Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grid Walk

Motor sport loves iffy politicians with money to burn, real money.  Wales might qualify on one count but without the moolah you can forget any thoughts of a Welsh Grand Prix.  It's never going to happen.  Like HS2 it's a couple of generations too late.  Maybe back in the 1930s we could have closed a  public highway and done something to rival the great continental road circuits of the period.  Of course we were part of the United Kingdom and parliament didn't approve of that sort of thing, although the Llandrindod Chamber of Trade were still flogging this particular dead horse as late as the 1960s.

Welsh F1 drivers?  It's a funny thing but some of the names that get trotted out as being Welsh, just weren't.  Stuart Lewis Evans, Bernie Eccleston's pal who died as the result of a crash in the 1958 Morocco GP sounds Welsh.  I looked-up his family tree once and he was about as Welsh as Kate Middleton.  Not a trace of any Welsh connection in generations.

In the early 1960s there was an F1 team called Ecurie Gallois run by a very tidy young driver called Jack Lewis.  He had married a Pembrokeshire girl and moved to a farm between Llanwrtyd and Llanymddyfri.   Must have been Welsh?  No, he was Gloucestershire born and bred and so was his father, a Stroud garage owner.  The Welsh thing was really just a marketing exercise - like I said a very fast driver but maybe a bit optimistic in the PR stakes.  Lewis purchased a brand new BRM from the factory in 1962 but they sold him a pup and it was enough to disillusion the lad with the racing game, he quit to raise horses on his Carmarthenshire farm.

Shane Summers and Gary Hocking were two 1960s Welsh F1 drivers who were killed before they troubled the record books - these compendiums seem to believe that GP racing began in 1950 and studiously ignore the prestigious non-Championship races of the 50s and 60s.  Hocking, from Caerleon by way of Rhodesia, was particularly fast and a potential world champion. Here's Gary's complete four-wheel record

The real golden age of Welsh racing drivers was the 1930s.  We tend to forget that the South Wales coalfield was the Persian Gulf of its day and that great fortunes had been made there.  By the 1930s there were plenty of bright young things well-heeled enough to squander those inherited fortunes at Brooklands and the racing circuits of Europe.

Clifton Penn-Hughes was the son of a Llanelli industrialist, the Eccles brothers, Lindsey and Roy were heirs to the Briton Ferry Steel Company, Charles Martin's grandfather was vice-chairman of GKN, Dudley Folland from a Glanaman tinplate family - he played rugby for Swansea and London Welsh and was a Cambridge soccer blue - raced as Tim D Davies. Tim Rose-Richards and Owen Saunders-Davies were third in the 1930 Le Mans race.  These were all well-known names to followers of  motor racing in the 1930s.

One of the most successful Welsh racers of that period is little remembered, perhaps because he raced under so many names:  R.Wilson, J. Taylor, S. Bird, J. Sinclair, J. Philip.  He retired in second place in the big Brooklands 500 race of 1931, finished second as J Philip in 1932, and third, under his real name of Philip Turner in 1933.  As a matter of fact he'd been born Joshua Tanchan, a member of a Jewish family who migrated to Wales in the 19C.  The bankruptcy courts soon put an end to his motoring exploits, which had been pursued with other people's money.

Two of the Bentley boys had mid-Wales connections, Glen Kidston, who won Le Mans in 1930 was brought-up in Glasbury  - his widow remarried and is Samantha Cameron's grandmother.  Beris Harcourt-Wood's forename gives a clue to his birthplace - Caerberis in Builth Wells, which was also later the home of the Rose-Richards family.

Verdun Edwards from Brynna took part in the 1957 Aintree F1 race in one of the cars sold off to a certain B C Eccleston by the troubled Connaught F1 team.  Tony David - a well-heeled Cardi bought a Lotus 22 and was soon killed in the 1965 Formula Libre race at Dunboyne.

Wales also had it's manufacturers, Swansea's Cyril Kieft could have had an F1 world beater in the 1950s, until Coventry-Climax abandoned their FPE-V8 engine.  The company believed that it was under-powered compared to the Continental manufacturers - in reality the published performance figures for the European engines were a load of hooey.  Kieft sold his motor sport interests to sports-car racer Berwyn Baxter who many think was a Welshman - he wasn't.  Before the war the Margam born fascist and all-round bad guy Donald Marendaz built and raced some well-regarded sports cars.  Jack Turner from Abergavenney was building racing and sports cars in the early 50s, but like all our manufacturers found workers with the necessary engineering skills in England rather than back home in Wales.

Innes Ireland was living at Downton House, New Radnor when he won the United States Grand Prix in 1961, indeed he lived there throughout his frontline career, but the leading Radnorshire-born racer was the 1960s Mini-Cooper driver and rallyist Liz Jones from Newbridge-on-Wye.

The greats,  Tom Pryce and Parry Thomas, are too well-known to describe in our little grid walk, so let's finish on the very first circuit race of all, the 1902 Circuit des Ardennes (before this races were town to town) won by Charles Jarrott.  The records say Jarrott was born in London, but his mother was Welsh and the family lived for a long-time in Newbridge, Monmouthshire.  The best thing about Jarrott - he was born the son of a blacksmith's labourer and he married the wife of an earl.

1 comment:

Llew Buallt said...

Aah the sweet smell of motor racing nostalgia returns to the blog. Wonderful.