203 DANNY CLARKE
When the news broke that Danny had announced his retirement at the end of the 2007 season, I was reminded of a similar announcement in 1997. That was after 25 years competing in BriSCA F1 but, at that time, he couldn't stay away, returning on an ad hoc basis and still capable of winning the occasional Final. Could that happen again? Probably not but after 35 years he leaves the sport and all his many fans with some marvellous memories.
Danny Clarke quickly gained a reputation as a roll over specialist when he took to the tracks in 1973 at Bristol, with that strange looking, 364 cubic inch Buick powered car with its distinctive high-roofed cab. But that was all to change with the help of top panel beater, Dave Catt, and the artistic creativity of promoter and magazine editor, Keith Barber. All of Danny's famous stock-bodied cars were an embodiment of Keith's illustrations. The first was built in 1975 with a body shell from a Hillman Avenger and it was nicknamed the Chevenger. Here is a picture of my model of this car:
It took Danny to a Final win on Friday 13th April 1979 at the first Daily Mirror Grand Prix series meeting at Harringay Stadium in London. In June of that year Danny went over to contest the Long Track Championship at Baarlo in Holland with 208 Hoss 'The Boss' Fernihough. It was to provide Danny with one of his most endearing memories - he described it as, 'the best thing I ever did'. In fact, he won all five races with Hoss finishing second in every race.
As the 70s drew to a close, Keith Barber came up with a new stock bodied venture based around a Vauxhall Chevette and Dave Catt and Danny took up the challenge. The Chevette was created and it was a cracking looking machine, making its first appearance early in the 1980 season. Here is a picture of my model of this car:
He took the car to Holland in May but without the success of the previous year. Unfortunately, that was the year of 428 Pete Doran's frightening barrel roll that propelled his car into the crowd, causing the sad death of a spectator.
Keith Barber stirred the creative juices again in 1982 and this resulted in another Catt/Clarke project, the XR203 - based on the brand new Ford XR3 Escort. Finding a body shell proved extremely difficult, as did complying with new roll cage regulations but eventually it all came together and the car appeared at the June meeting at Northampton. In September, the car took him to consolation and Final victories at Leicester and a fourth in the Grand National from a lap handicap. Here is a picture of my model of the XR203 - not the easiest of my sign writing challenges but very rewarding when finished:
1982 was also another year when Danny failed to qualify for the World Final from his semi-final - luck always seemed to desert him. But this changed in 1983 and he qualified at the rear of the grid for the semi at Hartlepool after attending qualifying rounds far and wide. In that North East semi he started from the eighth row and finished fourth, which put him on the fifth row at the Coventry staged World Final - his first ever. He certainly made an impact on his debut. In the first turn he helped 160 Andy Stott and 199 Mike Close into the fence and running in fifth place he took fourth from 190 Len Wolfenden by spinning him through 180 degrees. Following a race suspension, Danny reacted quickest at the restart and bumpered 55 Bert Finnikin out to take the lead. He held it for almost six laps despite a bent shock absorber and no offside front suspension. But 391 Stu Smith was not to be denied his fourth World Title and he overhauled Danny at the half way mark with Danny hanging on to trail The Maestro home in second place, only half a straight behind.
The last of the stock bodied cars appeared in 1984 when Keith Barber produced drawings for the SR203 based on the brand new Vauxhall Nova SR that hadn't yet been seen on the roads. This time, a body shell proved unobtainable so Dave Catt constructed a copy. The plastic grille on the front was the only genuine Vauxhall part. Danny introduced it at the first Coventry meeting of 1984 and raced it through to the 1989 season. Here is a picture of my model of this car:
The SR203 took Danny to his first major Title win in the televised August European Championship at Northampton in 1985. After another excellent World Final race at Coventry in 1986, Danny finished fourth but thereafter his on-track exploits went through a quiet period, until he purchased a former 33 Peter Falding car for the 1990 season. Here is a picture of my model of this car:
In the ex Falding machine he won the solid silver replica of the 119 Brian Wallace car in the annual Benevolent Fund race at Buxton and recorded many other impressive performances.
Appearances throughout the 90s and to date have been spasmodic but he did win two Finals in 2005. In all, Danny won 30 Finals during his 35 year career.
While 212 Frankie Wainman Snr was rightly enjoying a well deserved testimonial at Sheffield, Danny quietly decided to hang up his helmet. However, he more than left his mark on BriSCA F1. He will always be remembered for the immaculate stock bodied cars, his skilful on track exploits particularly that 1979 Baarlo Long Track meeting and the 1983 World Final drive and his infectious personality.
Thanks for so many memories, Danny and for giving me the opportunity to construct models of your cars that are some of my personal favourites.