F1 stock car drivers, some with loads of attitude and strong personalities, others of a quieter disposition, but they all possess distinctive racing characteristics, with wide support on the terraces. Stock car racing would not have the heritage it can boast without their unique contributions.
LIST OF DRIVERS WHO ARE PROFILED ON THIS PAGE
150 Mick Sworder, 16 Mat Newson, 3 Ellis Ford, 259 Paul Hines, 4 Dan Johnson, 45 Nigel Harrhy, 64 Kev Smith, 73 Rob Cowley, 154 Brian Powles, 304 Dave Mellor, 396 Doug Cronshaw, 190 Len Wolfenden, 244 Jim Esau, 375 George Ansell, 229 John Hillam, 286 John Toulson, 272 Dave Hodgson, 160 Andy Stott, 41 Gareth Bott, 175 Glyn Pursey, 261 Johnny Goodhall, 471 Bobby Burns
Scroll down the page to the relevant driver
150 MICK SWORDER
In the modern era of F1 stock car racing there are a number of superb drivers achieving success against tough opposition and pleasing the fans on the terraces and in the stands, but very few have that extra ingredient that gets fans and promotors excited at the mere prospect of seeing their name in a programme and knowing entertainment is guaranteed. Mick Sworder, from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, is a rarity, he is simply box office gold and carries the nickname of 'Mr Box Office' with passion and pride. It is no coincidence that he was voted by the fans as 2016 BSCDA Entertainer of the Year for the 5th year running (the Dave Hodgson Trophy must have taken root on his mantelpiece!) and also 2016 F1 Stockcars.Com Personality of the Year.
Age 40 and married with two sons, Mick sets out to win every race he enters - second place is unacceptable. If there is the slightest chance of overhauling the leader however far behind on the last lap he appears to be, even if it leads to a non-finish, he will go for it. The fans love that level of commitment. Admittedly his aggression can at times divide opinion in the pits and on the terraces but there is never a dull moment when Mick is about! In stock car racing the front bumper is a great leveller and he knows how to use it and, indeed, take it. Who can ever forget him riding the armco fence plating on the third bend of a last lap at Coventry in order to ride out a huge hit from a fellow driver and taking the chequered flag.
Mick can always be relied upon for amusing comments in after race interviews or celebrating a significant victory with some highly skilled, smoking doughnuts in the car with no hands on the steering wheel and even at the NEC for the annual Autosport Show he was seen powering on opposite lock in his F1 stock car round a roundabout on which stood fellow driver 390 Stu Smith Jnr.
But how did it all start?
Mick was born in 1976 at the time 53 John Lund was enjoying some of his most successful seasons in the sport. His Dad, Dick Sworder, raced F1 stock cars from 1970 to 1975 as number 150, winning 7 Finals and had a total of 39 race wins. Mick was aged 12/13 when he ventured out on to the ovals in the Mini Stox formula among other young drivers who were also destined for the Big League like Andy Smith, Frankie Wainman Jnr, Steve Booth and Mark Woodhull. Real success came his way, in this ideal feeder formula for F1/F2 stock cars, in 1991 when he claimed the National Championship and National Points Championship earning gold and silver stripes for the roof of his Mini Stox.
He moved into the Spedeworth Superstox in 1992 and succeeded in ruffling quite a few feathers out on track, eventually being accused of being too rough as a driver. This led to him switching to BriSCA F2 stock cars after a few months and with the racing number 152 he quickly established himself among the top performers in this highly competitive formula. He became European Champion in 1993 at Taunton and won the first of his two British Championships in 1997 at Swaffham - his second was achieved at Mildenhall in 2008. At Ballymena in 2004 he became the Irish Open Champion but crowning all these Championships and the many heat and final victories at stadia up and down the country was his World Championship victory at Arena Essex in 2007. All of these successes were not without the odd moments of controversy but who tries to win friends when they are fighting for top spot in any sport? It is Mick's knack of dividing opinion with his combative driving style that makes him so entertaining but love him or hate him the fans want to see him racing and mixing it with the other drivers.
While still racing his F2 stock car he had periodic outings in the Big League between 2005 and 2008 in borrowed cars on tarmac and shale as number 150. It gave him the chance to adapt from the 2 litre F2s weighing 800kgs to the 7 litre F1s weighing in at 1600kgs before making a permanent move across - something the F1 fans were keen to see.
To their great pleasure he made the switch in 2011 in a Cecil Sayers (top builder of race winning cars) car built for Team Smith Motorsport and the front bumper was quickly in use! Success was not long in coming his way in the shape of his first Major - the European Championship at Northampton in his first full season in the F1s.
Since then and up to the end of the 2016 season his racing CV reads like this:
18 Finals - 2011 (1), 2012 (2), 2013 (1), 2014 (6), 2015 (4), 2016 (4)
89 total race wins
All Season Grading Points Championship - 2011 (11th), then in the top 10 every season 2012-2016 with his best place finish in 2012 (4th)
National Series (Shoot-Out for silver roof) - Top 10 finish 2011-2016 with his best season being 2014 (5th)
World Finals - best finish 2016 (4th)
His father Dick who has been an avid supporter of his son (and grandson Charlie) unfortunately suffered a heart attack at Northampton Stadium in October 2016. Thankfully quick action by the medical teams at Northampton and the hospital ensured he received the best possible treatment and news updates since on the Team Sworder Facebook site indicate a slow but positive recovery is being made. The wider stock car family will be wishing him and his family well.
Mick's son Charlie has been driving very well in the Mini Stox formula with the racing number 152, achieving race wins and demonstrating he is not afraid to mix it with the current crop of excellent young drivers. It really has become one of the most competitive of oval racing formulas and Charlie certainly appears to have inherited the racing genes of his dad and grandad.
Mick has that special ability to set up and get the maximum performance from his F1 stock car and his skill at car control is at times astonishing. He is up there with the very best drivers, young and not so young, and never shy of making his presence felt or ignoring the reputations of others. Occasionally that burning desire to get to the front can have consequences for lower graded drivers who get in his way and maybe, at times, the aggression could be toned down a tad but this is stock car racing and contact is an inherent part of the sport. Another quality that Mick seems to possess is an awareness of where he is positioned in any race and that plus all his other racing attributes would make him an ideal team member for Team GB in the New Zealand Superstock Teams Championship - a thought for the future.
He has one Major Championship so far in his racing career and surely there must be more to come. One thing is a certainty, Mick will be giving his all and in doing so will undoubtedly add to his 'Mr Box Office' reputation. A mouth-watering prospect for all fans of the sport but perhaps not so much for his fellow drivers!
Pictured below are Mick's 2013 shale car and tarmac car at Coventry and Buxton:
16 MAT NEWSON
The 2016 season marks Mat's 16th year as a F1 stock car driver and, during that time, his attendance record at meetings the length and breadth of the country has been exemplary, given the distance he and his team have to travel from their base in Aylsham, Norfolk. His nearest track at Kings Lynn is an hour or so away and Belle Vue Manchester is a ten hour round trip!
For me, he is part of the backbone of the sport; a renowned car builder and not just F1s but ORC ministox and 2L saloons as well; he hires out F1 stock cars that encourage new participants to the sport; by his own admission he is always learning about the sport and uses his wealth of experience to make each new car better than the last one; and as an established top driver he is constantly in the running for Championship success with the natural ability to mix it with the cream of the other drivers and often come out ahead.
Mat certainly knows how to use the front bumper and can withstand similar attention from his competitors but it is the track craft he has learned to date that always seems to stand him in good stead. He may have the nickname of 'Mad Dog' but in the push and shove that is typical of a hard fought F1 stock car race he instinctively knows when to use the bumper and when to hold back. Yes, he gets his fair share of race damage and often the rub of the ovals does not go his way but he always bounces back and that makes him very popular on the terraces.
But where did it all start for Mathew Newson?
He cut his racing teeth in the Spedeworth ORC ministox (Spedeworth not BriSCA because they had the closest tracks) at the age of ten and raced in that class until his sixteenth birthday, eventually winning just about everything possible. At the end of his ministox career he got around to settling a few old scores on the raceway and ended up being banned, a penalty that followed him to BriSCA F1 and caused a delay in his intended debut date.
Mat's dad, Robin, raced on and off in a BriSCA F1 under the number 16 for 7/8 years between 1993 and 2000. He did schieve yellow grade but it was his son's ministox racing that always took priority when dates clashed and in reality he was merely preparing the way for when Mat made the move to The Big League.
He finally made his debut at Northampton in October 2001 in his dad's F1 - an ex 129 Steve Lewin car. The 2002 season was his first full one and he continued in the ex Lewin car until his first self-built car, with valued input from Steve Lewin, was brought out later that year. Not only did he celebrate his first race win in a Grand National at Buxton in September but he also went on to take victory in the annual Novice of the Year Championship.
2003 saw him win his first Final at Sheffield in May - in fact a heat and Final double, and over subsequent seasons he has amassed a total of 23 Final wins up to and including the Final at Coventry's May meeting this year.
Highlights from his racing career so far include his ability to make one car competitive on both shale and tarmac elevating him to the superstar grade for the first time in 2006; the introduction of a new lower line and lightweight tarmac car in 2008 that allowed him to compete with a car for each surface; his superb performance as part of the GB Lions Superstock Team in 2012 that finished 3rd in the fiercely competitive New Zealand Superstock Teams Championship; and topping the All Season National Grading Points in 2014 (sadly no recognised award for this remarkable achievement but, cheekily, I added two silver stripes to a Ed Creations die cast model, with stickers by Stox Signs, of Mat's shale car and it is part of my memorabilia collection - see picture below).
In fact, it is Mat's success in the All Season Grading Points that really stands out in his racing CV and underlines his amazing consistency in the unpredictable world of F1 stock car racing. Imagine the distance he has to travel to meetings and you begin to appreciate how good the following statistics relating to his finishes in the Grading Points really are: 2006 - 8th, 2007 - 6th, 2008 - 6th, 2009 - 9th, 2010 - 7th, 2011 - 5th, 2012 - 5th, 2013 - 5th, 2014 - 1st, 2015 - 4th, and 2016 - 2nd
In the Major Championships Mat has been on the podium on several occasions:
2014 British Championship - 2nd to 2 Paul Harrison at Birmingham and in 2016 - 3rd at Skegness behind winner Frankie Wainman Jnr and Danny Wainman.
2014 European Championship - 3rd.
National Series (shoot-out for silver roof): 2014 - 3rd, 2015 - joint 3rd with 212 Danny Wainman & 2016 - 5th.
World Championship: 2007 - 5th, 2010 - 5th, 2011 - 7th and 2015 - 3rd.
Based on success in the five Major Championships, four other significant Championships plus Final wins and World Semi Finals, I have compiled a points system to establish the Top 30 Most Successful F1 Stock Car Drivers between 1954 & 2016 and Mat Newson comes in joint 18th with Mark Gilbank.
The F1 hire cars and building new cars for others play an integral part in helping finance Mat's own racing but there must have been times where these other commitments, essential though they are, must have impacted adversely on his own racing despite the help he gets from loyal mechanics and his family.
But there is no doubt that Mat, a self employed mechanic during the week, deserves and will surely achieve a Major Championship victory in the near future. He has the machinery, he has the driving skill and he has the desire and commitment. All he needs is that bit of good fortune on the day and it will happen. And be assured there will be some very happy supporters when it does.
Below are three pictures of Mat's cars from past seasons - the first shows him being interviewed for Impact Videos at the World Final at Kings Lynn in 2015, the second is at Buxton in 2014 and the third from 2012 at Coventry:
Mat's car at the 2016 European Championship at Northampton:
3 ELLIS FORD
Just imagine how hard it must be to drive a F1 stock car when you have an artificial leg. Ellis Ford, who hailed from Stratford-on -Avon, made it look effortless. He was one of the early pioneers of the sport, with a huge personality and driven by a desire for success. He commenced racing in 1958 in a 1937 Packard powered by a Ford Mercury V8 engine.
He won his first Final in his debut year at Woolwich but, despite continually trying different set-ups on the car, he lacked consistency. It was when the stock car 'specials' started to appear in the early 1960s that his fortunes began to change for the better. He was one of the first drivers with a 'special', gaining wide-spread acclaim for his success on track. In all he won numerous Heats and 11 Finals between 1960 and 1964. That first 'special' underwent many changes in his constant search for better performance and this was repeated with a variety of different cars. By 1964 he had graduated to using a 430 cubic inch Ford engine, the biggest around at the time.
At first he could not get the best from the enormous power output and the breakthrough only came when he adapted his driving style. Rather than drift sideways round the bends and smoking the tyres in the process, he began braking hard into the turns and accelerating quickly out of them. By doing so he found he could harness the huge power of the engine to his best advantage.
The 1965 season was to be his finest as a stock car driver. He was quite simply a revelation. In all he won 21 Finals and became the first driver to win three major championships in the same season. He was National Points Champion, British Champion and World Champion.
The World Championship in 1965 was the last ever stock car meeting to be held at West Ham stadium in East London and on the day it never stopped raining. Ellis was on the front row and, on a quagmire posing as a racing surface, drove a faultless race in appalling conditions, winning convincingly from 245 Alan Wardropper and 152 Ron Rogers in front of an estimated 30,000 spectators. Below is my model of his 1965 World Championship winning car:
Strangely from that point on he seemed to falter and his dominance ebbed away. He was never again able to scale the dizzy heights of the 1965 season. He did win 9 Finals in 1966 and 10 Finals in 1967 but overall the success was not on a par with that remarkable 1965 season.
Never one to hold back from pushing the boundaries, he turned up for the 1967 World Final in a radically new, short wheelbase car that featured adjustable suspension, a race-tuned Ford engine, Jaguar independent rear suspension and polished aluminium wheels. But it had Dunlop racing tyres fitted and was not allowed to race. Being Ellis Ford he had anticipated that outcome and had brought along his old car in which he participated in the World Final, failing to finish.
Efforts were made to adapt the radical car in order to conform to the rules and regulations but it was never as successful as Ellis would have wished and he sold it. Eventually he emigrated to the USA, where his business interests had taken him, returning briefly in 1969 to race for what would be the last time on the BriSCA circuits.
Sadly he died in 2002 in the USA but he is forever etched in the BriSCA Hall of Fame and will never be forgotten.
259 PAUL HINES
Before joining the Big League, Paul cut his racing teeth in V8 Hot Stox, a tried and tested feeder formula for aspiring F1 stock car drivers, where he competed against the likes of Stu Smith Jnr and Andy Smith. His debut in a F1 stock car was at Skegness on 14th July 2002 at the age of 21 in 247 Gary Castell's shale car. He finished 7th in his heat and 5th in the StoxLine sponsored Grand National - 15 points in his first ever F1 meeting. Needless to say he had been bitten by the stock car bug.
In 2003 Paul sold his V8 Hot Stox and concentrated on the F1s, using Gary Castell's car. He proved to be a quick learner as did 390 Stu Smith Jnr who was also in his first full season. Paul made 32 appearances gaining 302 grading points and won his first Heat at Cowdenbeath Racewall and his first Final at Northampton International Raceway in October. He capped a remarkable season by finishing as a blue grade driver in 18th place in the All Season National Points Championship.
Paul introduced a new car in 2004 and went on to prove that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the sport. From 47 appearances he scored 558 grading points, winning 2 Heats and also a Final at Buxton. He finished 10th in both the National Series Championship and the All Season Grading Points Championship and became an established star grade driver. The highlight of his season had to be the 3rd place finish in the Gold Cup at Venray, Holland in August, won by defending title holder H240 Henk Jan Ronitz in a race sadly tarnished by a confrontation in the pits that led to all the UK competitors loading up and departing before the meeting ended.
The success of his first two seasons reached new heights in 2005 with Paul claiming his first Major Championship when he was crowned European Champion at Northampton International Raceway in July. Elsewhere he won 5 Heats, making 43 appearances during the season and gaining 617 grading points. He finished 5th in the All Season Grading Points Championship and an excellent 4th in the National Series Championship.
Over the next eight seasons, Paul continued to make his mark demonstrating an ability to mix it regularly with the very best in the sport and often gaining the upper hand. Another Major Championship came in 2010 when he became British Champion and in all he won 35 Heats and 15 Finals as summarised below:
Key: NSC = National Series Championship and ASGPC = All Season Grading Points Championship
2006: 45 appearances scoring 825 points including 8 Heat wins and finishing 5th in the NSC and 4th in the ASGPC
2007: 49 appearances scoring 970 points including 3 Heats and 1 Final win and finishing 5th in the NSC and 4th in the ASGPC
2008: 49 appearances scoring 947 points including 1 Heat and 2 Final wins and finishing 5th in the NSC and 4th in the ASGPC
2009: 41 appearances scoring 820 points including 4 Heat wins and finishing 6th in both the NSC and the ASGPC
2010: 39 appearances scoring 774 points including 7 Heats and 5 Final wins and finishing 3rd in the NSC and 8th in the ASGPC
2011: 38 appearances scoring 511 points including 2 Heats and 2 Final wins finishing 13th in the NSC and 9th in the ASGPC
2012: 29 appearances scoring 426 points including 3 Heats and 1 Final win and finishing 13th in the ASGPC
2013: 39 appearances scoring 705 points including 7 Heats and 4 Final wins and finishing 9th in the ASGPC
2014: 4 Heats and 3 Finals and finishing 11th in the ASGPC and 10th in the NSC
He has now won a career total of 20 Finals.
Paul's consistent race finishes and ability to compete successfully at the highest levels in the sport have placed him 29th in the list of Most Successful F1 Stock Car Drivers 1954 to 2014 based on a points system I devised for success in the five Major Stock Car Championships, number of Final victories and four other significant Championships (as detailed in my new book - 'Celebrating F1 Stock Car Racing's Diamond Jubilee 1954-2014' - click on Diamond Jubilee page in the left hand menu for further information about this book)
Outside stock car racing, 33 year old Paul runs his own business based in Hinckley Leicestershire - Progress Windows, Roofline and Conservatories - and he has recently received the accolade of Young Entrepeneur of the Year. In the past he has also crossed verbal swords with Anne Robinson as a contestant on The Weakest Link.
During his racing career, Paul has built up a firm following of fans impressed not only by his skill behind the wheel of a stock car but by his outgoing personality. He is friendly, approachable and always willing to talk to fans and spectators in the pits. He is articulate when interviewed and a superb ambassador for the sport particularly when it comes to promoting F1 stock car racing to a wider audience at outside events and attracting possible new sponsors and spectators.
F1 stock car racing is fortunate to have Team Hines so involved at the heart of the sport and long may that continue.
Below are pictures of Paul's 2014 tar car at Buxton and his shale car at Coventry:
Not a good season for Paul in 2015 with only 2 Heat wins. He finished 13th in the All Season Grading Points Championship and dropped to 31st in the list of Most Successful Drivers 1954-2015. Hopefully he will enjoy a less frustrating season in 2016. Below is a picture of his immaculately prepared car at the Kings Lynn World Final where sadly he did not finish the race:
31 appearances leading to 4 Heat wins and 14th in the All Season Grading Points Championship. Overall he has moved up to joint 30th in the list of Most Successful F1 Stock Car Drivers 1954-2016. A disappointing season by Paul's high standards but he was beset by mechanical difficulties and what seemed to be more than his fair share of bad luck. As an ambassador for the sport he continues to be an eloquent asset.
Picture of Paul's car at the 2016 European Championship at Northampton:
4 DAN JOHNSON
Twenty-four year old (in 2014) Dan from Worksop, Nottinghamshire is one of the most exciting of the young generation of F1 stock car drivers rapidly making their mark on the sport. He is the son of former driver 383 Dave Johnson who raced between 1985 and 2008 ( the last time he raced on a regular basis). Dave won 20 Finals and in 2002 finished on the podium in 3rd place in the World Final.
Dan cut his racing teeth during four years in the MiniStox formula and two years of grass track racing before making his debut in the Big League on his 16th birthday at Buxton in May 2006. He made an immediate impact in that first season with a maiden Final victory at Northampton in the September and accumulating enough grading points to finish well up in the blue grades, in fact just below his Dad. He was also a worthy winner of the Novice of the Year title.
Dan is aggressive and determined on track, driving top quality machinery with the skills to match and there are surely some Major Championship victories to come from him in the seasons ahead, to add to an already impressive racing CV. See below for the details.
One of my favourite memories of Dan, so far, was at the 2012 World Final at Skegness. He qualified at the back of the grid and proceeded to make his way through the huge field of cars, taking full advantage of racing stoppages when they occurred. He dispatched one of the pre race favourites, 84 Tom Harris and held the lead until eventual winner, 217 Lee Fairhurst, who had also qualified at the back of the grid, pushed him over the kerbing and relegated him to 4th place. But Dan wasn't finished and fought his way back to pass 515 Frankie Wainman Junior for second place. It was one of the best World Finals of recent years and Dan's performance was one of the main reasons.
Dan is in 27th place in a list I have compiled of the most successful F1 stock car drivers between 1954 and 2013 based on the 5 stock car Major Championships and 4 other significant Championships.
Below is a picture of Dan at Buxton in 2013:
Dan's Racing CV since 2006:
2007: 10th in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 2 Finals and 1 Heat win, UK Open Champion and 3rd in the British Championship
2008: 9th in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 3 Heat wins
2009: 7th in the All Season Grading Points Championship. 1 Heat win
2010: 3rd in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 3 Finals and 8 Heat wins, 6th in the World Final
2011: 3rd in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 2 Finals and 6 Heat wins, 2nd in the World Final and 2nd in the British Championship
2012: 6th in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 2 Finals and 10 Heat wins, 4th in the National Series, 2nd in the World Final, Trust Fund Champion, and 2nd in the European Championship
2013: 6th in the All Season Grading Points Championship, 3 Finals and 6 Heat wins, 3rd in the National Series, 2nd in the European Championship
2014: 2 Finals and 13 Heat wins. Gold Cup Champion in Holland, 3rd in the World Championship and 5th in the British Championship.
2015: 3 Finals and 14 Heat wins. National Series Champion.
2016: 2 Finals, 11 Heat wins, 3rd in the National Series, EUROPEAN CHAMPION and 6th in the All Season Grading Points Championship. Below is a picture of Dan's car with the European yellow and red chequered wing at the July Sheffield World Semi-Final (pic of Roy B's photo in stoxnet gallery)
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:
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2013
Not such a good year for Nigel in 2013. He finished the season as a yellow grade driver in 62nd place in the All Season National Grading Points having made 22 appearances and scoring 51 points (an average of 4.6 points per meeting).
But what continues to make him stand out from the crowd is his willingness to maintain a weekly blog and twitter feed of his racing activities, It keeps his many followers closely informed and entertained and provides an inside line to events on and off the track. It quickly becomes clear just how much work and dedication it takes, as well as the expense, being a F1 stock car driver and is fascinating. The number of people reading his Stoxnet postings reaches into the thousands every time he posts.
Many other drivers experiencing his low points may well have thrown in the towel by now but not Nigel - his perseverence and effort are to be applauded. He obviously enjoys his racing and also watching his son, Jake, competing in the MiniStox formula.
Long may he continue to add to the enjoyment and spectacle that is BriSCA F1 Stock Car Racing.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2014
Almost made it to red top in the first grading period but just missed out in achieving one of Nigel's main objectives. He attended all 49 meetings and remained a blue grade driver throughout, scoring 173 points (an average of 3.53 per meeting) - 131 on shale and 42 on tarmac. As in past seasons, Nigel suffered many ups and downs but his persistence and dedication together with a noticeable increase in his confidence as a driver and in setting up his cars for both racing surfaces gained him many new fans.
Eventually received two trophies for his maximum attendances.
Continued his hugely popular weekly blog and twitter feed detailing all the trials and tribulations associated with his racing and that of son Jake in the MiniStox formula.
Now firmly established as one of BrisCA F1 stock car racing's favourite personalities.
Nigel attended 30 meetings and scored 134 points with an average of 4.47 per meeting. He won a heat and received two grade awards. Starting the season as a blue grade driver he eventually dropped to yellow grade where he finished the season at 43rd in the National Grading Points.
He continued to entertain his many fans with his popular blog and twitter feed and was 5th in the BSCDA poll for Entertainer of the Year.
He was also among six drivers in the running for F1 Stockcars.com Personality of the Year - the others being Rob Speak, Frankie Wainman Jnr, Rob Cowley, Mick Sworder and Dylan Williams-Maynard.
Next season should see the F1 debut of his son Jake under the racing number 345.
Nigel attended 22 Meetings and scored 73 points with an average of 3.32 per meeting. He won one grade award.
He had a frustrating year with consistent damage to the car, bad luck and injury that would have stretched the tolerance and willingness of any driver to carry on. At Hednesford he and everyone watching thought he had won his first Final but at the compulsory post race check the car was deemed to have failed the ride height rule by what seemed a fraction. The sympathy of the crowd for Nigel was almost palpable. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve and shared his innermost thoughts with his many fans through his excellent blog on social media and on twitter.
Nigel was on a short list of four for the Stockcars.com Personality of the Year eventually won for the fifth year in a row by 'Mr Box Office' Mick Sworder.
Hopefully the closed season will see Nige recharge his battery and come back out in 2017 as keen as ever. So many fans who would love to race a F1 stock car but for various reasons don't, live their dreams through Nigel.
Below is a picture of Nigel's car at Hednesford on that ill-fated day in April when he won and lost his first ever Final to the rule book! (Pic is of Roy B's photo in the stoxnet gallery)
64 KEV SMITH
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.
Rob has gone on to record another 2 Final wins in 2012 and 2015 making a total of 8. In winning the Final in 2015 at Birmingham in October he became the oldest driver ever to do so at age 63. Evergreen and still full of enthusiasm for the sport he and son Chris are already planning their campaign for 2016, but in between times they are off to New Zealand, where Chris will be part of the GB Lions quest for Superstox Teams glory!
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:
Over the next decade he would never win another major title but boy did he entertain the fans doing something he was clearly enjoying. There may have been no more majors but the Finals racked up during the 80s. Six Finals in 1980, ten in 1981, sixteen in 1982 and four in 1983. By the late 80s his beloved Ford power units were not what they used to be and his racing results reflected this with just six Final wins in 1984 and 1985. He only appeared occasionally between 1986 and 1988 with no Final wins but in 1989 he was a surprise booking at Coventry in a car that had seen better days. Needless to say he won the Final and brought the curtain down on his racing career on a high.
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 front alongside 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.
Tragically Johnny lost his life in a racing accident at Coventry International Raceway on July 1st 1995.
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: