F1 stock car drivers, some with loads of attitude and strong personalities, others who were quiet but possessed distinctive characters, all with wide support on the terraces. Stock car racing would have been poorer without their unique contributions.
45 NIGEL HARRHY
Stock car racing never ceases to surprise and, just occasionally, a personality emerges among the drivers for reasons other than success on track.
When history recalls the 2011 stock car season it will not just concentrate on the successes of 2 Paul Harrison, 55 Craig Finnikin, 150 Mick Sworder and 84 Tom Harris and other race winners but there will be mention of a novice driver making his debut season - 45 Nigel Harrhy, a 46-year-old Lake owner, Golf Club Director and fishing competition organiser from Solihull. But why should that have been significant? After all, every driver has been in that position and many have come and gone without leaving any real impression on the sport. Not so Nigel. He decided to record his stock car racing experiences, warts and all, on the internet via a weekly blog. In no time at all the fans were hooked. It became compulsive reading for many in the sport, not just the fans.
As someone once said, 'Those that can, do. Those that cannot, watch it, read about it and live their dream through the actions of others.' Over the years, a few drivers have put pen to paper and recorded their experiences on and off the track but no one has ever been as honest and forthcoming as Nigel and been prepared to respond to questions. Thanks to the digital age and this form of social communication, it was a chance for the fans and especially would-be stock car drivers to become 'stock car voyeurs' and experience through Nigel the constant trials and tribulations of stock car racing: running one car on two different track surfaces, finding the right set-up, damage repair, getting to grips with the driving style required out on track, coping with the contact, learning the basics from scratch, understanding the effect of stagger, weight distribution, springs and tyre pressures, and the constant financial demands. If ever there was confirmation that stock car racing is not for the faint-hearted or half-hearted here it was!
Successive generations of the same family enter the sport and benefit from the collective wisdom and experiences of their predecessors and there is nothing wrong with that. In life, most parents do their best to ensure their children avoid the pitfalls that they encountered but inevitably some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. In Nigel's case, there was no historical experience to tap into, apart from his time as a speedway rider on the ovals, and he endured harsh lessons from day one that became no easier as the season unfolded.
But he stuck to his task, encouraged by his family and the supportive comments posted by a growing army of fans on the internet. Many of those fans made a point of visiting him in the pits to pass on words of encouragement and he received advice on the mechanical and set-up issues that were causing him so much frustration from current and ex drivers, as well as the offer of spare parts when needed. It helped that he was not embarrassed to approach other drivers and their mechanics and his blog undoubtedly played its part.
Below is a picture of Nigel's car taken at Skegness stadium in August 2011:
It's often said that the general public love and respond to an underdog and this is often the case in stock car racing. As Nigel persevered despite at times seeming to be swimming against the tide, his popularity increased. Yes, there were the odd negative posts in response to his blog but, as in all walks of life, you will never please everybody associated with stock car racing all of the time and the freedom of the internet allows detractors to air their views even if in the tiny minority.
Slowly but surely he began to make progress. He finished races, earned valuable grading points, achieved an upgrade and the coveted yellow roof and when he had a heat win at Northampton International Raceway, albeit by default because 150 Mick Sworder failed to have his car weighed, his obvious pleasure was shared by his many followers.
The Novice of the Year title may well have eluded him but if there was an award for Mr Perseverence, Nigel would have been the runaway winner. During his debut season of racing that to him at times must have semed a case of 'one pace forward, two paces back', his dedication, patience, enthusiasm and the support of his family shone through from his efforts on track and in his weekly blog. It has provided stock car fans, particularly those who would love to get out on track, with a fascinating and interesting perception of what is involved in becoming a committed F1 stock car driver - a realistic financial budget, driving skills, track craft, courage, perseverence, enthusiasm, dedication, mechanical skills, set-up knowledge, garage facilities, reliable transporter, team assistance and a very understanding family.
As the 2011 season drew to a close, Nigel posted a detailed breakdown of his costs less prize and start money for his entire season and in doing so unselfishly shared fascinating data that would normally and understandably be kept private. With so many peaks and troughs in a sport that is really only a hobby and a costly one at that, nobody would have blamed Nigel if he had decided to sell up but he had been well and truly bitten by the stock car bug and had far bigger ideas!
The retirement of 5-times World Champion 391 Andy Smith led to his cars being offered for sale. Much speculation emanated from the internet forums on where this top line machinery would find a home. In with his cheque book went Nigel, securing the purchase of Andy's all-conquering tarmac special together with details of Andy's racing set-up for all the BriSCA tracks. Something that would normally take years of experience to acquire, on a clipboard - priceless!
The close season has seen Nigel continue his internet blog keeping fans informed of his progress with converting the ex 391 car to his new colour scheme and typical of Nigel's special relationship with his fans, the livery and colours have been suggested by one of the youngest, Matthew of Stox Signs fame.
For the imminent 2012 season Nigel will have separate cars for tarmac and shale and a dedicated band of supporters willing him on to success. Hopefully he will still find time to continue his weekly blog and provide the behind the scenes information that makes such compulsive reading.
Nigel Harrhy, a true driver character and the 'People's Champion'. Thank you for sharing such a fascinating account of your first year of racing and good luck for 2012 to you and all your other family members taking to the ovals.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2012
Nigel continued to record a fascinating blog of his racing ups and downs during the 2012 season. His persistence and dogged determination paid off with 4 Heat wins, 6 Grade awards and a well earned blue grade spot in the All-Season National Grading Points. As always he continued to entertain the fans both on and off the tracks and hopefully will continue to do so next year.
Below is a picture of Nigel with a blue roof on the car at the Northampton staged World Masters meeting in September 2012:
If ever there was a prime example of an instant terrace favourite among F1 stock car drivers it is 64 Kev Smith - a no fear, no nonsense driver, unimpressed with the big reputations of other competitors and intent only on providing entertainment while enjoying himself out on track. He is a graduate of the Rob Speak, Len Wolfenden, Bobby Burns, Glyn Pursey, Gordon Moodie hard school of stock car drivers complete with a multi-coloured front bumper consisting of his own paintwork and that acquired from contact with countless other rear bumpers! His legion of fans knew that with Kev Smith in any race there would not be a dull moment and action was guaranteed. In fact the fans were so appreciative of his efforts that many offered to sponsor him.
Kev started racing in 1985 having previously acted as a mechanic to 24 Ken Hopes and 140 John Russell. His first car was an ex 260 Dave Berresford machine that he used for three seasons, gaining valuable experience while frightening his fellow competitors with his antics and entertaining the paying public in equal measure.
For the 1989 season, with help from Ken Hopes, he acquired an ex 354 Richard Ainsworth car with a proven pedigree that helped hone his track craft.
But it was midway through the following season that proved a real turning point when Kev brought out his first self-built car. He had been provided with a workshop by dairy farmer and ex driver 87 Neil Brigg and with unstinting help from his mechanics and an understanding wife the fruits of their endeavours brought the promise of success to accompany his entertaining driving style. The power unit proved to be an unreliable 460 cubic inch Ford but, with invaluable financial help from ex driver and businessman 232 Tony Cole, he replaced it with a new 454 cubic inch Chevy. The resultant package was all Kev needed to showcase his talent and the heat wins were not long in coming. His first Final win was achieved in 1991 along with star grade status and three other Final wins came during the rest of that season.
Another new self-built car was introduced in 1992 and was subsequently rebuilt while Kev was away from the tracks after damaging his knee in a racing incident at Boston. A model of this car is below:
Kev finished 3rd at the Coventry staged World Final in 1993 and in 1994 went one better finishing runner up to 391 Andy Smith at the World Final held at Bradford after winning his semi final at Long Eaton. He also finished 4th in the National Points Championship. Two further Final wins came in 1996.
In the late 90s he went over to Holland to race and supplied racing parts to the Dutch stock car drivers.
He was back on the BriSCA ovals in 2002 gaining good results and finishing 4th in the World Final at Coventry.
In recent years Kev and his family emigrated to New Zealand where he has become involved in the Kiwi stock car racing scene, building his own car and pushing the boundaries, experimenting and defying the sceptics with success on track.
During his colourful racing career in the UK Kev ruffled many feathers and drivers who saw the 64 car looming in their mirrors were justifiably nervous. He was a real stock car character and his many fans remember with great affection the entertainment he regularly provided. Some drivers may not miss his forceful style of racing but stock car regulars certainly mourn his absence from the raceways.
73 ROB COWLEY
F1 stock car racing's famous ladies hairdresser can now claim to possess the sport's most viewed backside having bared his racing-inflicted bruises to the BBC Gears and Tears viewing public! But then Rob Cowley is always guaranteed to lighten any occasion with banter and humour. In an era where true personalities are thin on the ground, our sport is fortunate indeed to have Rob in its midst and it is to his credit that the producers of Gears and Tears made sure he was featured along with son and second generation stock car racer, Chris.
Rob made his debut on the BriSCA ovals in 1978 - the year that 304 Dave Mellor became World Champion. He had a slow but steady start and for some time fluctuated between the yellow and blue grades. It was not until the 90s that his consistent driving ability moved up a notch with the acquisition of a more powerful Chevy engine and he reaped his just rewards. The elusive first Final win came in March 1990 at Scunthorpe and the long awaited red roof proudly adorned the 73 car in May.
Rob has been ever present since and 2010 marks his 32nd year of racing. He always drives an immaculately turned out car and there have been many. Below is a model of Rob's 1991 'Snoopy' car:
His consistency can be seen in his National Points Championship statistics:
1991 - 9th, 1992 - 9th, 1997 - 10th, 1998 - 8th, 1999 - 10th and 2001 - 8th.
He had to wait until 1994 for his second Final win and to date he has recorded 6 Final victories:
1990 - 1, 1994 - 1, 1998 - 1, 2001 - 2 and 2006 - 1.
Many a World Final has benefitted from his extrovert personality on the parade lap as he encourages vocal support from the terraces and his WF record is very respectable:
1992 - 4th at Bradford behind 53 John Lund, 471 Bobby Burns and 33 Peter Falding, 1994 - 4th at Bradford, 1995 - 5th at Hednesford and 2000 - 6th at Coventry.
Popular among fellow drivers, Rob will always provide assistance to others when he can and this was clearly evident during the recent World Final at Coventry when Rob helped to get 53 John Lund back on track for the complete restart of the big race. This involved him running to and from the pits with equipment during which he nearly tripped headlong on the greyhound track in front of the packed grandstand. Undeterred, Rob took a bow and milked the laughter and applause from the spectators. And John Lund made it for the restart!
Rob's son Chris races under number 37 and has already demonstrated exuberance and aggression claiming his first Final in 2008 - quicker than dad managed and a fact I am sure he has exploited to the full!
Long may Rob Cowley, a true stock car driver, continue to grace the raceways and provide the entertainment that has been so much appreciated by the fans of stock car racing over many seasons.
154 BRIAN POWLES
It is just over nine years since the man known as 'Powles the Push' had his life tragically cut short.
Brian was a highly respected stock car driver and above all a skilful engine builder used by many of the top names in the sport such as 391/1 Stu Smith Snr and 199 Mike Close for the Chevy power packs that contributed so much to their success.
His stock car career spanned some twelve seasons during which his racing appearances tended to ebb and flow in line with the commercial ups and downs of his business. 1970 was the year this Nottingham based driver ventured out on track in an F1 powered by a Ford 430 cubic inch engine with an ultra smart Fiat Topolino body shell. It was a head-turner in every way and didn't just look good but performed well, taking Brian to a Final win at Long Eaton at his first ever meeting. Elevation from white top to star grade quickly followed and by the end of the season he was tenth in the National Points Championship.
Injury and periodic off-track trials and tribulations combined to curtail his time on track during the early 70s but when he did appear, he was quickly on the pace and able to compete on a par with the best drivers around, consistently racking up the points. This is probably best reflected by his finishes in the National Points Championship; eighth in 1973 and tenth in 1975 along with third place in the 1975 British Championship.
1977 was the start of more regular appearances leading up to 1981 his most successful season. During this five year period he was a permanent fixture in the top half dozen drivers in the National Points Championship finishing sixth in 1977 and 1978, fifth in 1979, sixth again in 1980 and fourth in 1981. In all he won twenty-nine Finals (includes two Xmas Finals) up to his retirement in 1982 and in that penultimate season he recorded ten Final wins and second place in the World Final at Bradford behind 190 Len Wolfenden. The Wild Wolf started on the front row while Brian was in the middle of the pack. Another second place, again behind the winner Len Wolfenden, was achieved at the European Championship at Northampton.
His other notable result in major championships was fourth in the 1978 World Final. I also remember him leading the 1979 World Final at a wet White City Manchester before an overseas driver took him out.
For sheer consistency wherever he raced Brian was deservedly joint twenty-sixth in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Stock Car Drivers as compiled for the Golden Jubilee in 2004. He was always exciting to watch, particularly in the late 70s and early 80s as he lived up to his nickname of 'Powles the Push', and his magic touch with Chevy engines singled him out as a significant influence in the evolution of F1 stock car racing. His place in stock car folklore is firmly rooted.
Below are two of my models of Brian's cars. The first is from 1977 and features a Fiat body shell and the ever present outlaw silhouette that became his trademark and the second is the one that appeared in 1979. This was a much lighter car and the Fiat body shell had been dropped in favour of a master class in aluminium fabrication by Nigel Mellor:
In more recent years the number 154 has been out on track again in the hands of Brian's son Stuart Powles. He raced from 2000 to 2006.
304 DAVE MELLOR
During his BriSCA F1 career Big Dave Mellor did things his way. Very much the individual, he had faith in his own ideas and wasn't frightened to pursue them and learn from the inevitable setbacks. Success came early and was just reward for his persistence and determination. Few drivers before or since can lay claim to a British Championship and a World Final as their first Final wins!
His first ever appearance on the BriSCA ovals was late in the 1975 season at Long Eaton with a Buick powered car. By the end of the year he was up to yellow grade and putting together his third car! 1976 saw him make steady progress to blue grade and for 1977 he debuted yet another new car powered by what was to become his trademark, a 427 cubic inch Ford engine. He had more than his fair share of ups and downs during the season but made it to star grade and a 5th place in the Coventry World Final had more than a few fans sitting up and taking notice.
But it was his new car for 1978 that became the talk of the terraces. The cab sides resembled a pair of large ears and the stock car media was full of 'Big Ears and Noddy' references! It may not have been a visual delight but it developed a competitive edge on track. At the Bradford staged British Championship in July, Dave was running second to Stu Smith in the Final when a rear tyre burst on the Smith car and Dave was through to become British Champion with his first ever Final win.
Shortly after, the car lost its ears and sporting a neat sign-writing design courtesy of Keith Barber, Dave took it over to Baarlo, Holland for the World Long Track Championship. In the big race he was lying third, right behind Stu Smith and they were closing on the Flying Dutchman, Frans Meuwissen, when an extraordinary incident occurred. Inexplicably, the starter waved the chequered flag with five laps still to run. How or why this happened became the subject of many a conspiracy theory but to say the fans and drivers were upset is an understatement. To this day it remains a sore point for those who were at Baarlo roaring on the British drivers.
In September, Dave renewed hostilities once again with Stu Smith. This time it was at the old Belle Vue stadium in Manchester at the World Final. On this occasion he had some help from 175 Glyn Pursey who slammed Smithy into the fence on the first bend. Dave shadowed the 175 car for lap after lap and was well placed to pounce when Glyn made a mistake. In only his third full season 304 Dave Mellor was a World Champion in a Ford powered car. Below is my model of Dave's World winning car:
In all, Dave won 47 Finals and was joint 29th in the All-Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Drivers compiled for the Golden Jubilee in 2004 and 25th in the BriSCA F1 Top 50 UK Final Winners up to 2008. In the National Points Championship he finished 10th in 1980, 10th in 1981 and 7th in 1982. After his World Final win in 1978 he finished 2nd in 1980, 3rd in 1984, 5th in 1985 and 2nd in 1986.
Since retiring from driving Dave has been a regular spectator around the raceways and has appeared in the veterans' race at Coventry. My abiding memory of Dave is that single-minded approach to his racing. It resulted in some indelible memories for long-standing fans of F1 stock car racing and I've often wondered what he could have achieved with state of the art machinery.
396 DOUG CRONSHAW 'THE ROCHDALE ROCKET'
His debut was in 1966, aged 17, in an ex Bob Heaney car powered by a Jaguar engine. During that season, his racing pal, 391 Stu Smith, took possession of the 178 Albert 'Tiger' Griffin car that was to cause great excitement on the terraces. The fans loved watching him try to tame what was obviously a wild beast of a stock car. Doug meanwhile stepped into Stu's original Renault 4CV bodied car powered by a Chevy Impala engine. Below is my model of this car with Stu Smith's racing number on it:
Doug won his first Final at Aycliffe in 1967 and accumulated enough points to gain a blue roof, as did his friend Stu.
The impact that both these drivers had on the sport and the fans in particular was nothing short of electric! Just as in the years to follow, the mere sight of Willie, Wolfie, Speaky, Lundy, Junior, Burnsey, the Smith brothers and many others was enough to quicken pulses and heighten expectation, so it was with Cronny and Smithy in 1968 as they arrived in the pits with both cars on the same transporter. The fans knew what was in store - smoking, skidding, squealing tyres, in and out of the fence, bouncing off fellow competitors, generally spreading anger, confusion and fear. Their sheer persistence and entertainment value until the chequered flag fell was a revelation - a promotor's dream. Spectators all over the country would gladly have paid to watch them all day, every day.
But for reasons unclear, BriSCA's star double act was to be short-lived and for the 1969 season they chose to go their separate ways. That year Stu introduced a new car, his racing career took off and he never looked back. (See the 'Tribute to Stu Smith' page). Doug built a 152 Ron Rogers look-alike car that took him to five Final wins in 1969 but it lacked the edge to compete on equal terms with Smithy, who had won the first of his World Championships in a 454 Chevy powered car. It can only have been the car because for sheer driver ability and car control, he was more than capable of taking the fight to Stu.
In 1970, another new car was debuted by Doug, powered by a Pontiac engine and overall much lighter in weight. In it he recorded nine Final wins including the British CHampionship at Belle Vue where he came from behind to overhaul Stu Smith. The sight and sound of the 396 and 391 cars broadsiding around the old Belle Vue track, spraying shale on the bends, making the old wooden stands vibrate, demonstrating control, skill and determination became an indelible memory. To this day fans that were there can still close their eyes and conjure up the images and hear again the mixed sounds of high revving engines, blaring air horns and shrieking fans!
But back to Doug's career and, in the winter of 1970, a 454 Chevy engine was acquired and fitted into his existing car, which needed some cutting and shutting to accommodate the big block. Complete with sponsorship from Wynn's and the famous 'Potent Mix' car was created. In it he won the 1971 World Final at Coventry and seven other Finals. My model of that car appears below:
By the start of the 1972 season, Doug had sold the 'Potent Mix' now refitted with a Pontiac engine and he had built a new chassis for the Chevy power unit. Although he won four Finals he realised that in terms of weight and balance, the Pontiac was a better prospect for him. So he reacquired the Pontiac engine he had sold and fitted it in yet another new chassis. The old car, complete with Chevy engine, went to 252 Dave Chisholm and he proceeded to pilot it to three successive World Final wins! But Doug too was enjoying success. In 1973 he won twelve Finals and his reputation as a builder of competitive chassis didn't go unnoticed. Word spread and his order book grew.
In 1974, his appearances were infrequent due to time spent building a house and meeting the demands for one of his chassis but he still managed two Final wins.
1975 saw another new Pontiac powered car and he notched up twenty-one Finals which he went on to surpass in 1976, in the same car, with twenty-five Finals.
There was disappointment for his many fans when he took a couple of seasons off in 1977 and 1978 to concentrate on building up a business.
He was back for the sport's Silver Jubilee in 1979 with a Chevy powered car and won seven Finals, despite a relaxed approach to his racing. In 1980 he won eight Finals and a similar number in 1981 that included the World semi at Northampton. Unfortunately he retired early on in the World Final at Bradford.
1981 turned out to be Doug's final season. Over the following years he built the odd car for the more persistent customer and in 1987, after six years on the safe side of the fence, he raced one of those new builds, ordered by 286 John Toulson. It was at Aycliffe and Doug was only racing to iron out any glitches before John T took possession. Typical of Doug, and showing he had lost none of his natural ability, he won the Final!
Over his racing career Doug won 114 Finals and featured in 14th place in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Stock Car Drivers compiled for the Golden Jubilee in 2004. He is up there alongside the true greats of F1 stock car racing and whenever and wherever he raced it was always a pleasure to witness the skill of a driver and chassis builder at the top of his chosen sport.
190 'THE WILD WOLF' LEN WOLFENDEN
The 1968 recording by Steppenwolf of 'Born To Be Wild' could have been written for Len Wolfenden. His enthusiasm for stock car racing was evident from his burning desire to win every time he got behind the wheel of either an F1 or F2, whatever it took to do so. Get in his way and he would, if you were lucky, gently remind you that he wanted to get by. Ignore that tap, or if he was in a hurry, and the next hit would often be bone-jarring! He knew 'No Fear' but although a hard and determined competitor he always tried to be fair and knew that retaliatory hits, particularly from arch rivals like Stu Smith Snr, played an integral part in stock car racing. He could take it as well as dish it out and afterwards shake hands in the bar, while cadging a cigarette!!
Len was born in 1948 in Colne, Lancashire and his parents were farmers.
It was at Belle Vue in 1968 when he first went to watch stock car racing and four years later he raced for the first time at Aycliffe in an ex 102 Brian Wignall car that had seen better days. Len persevered with it for two years and it took him to yellow grade in his first season. His first Final win came in 1973 at White City Manchester, as did his elevation to star grade.
In 1974 he bought another car that was powered by a Buick 401 engine and recorded a Final win at Aycliffe. In all, he raced four cars in his early years in the F1s, before strained finances took him to the F2s during the mid 70s. Needless to say, his no-nonsense approach to racing ruffled a few feathers among the F2 fraternity but in that respect he was no different to say Bill Batten, Mike James, Gordon Moodie, Rob Speak or Mick Sworder. The spectators loved it!!
In 1978 Len teamed up with Frankie Wainman Snr, a business relationship that benefitted both men - more revenue for Frankie and an F1 drive for Len. 'The Wolf' was back, much to the delight of his ever growing fan base. He won seven Finals during the season and a further twelve Finals in the sport's Silver Jubilee Year in 1979. By then Len was firmly established as a Superstar. Here is a picture of my model of Len's Wainman sponsored car:
But the best of Len Wolfenden was still to come. Keen to branch out on his own, he parted on amicable terms from Frankie Snr and took to the raceways in a self-built car in 1980. That year he won twelve Finals and was second to Stu Smith Snr in the National Points Championship having chased him all year.
1981 was to be Len's best season ever. Ironically, the year didn't start well. His car, sporting a radical aerodynamic body designed by draughtsman David Goodhall using a wind tunnel, was found to exceed the top weight allowance. But a slimmed down version plus a new sponsor, John Woolfe Racing, and Len's secret weapon, his long time mechanic and ace chassis man, Ian Burgess, seemed to give him that elusive edge. He was unstoppable and recorded twenty-three Final wins including the World Final at Bradford and the televised European Championship at Northampton. Here is a picture of my model of Len's 1981 World Championship winning car:
Unfortunately the jinx of the gold roof saw Len win only four Finals in 1982 despite having a new car. However, one of those wins was the British Drivers Championship and he went on to successfully defend the title in 1983. With the cost of racing beginning to take its toll, Len sold the car in 1983 having bounced back to ten Final wins inall and third place in the National Points Championship behind 55 Bert Finnikin and 199 Mike Close.
Len was sidelined without a car for the 1984 season until Mike Close offered his spare car. Never one to squander an opportunity, he was quickly back on the pace, concentrating on the World Series and finishing third in his semi-final. He was within five laps of winning his second World Title at Belle Vue when Stu Smith Snr forced his way past to win the second of his three Worlds on the bounce.
In 1985, Len again had use of the Mike Close car for some of the racing season and once more he concentrated on the World Series. He clocked up six Final wins and having finished second to Mike Close in their semi-final, he again finished second to Stu Smith Snr in the big one at Bradford.
1986 was a lean year for Len with no Final wins and only the occasional outing in a borrowed car. But in 1987, he replaced Pete Hall in an ex 199 Mike Close car owned by Brendan Markey, who went on to become long term sponsor to 53 John Lund. In it he won three Finals and was always well up in the points at every meeting he attended.
For 1988, the Markey car had been sold and Len didn't race at all. But he was not finished yet and in 1989, in association with the Hi-Speed parcel delivery service owner, Bill Bullock, he won a Grand Prix Series. It was to be his last victory. During his racing career he won 82 Finals and was 19th in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA Stock Car Drivers compiled in 2004 for the sport's Golden Jubilee.
Since his last racing season, Len has been seen around the raceways from time to time as a spectator and sadly he has also suffered a period of ill-health.
It was a privilege to have witnessed his entire racing career along with thousands of 'Wild Wolf' fans. His place in BriSCA F1 Stock Car Racing folklore is totally secure. He could take on the very best stock car drivers of his generation and beat them fair and square. His passion for the sport and his supreme natural driving ability made him one of the rare BriSCA greats. There was never a dull moment when 'The Wild Wolf' roared his way round the ovals and Len's name will always come up when fans talk about the sport's rich history.
244 JIM ESAU
Like 375 George Ansell, big Jim Esau was one of the greats of F1 stock car racing to emerge from the south of the country, as well as probably being the tallest at six feet six.
In his relatively brief racing career spanning the years 1964 to 1973 he often made the arduous return journey from Middlesex to Aycliffe where he became a firm favourite with the appreciative spectators.
But where did it all begin? Along with his brother, Jim was introduced to stock cars at the opening meeting at New Cross Stadium in 1954 by his father and they continued spectating until Jim was old enough to take to the tracks in 1964. His first season was not the most successful and he spent most of his time fighting with the marker barrels! But progress was made in 1965 and by season's end he had a blue roof on the car and that was all the encouragement he needed.
They say that confidence breeds success and so it was with Jim in 1966. At Coventry, early in the season, he achieved his first heat and final victories and followed this up by winning a Final at Braefield (Northampton). Soon he was painting his roof red and starting further back on the grid but this did not hamper his progress. He regularly finished in points scoring positions and by the end of the season he was 10th in the National Points Championship.
An all new, self-built car appeared on track in 1967 powered by the Oldsmobile Rocket engine from his old car but now enhanced with performance parts. It was a springboard to even further success and Jim won eight Finals, being equally at home on either tarmac or shale. That other top southern star at the time, George Ansell, was joint favourite with Jim for the World Final at Harringay. Jim had won his semi final at Walthamstow and started on the outside of the front row alongside 152 Ron Rogers. Jim shot into the lead when the green flag dropped and seemed comfortable until oil on the track caught him out and he spun, damaging his car in the process and had to retire. It was George Ansell who recovered from his own spin to become World Champion.
Jim went into the 1968 season determined to repeat the success of the previous year. It was to be his best ever. The Oldsmobile Rocket engine had been reworked and improved still further and he went on to win 16 Finals, including 5 at Ringwood, claim 6th in the World Final, 2nd in the National Points to 100 Tony Neal and take his first major title, the British Championship at Harringay.
The 1969 season saw him lock horns with 391 Stu Smith who had become the man to beat wherever he raced. On the odd occasion Jim duly did finish ahead of him but it was never easy. He won 11 Finals during the year and finished 2nd to Stu Smith in the World Final at Belle Vue as well as coming 6th in the National Points.
With Stu Smith's car now powered by a 454 cubic inch Chevy, Jim constructed a new car for 1970, concentrating on fine tuning its handling capability to compensate for the lack of power. He took it to 10 Final victories during the season. But his finest moment came in September at Harringay. Having come 2nd in his semi final, he joined Stu Smith on the second row of the World Final grid behind 375 George Ansell and 396 Doug Cronshaw. George was out on the first bend courtesy of Stu Smith who then set about Doug Cronshaw, leaving Jim in the lead which he held to the end despite Smithy slowly reeling him in as the laps counted down. As fate would have it, Jim became World Champion at the stadium where his career had started with those tussles with the marker barrels! Below is a picture of my model of Jim's World Final winning car:
His ongoing rivalry with Stu Smith continued into the 1971 season and the on track battles between the World Champion and the National Points Champion electrified the crowds. Jim won 10 Finals during the season but one of his unforgettable races took place at Coventry in September when he put up a robust defence of his World crown. He was on the front row with 2 Willie Harrison and it was Willie who led during the first half of the race. But Jim had gambled on tyres that suited the drying track conditions in the second half of the race and slowly but surely he caught him up. With three laps remaining he made contact with Willie's rear bumper, easing him wide enough to go up the inside but Willie refused to concede. They locked up and careered on to the centre green. Doug Cronshaw went on to become World Champion but the crowd went home talking about the drive by Jim Esau.
In 1972, Jim reduced his racing schedule and recorded just 3 Final wins but remained a star grade driver.
Although he commenced the 1973 season and won 3 early Finals, he had started a new business venture with his brother and decided to sell his car. It was to be the end of his racing career except for a one-off race in the Long Eaton Celebrity Special car in 1978.
In all he won 64 Finals including one dead heat and he was joint 23rd in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Stock Car Drivers compiled for Golden Jubilee Year 2004.
It may only have been a relatively short racing career but Jim Esau became one of the genuine greats of the sport, winning legions of fans up and down the country. Those titanic struggles with Stu Smith always marked him out as a driver of considerable skill and determination. He always epitomised the spirit of stock car racing and knew exactly how the front bumper should be used.
Sadly, Jim passed away in December 2009 from complications that followed a spell in hospital for a routine knee operation.
375 GEORGE ANSELL
Considered by many to be one of the all time greats of F1 Stock Car racing - the acclaimed 'King of Tar'.
George commenced his racing career under the number 475 at Brafield (Northampton) in October 1959. In those early days his self-built car featured Albion truck parts including the power unit. In 1962 this gave way to a more 'state of the art' machine powered by an OHV Ford V8 engine. It took him to his first Final win at Northampton and another one at Harringay in 1963, before the car was sold towards the end of 1964.
The boost to George's racing success came in 1965 with a car purchased from 7 Darkie Wright and fitted with a 371 cubic inch Pontiac engine acquired from 42 Aubrey Leighton. Now carrying the number 375, George quickly gained star grade winning one Final in 1965 and two in 1966, consistently in amongst the points.
For the 1967 season he built a car full of innovative touches, with the Pontiac engine and the Ford gearbox from the ex Darkie Wright car set further back in the chassis. The World Final that year at Harringay had 244 Jim Esau as the firm favourite off the front row of the grid. George had qualified in third place from the Coventry staged semi-final. During the race most of the leading drivers spun at some point on the abnormally slippery track. At the mid point, George was leading but lost it when he executed a 360 degree spin. However, he recovered to clinch victory and the coveted gold roof. A picture of my model of his World Final winning car is below:
The gold roof seemed to spur George on to even greater heights - eight Final victories in 1968, twelve in 1969 and thirteen in 1970. During this period, there were a greater number of tarmac tracks and it was the era of huge car numbers able to support clashing meetings. Reflecting George's on track success he became known as the 'King of Tar'. From 1965 to 1974 he finished in the top ten of the National Points Championship and was third in 1968 and 1969.
The chassis from the World winning car was sold ahead of the 1971 season and George built a new car powered by a 400 cubic inch Pontiac. Three Final wins came that year followed by six in 1972, four in 1973 and one in 1974.
1975 was to be George's final season. He was uncomfortable with the SCOTA driver split and decided to call it a day. It is fitting that his last Final victory came in that last year at the stadium where it all started sixteen years previously, Northampton (Brafield).
In all, 'The KIng of Tar' won 54 Finals at fifteen different tracks, all but eight on tarmac. He came in at joint 15th in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Stockcar Drivers compiled for the Golden Jubilee Year of 2004.
George's well deserved accolade got me thinking about the tarmac battles that I was fortunate enough to witness in 1989 between 53 John Lund, 33 Peter Falding and 85 Ray Tyldesley, in 2001 between 515 Frankie Wainman Junior, 318 Rob Speak and 391 Andy Smith, and in 2007 between 515 Frankie Wainman Junior, 390 Stu Smith Junior and 391 Andy Smith - if only George could have been introduced into the mix of those on track encounters. I know it's only a fantasy but it is fun to speculate.
All I do know for certain, George would have given all those drivers a run for their money, just as he did whenever he and the great Stu Smith Senior were in the same race back in the late 60s and early 70s.
As to those tarmac battles of 1989, 2001 and 2007, I will be returning to them in a future feature.
229 JOHN HILLAM
I have many memories of Big John Hillam from those truly amazing times in the 70s when there were enough F1 cars to support clashing meetings up and down the country, and Braefield (Northampton International Raceway) held those 100+ car events. Although John drove his F1 with great skill he rarely demonstrated that win or bust use of the front bumper that may well have secured him some of the major championships.
Based in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, John debuted in BriSCA F1s in 1969 and by 1970 his self built cars had developed their distinctive shape that rapidly becames recognisable as a Hillam-build. By the start of the 1971 season he was up to star grade and in 1973 he won his first Finals at Belle Vue and Crayford.
His most successful year was 1974 when his new set of wheels, complete with Chevy power, took him to 9 Final wins, a 2nd to Stu Smith in the National Points Championship and a 7th in his first World Final.
But it was 1976 when I recall him winning a significant trophy in a manner not often seen from him. It was a good year with 6 Final victories and a 7th in the National Points but at Long Eaton in July, John took a shine to the new solid silver trophy on offer for the Midlands Grand Classic race. He entered the last bend behind Stu Smith and for once the red mist descended and he went in hard, stuffed The Maestro and took home the trophy. What a popular victory it was and what a roar it provoked from the large crowd of spectators - real stock car racing.
John won 4 Finals in 1977, came 8th in the National Points and was 4th in the World Final. In 1978 he came 2nd in the World Final to 304 Dave Mellor.
In 1980, he went over to Holland and led the Long Track World Final at Baarlo for virtually the entire race before slowing towards the end which let Friedhelm Welters through to snatch victory.
Unfortunately in May 1981 at Bradford, John hit the wall hard and suffered concussion. His recovery took many months and, not surprisingly, he never raced again. A big man in every respect, he was as much of a gentleman out on track as you can afford to be in the Big League, except for that never to be forgotten time at Long Eaton. He is remembered with great affection by long term fans for his distinctive self-built cars and his quiet but effective approach to his racing career. In all he won 29 Finals between 1973 and 1979 and came joint 34th in the list of All Time Top 50 Drivers in Golden Jubilee Year.
The picture below is of my model of John Hillam's 1979 car:
286 JOHN TOULSON
Known as the 'Cool Toul', John came from Middleton in-Teesdale and entered BriSCA F1s in 1980 with a Wainman Snr-built car. He made an immediate impact and finished the season a blue top.
In 1981, he became a star grade driver and this was the launching pad to even more success in 1982, when he won 8 Finals, five at Aycliffe and one each at Rochdale, Hartlepool and Blackburn. He finished 9th in the National Points Championship.
On his day, the Cool Toul was a match for all the top drivers and this was never more in evidence than at the Hednesford World Final in 1988. John had qualified on the 5th row from the Skegness Semi Final, having only made the line up as first reserve when Paul Harrison didn't make the grid. In a car built by John Lund Junior he finished the World Final a close second to eventual winner, 53 John Lund.
John Toulson's last Final win was at Aycliffe in 1989 - the same year that his son David started racing under the number 86. John decided to concentrate on promoting at Newcastle and Hartlepool but with only limited success from these ventures and a work injury to his son, the Toulson family eventually moved away from the sport but not before son David had won 2 Finals in 1989 and 1991.
In his career, John won 26 Finals and his skill behind the wheel of a F1 stockcar was always a joy to watch.
The picture below is of my model of John Toulson's 1988 car sponsored by his successful John Toulson Transport business:
272 DAVE HODGSON
Throughout his stockcar racing career, Dave drove cars built by 179 Allan Barker. They were usually painted in a cream colour and signwritten with the name of Dave's successful Automotive Electrical business based in Mirfield, West Yorkshire.
He used Oldsmobile power until 1977 when a new Barker-built car based on the familiar Stu Smith Dodo came complete with a Chevy engine. This car took him to 5th place in the National Points Championship and in the following seasons he went from strength to strength averaging around 4 Final wins a year, mainly on hard tracks.
Super Oggy, as he was affectionately known, could be counted on to give all the big names a run for their money and, off track, did his bit to promote the sport. I remember one occasion when he and Stu Smith staged a mock fight on the centre green that served to spice up proceedings. More than a few spectators thought their on track feuding had spilled over into something more personal!
As all fans know, Stock Car Racing can be a dangerous and unpredictable sport and even skillful drivers like Dave Hodgson are not immune ( the recent horrendous accident involving Junior Wainman more than underlines this point). In August 1981, I was at Ringwood when Dave sustained a serious leg injury after a sickening collision with the fence and it took him a month to recover.
In 1982, at Hartlepool, he again hit the fence so hard that he broke his neck and the top of his cab had to be cut away to release him. Thankfully he recovered his health but the recuperation period was a long one. Thereafter he concentrated on supporting the racing careers of sons Andy and Steve firstly in Ministox, then in Hot Stox and eventually in F1 Stock Cars.
Below is a picture of my model of Dave Hodgson's 1981 car:
Dave 'Super Oggy' Hodgson was an exciting and entertaining driver to watch out on track, always giving a 100%. Between 1975 and 1982 he won 24 Finals. It was a shame that his career was cut short but he definitely left his mark on the sport and the number 272 will always be associated with the name Dave Hodgson.
160 Andy Stott
Based in Flockton, Yorkshire, Andy came from a farming family.
The start of his stock car career dates back to 1976 when he was still a tenager. It was in a 229 John Hillam built machine and he made an immediate impression, winning his first race in his debut season and adding the Novice of the Year title later the same year.
In 1979 came what was to be the pinnacle of his racing career, when he won the Long Track World Final at Baarlo in Holland on his first visit to the track - the first time that the title had been won by a UK driver. He also matched the achievement of 396 Doug Cronshaw by becoming a world title holder at the tender age of 22. The success in Holland may have been unexpected but was thoroughly deserved and underlined Andy's star quality. Between 1978 and 1984 he went on to win 41 Finals, 29 of which took place on tarmac at Blackburn, Aycliffe and Hartlepool, emphasising his undoubted skill on the hard tracks. His most successful year was 1984 when he finished 5th in the National Points Championship.
Andy's Long Track World Final winning car was sold to World Hot Rod Champion Gordon Bland who went on to make a name for himself in BriSCA F1. It was replaced by two near identical cars built by 179 Allan Barker and powered by Big Block Chevy engines. The car pictured is my model of one of those 1980 Barker-built cars:
All Andy's cars carried the familiar Daily Mirror cartoon character Andy Capp and sponsorship was from Flockton Plant Hire.
Andy Stott was a quiet, unassuming man who let his driving and results speak for him and he became a firm favourite with a cross section of fans. Unfortunately, he had to make a sudden departure from the sport in 1985 as a result of his father's serious illness and the need to concentrate on the family farming business.
In 2003 he raced in two Veterans races, one at Venray in Holland which he won and the other at Northampton which he also won. After the Northampton event, he bought a World Final winning car from 53 John Lund demonstrating that the lure of stock car racing was still very much there.
Despite his short career, Andy came in at joint 47th in the All Time Top 50 BriSCA F1 Stock Car Drivers compiled in Jubilee Year 2004 - a fitting tribute to a true superstar driver. Hopefully we may yet see him back out on track to add a further chapter to his previous successes.
41 Gareth 'Gaz' Bott
Gaz was a Bomber driver at Long Eaton in the 70s but became disillusioned with the way it was organised and decided to make a clean break and concentrate on building up a successful compressed air business.
He returned to the raceways in the early 80s when Hot Stox was launched and quickly established himself as a superstar in this economy formula before making the decision to retire and turn his attention to F1 Stock Cars.
He appeared in an F1 at the start of the 1989 season as a white top. The car comprised of a chassis from Frankie Wainman Senior and an engine purchased from Mike Huddart. Sponsorship came from Design Associates. Gaz was clearly intent on a serious approach to the sport and at his first meeting at Long Eaton he won consolation and final. Further good results followed and in the grading chart published in May he jumped from white top to superstar. Without taking anything away from Gaz, his success did bring into question the wisdom of allowing a Hot Stox superstar to enter F1 Stock Cars as a white top. Eventually the rules were amended and the drivers who followed Gaz from this feeder formula started further back on F1 grids.
Gaz was undaunted by starting at the rear of the grid and finished the year in 10th position in the points charts, winning two other finals at Scunthorpe.
During 1990 and 1991 he won finals at Coventry and Buxton before retiring for a couple of years.
He returned in 1993 and continued to compete until 1998. During this time he had the use of two cars and enjoyed his most successful time on the BriSCA raceways, particularly on tarmac. One final win in 1993 and again in 1994 was followed by three final wins in 1995, eight final wins in 1996, three final wins in 1997 and one final win in 1998 - twenty-two Final wins in all in a career spanning ten years.
Towards the end of his racing career, Gaz brought his considerable organisational skills and an ability to make things happen to the role of Chairman of the British Stock Car Drivers Association, but it was not the happiest of experiences and the constant political battles with promoters and drivers eventually led to his permanent retirement from the sport.
My enduring memory of 41 Gaz Bott will always be that first appearance at Long Eaton and the superb shape of that 1989 car with its distinctive signwriting. Here is a picture of my model of this car with a red top.
175 Glyn Pursey
Known as 'The Welsh Dragon',Glyn commenced stock car racing in 1974 with an ex 100 Tony Neal car after Tony emigrated to New Zealand.
Although he didn't race at many meetings in that first season, he was quickly into his racing stride and finished in the points charts. In 1975, he had two cars and ended the year as a mid-ranking blue top.
For 1976, he built his own car and whilst it was undeniably quick it was arguably not the best looking machine on the raceways. In fact it appeared in the July edition of Stock Car magazine, in a feature about car appearances by Halls & Ralls, well known scribes of the time. There were six cars pictured, two described as good - 110 Ray Scriven's Capri bodied car and 327 Howard Davies' Fiat Topolino bodied car, two considered to be bad - the cars of 170 Keith Harrison and 321 Don Round and two dubbed as ugly. Glyn's was one of the ugly ones alongside the so-called bread van of 445 Dick Harvey! To be fair, the authors were only giving their opinion by way of constructive criticism and not necessarily singling out Glyn's car but make your own mind up 31 years on when you look at the picture of my model of his 1976 car.
Personally, I liked the car - why else would I have made a model of it? But ugly or not it took the Welsh Dragon to star grade and a place on the World Final grid at White City Stadium, Manchester, where Glyn's race came to an abrupt end with his barrel roll on the start/finish straight causing a complete restart. By the end of the season he had won his first final, at Stoke, and finished half-way up the star grade.
He won three further finals in 1977 at Brands Hatch, Bristol and Northampton.
In 1978, with another new car, he accompanied 391 Stuart Smith to Baarlo, Holland for the first racing links between BriSCA and NACO. During this trip Glyn managed to secure some useful tips from the Smith camp about car set-up on tarmac. There was some speculation as to exactly how this information was obtained but it was put to good use and led to four final wins for Glyn at Northampton and a World Semi win at the same stadium.
At the Belle Vue staged World Final, Glyn shared the front row with The Maestro, Stu Smith. There was much banter between them in the lead up to the big race, culminating in an agreement based on first bend survival!! Glyn agreed to shave off his trademark beard and Stuart would perm his hair if they didn't get round the first bend! It was The Maestro who ended up in the fence and coming out of the barbers with permed hair; Glyn finished the race in third place behind the new World Champion, 304 Dave Mellor.
Over subsequent years, Glyn would finish twice in 4th place in other World Finals but he did claim two other Championship victories becoming the 1979 European Champion at Harringay and in 1980 British Champion at Hartlepool.
He became very much a tarmac specialist and between 1976 and 1983 he won the majority of his 33 Finals on this surface. His last final win was at Leicester in 1983. In 1984, his son Glen joined him on track but personal problems at home curtailed Glyn's racing. In more recent years he has been seen out on track again in the annual Veterans' race at Coventry and showed that he has lost none of his skills.
Glyn Pursey, The Welsh Dragon, who came from Bedford, really took on the challenge of what was a northern dominated sport when 252 Dave Chisholm retired. He may have been a quietly spoken man but he could deliver a hefty thump with the front bumper. He certainly knew what it was there for and his skill, determination and desire to win were always in evidence. He let his driving do the talking and showed that you can be just as big a personality as those with the gift of the gab.
Deservedly he was ranked in joint 38th place in the All-Time Top 50 F1 Stockcar Drivers in Golden Jubilee Year 2004.
Below is a model of Glyn's 1981 John Woolf Racing sponsored car - one of my personal favourites.
261 Johnny Goodhall
No feature on the characters of F1 stock car racing would be complete without the inclusion of the late Johnny Goodhall - the so-called 'clown prince of the raceways'.
He started back in the early 60s racing a Ford V8 side valve before switching to a Jaguar XK120 powered machine. But it was his style and antics on the raceways that endeared him to so many people. To say he always drove on the edge was one way of describing his sh.t or bust approach! He seldom went the full distance, usually made a dramatic exit and the skull and crossbones on the back of his car epitomised his attitude towards stock car racing.
By the early 70s he had married and moved from Coventry to Stoney Stanton and midway through that decade he bought a rolling chassis from fellow driver, Gordon Perrin that had been built in 1972 by none other than 396 Doug Cronshaw. Johnny put together a Buick engine from discarded parts and dropped it into the Cronshaw designed chassis, not realising the impact it was about to have on his racing career.
The completed car was first seen on track towards the end of 1975 but the real transformation came in the 1976 season. At Coventry on June 5th, he had a Heat 2nd and a Final win; the next day at Oxford he recorded a Consolation 2nd and a Final win; on June 12th at Long Eaton, a Heat and Final double and a Grand National 5th, and the following week at Leicester, a Heat 2nd and another Final win. Most of these races were World qualifiers and Johnny found himself on row 2 of the Coventry semi-final behind 391 Stu Smith and 293 Gordon Smith BUT he even won that race as well. The Maestro got taken out and didn't qualify for the World Final.
The weeks leading up to the World Final were unforgettable with Johnny's fans enthusiastically championing a 'Gimpy for Gold' campaign and firmly believing that their man could do it. Regardless of which driver you normally supported, it was difficult not to get caught up in the euphoria.
Below is a model of 261 Johnny Goodhall's 1976 winning machine.
For the big race at White City Stadium Manchester, Stu Smith generously lent Johnny his all-conquering 'Gertie' car and he lined up on the outside of the frontalongside the other huge crowd favourite, 2 Willie Harrison. Behind them were 306 Mick Noden and 199 Mike Close. There was a restart following a multi rollover by 175 Glyn Pursey and on the restart, Willie let Goodhall and Close through pursuing them down the back straight, his intention quite clear. In went the Harrison bumper on Close who had closed up on Gimpy Goodhall. Two for the price of one, he must have thought, and then up the inside. Unfortunately, he hadn't allowed enough for the greasy conditions on a rain soaked Manchester night and he ended up in the fence with the other two. And so the dream faded and the 'Gimpy for Gold' campaign evaporated in the White City fence but both Mike Close and Johnny Goodhall got going again and finished 4th and 5th, a very creditable result given the circumstances. While all that was going on, 3 Stuart Bamforth was winning the World Final.
In the years that followed, Johnny was content to simply have fun and add his special brand of entertainment magic to any meeting he attended but many older stock car fans will never forget that time in 1976 when Johnny Goodhall had that magical run of success. He of the sleeveless overalls, the short-sleeved shirts and Bermuda shorts, the man who raced purely for the pleasure it gave him, justifiably attaining fame and glory. It has to rank as one of the most endearing memories of one of stock racing's great characters.
471 'Big Bad' Bobby Burns
Bobby, from Romford in Essex, used to be a member of the Rats Banger Team carrying the green and white colours of Ahern Rubbish Disposal but was judged too rough and tough for this form of racing!! Thankfully he was pointed in the direction of big league stock cars and banger racing's loss eventually became a huge gain for BriSCA F1.
He first appeared at Coventry in September 1979 in an ex 391 Stuart Smith lightweight car that was well past its best, having been around since 1969/1970. By the early 80's Bobby had negotiated a deal with 212 Frankie Wainman Snr to supply him with a hire car for selected meetings and under this arrangement he achieved star grade. Eventually he teamed up with a recently retired 384 John Jebson. It was at this time that Bobby's great friend, 18 Richy Ahern, was involved in a racing accident at Coventry that put him in a coma. Bobby agreed to race Richy's car and John Jebson and his team maintained it for two years before it needed replacing. Sadly, Richy lost his fight for life towards the end of 1983.
Bobby purchased a new 199 Mike Close built car and rapidly became one of the most popular drivers with fans on the terraces. He finished the 1984 season equal 6th in the points, dropped to 11th in 1985, bounced back to 3rd in 1986, 6th in 1987 but was missing from the raceways during 1988. He was back winning finals on a limited appearance basis in 1989 but it was 1990 that saw his best effort yet, finishing 2nd to 53 John Lund in the points despite having to travel hundreds of miles to every meeting from his Ilford base.
Bobby continued racing well into the 90's, last racing in 1994. While on holiday that year, he suffered a slight stroke - a reminder perhaps that his incredibly active lifestyle couldn't continue at such a frenetic pace.
During a 16 year racing career Bobby won 36 Finals at twelve different racetracks and placed second to 53 John Lund in the 1992 World Final.
Statistics alone do not do Bobby justice. He was the ultimate entertainer. Whenever he raced, he grabbed your attention and when the red mist descended anything could and did happen. Who can ever forget him chasing 422 Nigel Whorton around the centre green at Coventry, his scraps with 309 Jayne Bean or his wheel to wheel action against all the top drivers?
One of my young nephews used to stand in front of my display cabinet of stockcar models searching for one in particular - 'Where's Big Bad Bobby?' he always wanted to know. Bobby had captured his imagination the way he had done with scores of fans up and down the country. Thanks Bobby for so many great memories.
Below is a model of 471 Bobby Burns' 1989 stockcar: