Johnny Brise from Dartford, Kent was a born winner and whatever he focussed his attention on he wanted to be the best. Whether that was pig farming, owning a garage, setting up a karting business, breaking World Speed records, circuit racing or building and racing stock cars, Johnny would always strive to be an unstoppable force and he seldom fell short of his own high standards.
That was certainly the case with stock car racing. He was there at the birth of the sport in the UK in 1954, aged 28, getting involved with the new oval racing phenomenon. As a budding circuit racer he had in the previous year set a World Speed record at the Montlhery Motor-Racing track south of Paris in an Arnott car manufactured in London; so he knew all about driving at speed. The first car he built was subsequently used by 35 Mac McDonnell to win the inaugural World Championship on 24th June 1955 at Harringay. But back to 1954 and Johnny used a second car, a Model 68 Ford Coupe in which he won 3 Finals at Harringay, Oxford and Rayleigh.
Looking back, Johnny Brise proved to be one of the first drivers to recognise the need to make technical advances within the sport in order to gain track advantage. Utilizing his considerable engineering expertise he fitted an Ardun OHV conversion to the Ford Flathead engine that increased the power output by 50%. As a result, the 1955 season saw him driving easily the fastest car. That was until the USA Team cars arrived in the Easter of that year and proceeded to win nearly every Final in which they competed such was their combination of speed, premium handling and more appropriate gearing. Even Johnny was left eating their exhaust fumes despite the speed of his own car, but like all born entrepreneurs, he had sensed an opportunity.
The Bobby Myers USA Team car remained in the UK and Johnny stole a march on his rivals by acquiring this all-conquering car known by its nickname of the 'Yankee White Ghost'. During 1955 he won 6 Finals, some in the ex Myers car.
That Johnny was able to harness the technical complexities of the Myers Coupe to his advantage on the UK ovals, speaks volumes for his engineering and racing abilities. With it he won 18 Finals in 1956 including the World Championship at Belle Vue Hyde Road, Manchester. Amazingly in that race he drove for 18 of the 20 laps with his bonnet stuck up, obscuring his vision through the front windscreen opening. He had his head out of the side window without compromising his speed. At the end of the season he was the first ever National Points Champion.
Below is a model of the 1956 World Championship winning car:
In 1957 he used this same car to record 7 Final wins as World Champion.
But the advances in stock car racing never seem to stand still and Johnny's rivals had been working towards reducing his power advantage. 5 Doug Wardropper and 42 Aubrey Leighton had fitted Oldsmobile Rocket engines and were also helped by the fact that Johnny's car was now past its best.
He had taken on the role of BSCDA Treasurer and among the committee and others there was growing support for a move away from Specials to complete manufactured saloon cars with a free choice of power unit. So for 1958 Johnny married a Jaguar XK twin cam engine with a pre-war Mercedes saloon. It turned out to be not one of his better decisions and in 1958 he recorded only 4 Final victories albeit one of these was the British Championship at West Ham.
Not to be deterred, Johnny bounced back with a new car for 1959. It was a revelation. A 1938 Mercedes chassis with a 110 inch wheelbase powered by a 394 cubic inch Oldsmobile Rocket engine. Other drivers had 322 cubic inch Buicks, 292 cubic inch Fords or 324 cubic inch Oldsmobiles - so he was back with a significant edge. Initially the car had a Morris Minor body but this was replaced early on with a Standard Flying Nine bodyshell and the finished product was long, low and big on power. Tip-Top, a famous tyre puncture company at the time, provided some sponsorship. With this package he won two World Championships back to back at Belle Vue in 1959 and at Coventry in 1960, and over the two seasons some 12 Finals.
Below are models of the 1959 and 1960 World Championship winning cars:
Some time later it emerged that the car's engine power had been further increased from 394 to 440 cubic inches before the start of the 1960 season. I wonder how many of his fellow drivers took a close interest in his car in the pits trying to discover the source of his advantage. (The traction-control saga of 2014 comes to mind!)
At the end of the 1960 season, Johnny sold his widely admired (and copied) car to 6 Johnny King and only won one more Final in 1961 in a borrowed car. He made the decision to leave stock car racing and turn his attention to driving and manufacturing Go-Karts - a form of racing rapidly growing in popularity. Brise Karts were to become very competitive as the sport evolved and Johnny's sons, Tony and Tim, cut their racing teeth in this formula before moving on to Formula Ford.
Tony Brise eventually joined the Embassy Formula One Team run by Graham Hill where he showed great potential. Sadly it was never fulfilled as both Graham and Tony, along with four other members of the team, lost their lives in a plane crash in fog in November 1975.
In just seven seasons between 1954 and 1961 Johnny Brise made a huge impact on stock car racing. He was arguably the most successful driver during this period, demonstrating exceptional skills as a driver and car builder and knew instinctively that only the best equipment would bring the success he wanted.
He was F1 stock car racing's first triple World Champion in 1956, 1959 and 1960, the first National Points Champion in 1956, British Champion in 1958 and won 52 Finals. The car in which he won the two World Championships in succession was a masterpiece of engineering knowhow and advanced the sport immeasurably as all the other drivers sought to bridge the gap. He also got involved with the sport's administration, helping to steer it in the right direction and establish a robust framework for the future.
Johnny Brise's place in the stock car Hall of Fame is richly deserved.
He died from cancer in November 1980, aged 54.