Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lucy O'Reilly

Nazi Germany's sporting reversals have become the stuff of legend, Jesse Owens' slap in the face for Aryan supremacy at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and Joe Louis' first round stoppage of Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1938.

In the field of motor sport such reverses were few and far between, as Mercedes and Auto Union took Grand Prix racing to a new level. Of course there was Nuvolari's 1935 victory in an Alfa Romeo at the German Grand Prix, of all places - but that could be seen as a victory for Adolf's pal Mussolini. No, the victory of a privately entered Delahaye over Caracciola's works Mercedes in the Pau Grand Prix of 1938 must have been a singular blow to Nazi pride, especially given the fact that the French car was piloted by a Jew called Dreyfus.

The Delahaye was run by the Ecurie Bleue, a racing team set up by French-American heiress Lucy O'Reilly. In one of those examples where misinformation gets repeated, you are likely to read that Lucy was the Dublin born daughter of an American millionaire, who, having met her husband Laury Schell while on the grand tour, moved to France where she became an amateur rallyist and racing driver of some note. Infact Lucy was born at Brunoy, near Paris on 26th October 1896, the daughter of a French mother and, yes, an American millionaire father. The truth is that when Lucy first visited the United States during the Great War, she spoke very little English.

Frustrated in her attempts to get French backing for her Delahaye project, Lucy moved her team to Monte Carlo and purchased Maseratis. In 1940 Lucy sent Ecurie Bleue on a daring voyage from war torn Europe to compete in the Indianapolis 500, sailing from Genoa on the ocean liner Conte di Savoia. Despite blowing up one of their cars in practice, drivers Dreyfus and Le Begue shared a creditable tenth place in the race, hampered at every turn by a complete failure to understand the American racing rulebook.

Accompanying Ecurie Bleue on this American adventure was Lucy's son Harry Schell, who continued to race for the team after the war, later becoming one of the leading Grand Prix drivers until his death at Silverstone in 1960. Lucy herself died in 1952.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

As far as I can see this is the one and only Tony ac Aloma video on Youtube. How can that be? Now if these kids had come from Alabama instead of Anglesey ....... You have to doubt the vitality of the Welsh language culture when no-one bothers to put the laid back genius of Tony ac Aloma on the video sharing websites.

Whatever, Merry Christmas to readers near and far.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Llanhir or Llanllyr?

The Radnorshire Society want the authorities to use Llanhir instead of Llanllŷr yn Rhos, as the official Welsh language version of Llanyre.

I've always accepted the explanation given in various books that the name was originally Llanllyr and that the internal LL was dropped quite naturally, in the same way that Cardiganshire's Llanllwchaearn became Llanychaearn. Attempts to popularise Llanhir version I've seen as a misguided attempt to correct a supposed anglicism in the speech of Radnorians.

The Radnorshire Society, however, make a good case for doubting the authenticity of Llanllyr, resting as it does on a single reference in a document of 1566. I've also come across a confused 18C references in Cary's map of 1794 (see illustration) which is probably built on the sand of William Owen Pughe's map of 1788.

But what about Llanhir. The Society see this originating from Llwynhir, as in the farm name Dol Llwyn Hir - which Radnorians, even in Welsh speaking times, would probably have called Dolwner - the change from Llwyn to Llan being quite a common occurrence in farm names. However the archaeologists tell us that there is a llan (early medieval church enclosure) in Llanyre, so why the need to find a Llwyn when you have a Llan on the ground?

What the Radnorshire Society and your blogger both agree on is that the local pronunciation is old and Welsh. I missed the fact that Ffransis Payne used the form Llanhir but the two examples of bardic poetry he quotes in Crwydro Sir Faesyfed use the form Llan-ur, rhyming with dolur and eglur. The Society place a good deal of faith in the occasional use of Llanhir and its variants in various 19C Censuses, but it is a usage that the 16C bards seem to have missed.

All in all I accept the fragility of the case for Llanllyr but remain unconvinced by Llanhir. What is plain is that the local pronunciation is the most historically attested form of the name, no matter how you spell it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Innes and Chunky

An engineer himself, Radnorshire based F1 driver Innes Ireland had a high opinion of Lotus boss Colin Chapman's engineering ability: "If he was not a genius then he was bloody close to being one."

At the same time he can have had few illusions about the safety of the Lotus Formula One cars. Indeed Mike Taylor successfully sued Lotus for negligence when the steering column of his 18 broke in the ill-fated 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.

One of the Lotus mechanics of the time recalled those early days:

"Surely Innes Ireland must rate as the most unfairly treated driver of all time. History often can only relate to what the hacks and anoraks see or read for themselves; yet behind the scenes, the breakages that occurred in those days defied belief. Chassis breakages apart, no end of "minor disasters such as automatically disengaging gear ratios, total brake failure etc. were encountered by our drivers, who within a day or two were out in the same car 'hoping' that things would improve!"

"Once the Lotus 18 arrived things changed dramatically as we all see from the records, so I think it is unfair to dismiss the likes of 'MacGregor' when the torrid times that he, Cliff, Graham and Alan went through in the preceding 3 years were never experienced by the then up and coming drivers who enjoyed the benefits of Chapman's greatest reversal, rear-engined cars!"

John Surtees was one of those up and coming drivers and he recalled the incident that caused him to quit Lotus:

"Colin said to me, "John - you're my Number One and you can have your choice of team-mate, Innes or Jim."
"I don't know," I said. "I've had so many mechanical failures that I'm getting a bit suspicious of your green cars."
"Then we'll paint 'em black!" said Colin, and he prepared a contract giving me choice of second driver and saying that the cars would be painted black."

"I told him that I would like Jim Clark as my number two, as I got on well with him, but then a few days later Innes Ireland called me from Paris. He told me that he had a contract for 1960 and '61 which stated that he had choice of team-mate! "What the hell is going on?" he wanted to know."

I went to see Colin."It's not true." he said, "I've got no arrangement at all with Innes. We're fixing him up with the British Racing Partnership."

"Innes still insisted that he had everything in writing, so I fixed another meeting with Chapman, taking Innes with me. He brought his contract, which said exactly what he claimed, but Colin just shrugged the whole thing off, so I said "I'm sorry, but that's it" and I walked out."

Given the unenviable safety record of Chapman's cars perhaps Colin was hedging his bets. The chances of both Innes and Surtees surviving the 1960 season were not that good. Enzo Ferrari is often condemned for playing on the rivalries of his drivers, but at least his cars were safe!

Innes was still the Number One driver at Lotus at the time of his sacking in 1961, and this despite his serious crash in the Monaco Grand Prix, a fact recognized by Jabby Crombac in his semi-official biography of Chapman. "There was no doubt that sacking Ireland was rather a controversial decision because, at the time Innes was still a little faster than his less experienced team mate Jim Clark."

It was not a decision that Chapman could bring himself to convey to Innes face to face. Cedric Selzer, another Team Lotus mechanic confirmed, "The big problem was that everyone, except Innes, knew that he wasn't going to be retained."

Why was Innes sacked? Some like Trevor Taylor believe it was purely a matter of cash, for Innes was on 50% of starting money, while Taylor, his replacement, was only on 25%. Most likely Innes had upset Esso's Geoff Murdoch by giving up his car to BP driver Stirling Moss for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, when Stirling still had a chance of winning the 1961 World Championship for Rob Walker's team.

Maybe Innes was sacked because of the commonly held belief, repeated by Mike Lawrence in his eagerly awaited but disappointing biography of Chapman, that Innes sometimes turned up on the grid worse the wear for drink. Innes, who is never anything but painfully honest in his writings denied that he ever arrived on raceday with a hangover. Certainly if Innes was outdriving Clark while over the breathalyser limit then he must have been quite a driver when sober! The suggestion is clearly nonsense.

Finally we have to recognize the potential of Clark and Chapman's recognition of what was still an unfulfilled promise in 1961. Perhaps there was no single reason why Chapman sacked Ireland, it was a combination of things - the money, the grievances of the sponsors, Innes's feisty personality and Clark's more malleable nature. It was a poor reward for all that Innes had done to set the marque on the road to success.

Crwydro Sir Faesyfed

Radnorian has been informed that the Radnorshire Society intend publishing an English translation of Ffransis G Payne's classic volume Crwydro Sir Faesyfed in its annual Transactions. To those who don't know I guess you could compare Payne's book to one of those Trevor Fishlock television travelogues, a journey through the Radnorshire countryside of the 1960s, but jammed pack with historical interest, especially concerning the county's Welsh heritage.

I wonder if this translation will gain a wider circulation amongst Radnorshire folk, beyond that usual for the Society's Transactions, either by being placed on more general sale or perhaps made available on-line.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Innes at Daytona

Bill France had been trying to get Innes to drive the Daytona 500 for years, ever since he had won the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1961. In 1962, the Radnorshire based Scotsman had even turned up at the Florida track, where he caused a certain amount of mirth amongst the regulars by trying to open the welded door of a stocker. By 1967 Innes's road race drives were drying-up, he'd gotten a somewhat unfair reputation as a crasher, someone who took partying more seriously than racing, and this in a sport that was getting more serious by the minute.

The offer to drive the 1967 race must have been a godsend to Innes, who, contrary to popular misconception, was not a well-heeled toff. The starting money offered by France was going to be very welcome to a Scot whose domestic arrangements at that time were somewhat complicated to say the least. This was not some fly in and fly out arrangement, Innes was to spend a couple of weeks at Daytona in the lead up to the race, generally learning the ropes of the oval game. France had fixed a deal with the middle of the grid Ray Fox team for Innes to drive one of their Dodges. Not a new Dodge mind, but an old 65 Dodge Coronet - team mate Buddy Baker was allocated the 67 Charger.

Ireland was disconcerted by the understeering stocker and caused some consternation in practice by setting up the car to allow him to corner with a touch of oversteer. A few friendly words from Mario Andretti, in which the American pointed out the consequences to the tyres of coming through the bends with the front wheels in lane two and the rears almost in lane three, saw Innes hastily abandon his effort to teach the locals their own game. Over the years this episode has sometimes been used as evidence of road racer naivety, but what is usually forgotten is that Innes was the source of the tale. Unlike so many others in the ego driven racing world, Ireland was always big enough to tell a story against himself.

Innes got the feeling that the Fox team crew were not too impressed with the 175 mph laps he was reeling off in the 600 bhp Dodge, so he asked Baker to try out the older car and as his team leader's best time was just 0.04 mph faster, it was agreed that the rookie wasn't doing so bad. The second of the one hundred mile qualifying races saw Innes come in a very respectable 10th place which put him at 20th position on the grid of 50 starters for the 500 mile main event on 26th February.

Even as the high speed 500 progressed, Ireland was still learning the techniques of oval racing as he drafted Cale Yarborough's Ford to record laps of 178mph, his fastest yet. Innes had moved up steadily through the field to 10th place when his engine disintegrated on lap 126. The experts agreed that given his increasing pace the newcomer would have finished in the top five if the car had lasted the race. Stock Car Racing magazine was most impressed with the road racer's first outing on the high banks, commenting that he had compressed in a few days what many NASCAR drivers took years to acquiire. He had been gaining ground they said on some of the most formidable names in the sport, including eventual winner Andretti, and the likes of Petty, Yarborough and Pearson.

Despite the respect and welcome Innes received from the stock racing fraternity, he was not eager to take up the offers to race again during the rest of the season. He disliked the seriousness of it all, the 9 to 5 routine at the circuit followed by long hours back at the hotel, without the fun and good food of the European scene. He also did not have the same rapport with the mechanics as he had back home. Racing was becoming a business and Innes, as he often stated, was no business man.

Later in the year Bill France invited two other great Scots, Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart to participate in the American 500 at Rockingham. The terms were not right for JYS, who in many ways typified the new hard-nosed business attitudes that Innes abhorred. Jimmy, by contrast, was a racer who just couldn't turn down the opportunity to try something new. He drove a 67 Ford in the late October race for the frontline Holman-Moody team. Well off the pace set by his teammates in practice, the eventual race winner Allison and second placed Pearson, Clark was still learning the ropes and moving up through the mid field when his engine gave up the ghost on lap 144. Clark fans like to point to this foray as yet another example of their heroes versatility and greatness. No-one pays much mind to Innes's very similar outing earlier in the same season of course, but then what has fairness got to do with anything.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Forgotten Radnorians - Anni Goch

Perhaps the border village of Norton might not strike the casual observer as being the most "welsh" place in Wales, yet it was the home of that formidable femme fatale and figure in Welsh literature Anni Goch.

Anni first appears in the public record in 1501/02 when she and the bard Ieuan Dyfi were brought before a church court accused of adultery. Ieuan confessed and was sentenced to be symbolically whipped eight times around Presteigne church. Anni denied the charge and later turned up in court with four compurgators who swore that she had been raped.

It was probably this incident that caused Ieuan to compose his often copied diatribe against Anni Goch in particular and womankind in general. A poem that caused the proto-feminist bard Gwerful Mechain to reply with her famous defence of the female gender.

Further light is thrown on the relationship between Anni and Ieuan by another church case brought in 1517. On this occasion John Lippard of Norton, Anni's husband was accused of bigamy, having contracted a marriage while still being wed to Anni. Lippard confessed and was sentenced to be whipped around the churches of Presteigne, Norton and Byton. His defence being that he had left Anni because she had plotted to kill him. Anni was brought to the court where she gave evidence that her marriage to Lippard had lasted only six months, that she had committed adultery with Ieuan Dyfi and two others and that her husband had sold her to the bard. The judge was so impressed with Anni's testimony that he demanded that poor Lippard restore full conjugal rights to his spurned wife within three days, on pain of excommunication.

Perhaps Ieuan had a point after all?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tragedy on the Ithon

This tragic incident occured in November 1900 and at the time it must have seemed quite extraordinary, outside the coalfield perhaps, for three brothers from one family to die like this. Who was to know that within a few years a great many other families would suffer similar losses. Indeed my grandmother's three brothers were all killed in the Great War, the youngest, aged eighteen, just a few days before the Armistice.