelve Finals in 1979. When the Superstar grade was introduced in 1976, Frankie was one of the inaugural members of that exclusive club.
As for the World Championship, a semi-final 3rd in 1976 led to a podium finish of 3rd at the White City, Manchester World Final behind 3 Stu Bamforth and 293 Gordon Smith. A year later he again won a semi at Long Eaton and went into the World Final at Coventry as a favourite for the title. 2 Willie Harrison was also one of the bookies favourites but he was an early casualty, taken out by 261 Johnny Goodhall, who was thought to be settling an old score. Frankie led for many of the 25 laps until fellow Yorkshireman, 199 Mike Close forced him wide in the closing stages to claim the gold roof. In 1978, Frankie qualified for the World Final at Belle Vue but didn't last the distance in a race won by 304 Dave Mellor.
Alongside his quest for the coveted World Title, Frankie was also mounting a challenge on the National Points Championship that seemed to have become the exclusive property of 391 Stu Smith but Frankie was narrowing the gap.
It was 1979, the Silver Jubilee Year of the sport, that was to become an unforgettable one for Frankie and his legion of supporters. He won the World semi-final at Leicester and a place on the front row at White City, Manchester. But he wasn't the favourite. Stu Smith shared the front row and behind them were 179 Big Al Barker, 190 Len Wolfenden and 55 Bert Finnikin - all considered to have a great chance of winning. But Smiler had other ideas. In a tense and hectic race he lost the lead twice but both times fought his way back to the front eventually going on to take a richly deserved and popular victory from 306 Mick Noden and 55 Bert Finnikin. What a fantastic atmosphere greeted Frankie's lap of honour that night.
Bouyed up by that World crown, Frankie concentrated on the National Points and the chance to do the double of gold roof and silver stripes. It was nip and tuck with 'The Maestro' Stu Smith all season long and, as the fixtures ran out, it culminated in a shoot-out at the last meeting in November at Long Eaton. Smithy had a one point advantage which he increased with a better finish in his heat but it was all to play for as they lined up for the Final. I can still remember that buzz of anticipation all round the stadium as the green flag fell. But for Frankie it wasn't to be. He got tangled up with other cars half-way through the race and crashed into the fence on the home straight, his race over. You could almost hear the collective groan from his fans above the screaming Chevy engines. Stu Smith went on to collect his eleventh straight silver roof but only by six points.
Over the next four seasons, Frankie made a huge effort to claim the National Points finishing second again to Stu Smith in 1980, third in 1981, second in 1982 to Mike Close and fourth in 1983. But Frankie's determination was not to be underestimated. In 1984 he was in a class of his own. He recorded 13 Final wins and took that elusive National Points Championship comfortably from 53 John Lund. He might well have won the World Final at Belle Vue but for a New Zealander who took him out while leading. Frankie won the National Points again in 1985 and 1986 before John Lund began his run of six consecutive titles in 1987.
Come the 1988 season and son Frankie Junior was now into BriSCA F1s and the increased costs of racing two cars at the time of a deteriorating National economy, combined with personal problems at home, caused Frankie Senior to scale down his stock car racing through the rest of the decade and for most of the 90s.
His best year for winning meeting Finals was 1986 with 16 victories.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, Frankie was a prolific car builder at his Silsden base in Yorkshire and by the mid 80s could boast having constructed 100 stock cars. Below are various models of Frankie's cars.
His former car in the colours of 28 Bill Gill from 1980:
His former car in the colours of 489 Frank Hudson from 1982:
His former car in the colours of 462 Joe Jopling from 1987:
His car from season 1988:
I know that most people reading this tribute will have their own indelible memories of Frankie and the following are some of mine:
In 1977, at Reading, achieving the notoriously difficult treble of Heat, Final and Grand National with a half lap handicap.
In 1978, I made a model of Frankie's car and it was featured in his fan club newsletter which resulted in many orders. I often wonder just how many of those models survive today. Below is a picture of one of them on a stand:
The images of 'team racing' in 1979 with 190 Len Wolfenden and Frankie in similar cars remain vivid. Below are my models of these cars:
At the 2004 Golden Jubilee Dinner when I displayed a range of models and pictures of others in my collection, Frankie found time to come over during the evening to chat about the cars and their drivers. He was full of interesting anecdotes and more than willing to talk generally about the sport. Just typical of the man and what makes our sport so unique and enjoyable.
At Belle Vue this year Frankie was racing F1s and V8 Hot Stox and in between times driving the stadium tractor to help clear away dead cars from the track - who else could or would do that?
Watching track marshalls and breakdown crews scratching their heads and trying manfully but unsuccessfully to prise apart crashed F1 stock cars and then along ambles Frankie and in no time at all the cars are separated and away - easy when you know how!
Frankie found time to build the occasional new car for himself and managed a World Final second in 1999 to demonstrate the old magic was still there when he put his mind to it. He followed this up with a Final win at Coventry late in season 2000.
212 Frankie 'Smiler' Wainman has for 37 years lived and breathed the sport of BriSCA F1 Stock Car Racing. Fittingly, he was 4th in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA stock car drivers as compiled in Golden Jubilee Year 2004. As an active driver he will be missed but hopefully his endearing personality will continue to be enjoyed by fans old and new as he provides support to his youngest son when he enters the F1 ranks.
The 'Tour' might be coming to an end, Frankie but what a journey it's been and what pleasure you have given to countless BriSCA F1 fans countrywide - and for that we cannot thank you enough. What a thoroughly deserved accolade to be only the third driver ever to receive a Testimonial Meeting in your honour. Sheffield on November 18th 2007 was one hell of a nostalgic night, and a wet one!