In the pre-electronic age timing and lap charting was
all done by the good old methods of pressing a stop watch and writing
details on a clip board. For this and much else that went on behind
the scenes most of us relied on a wife, a partner, a regular girl friend
or occasionally someone else’s. I was fortunate as in 1960 as I
married Jean who at that time was secretary to Nick Syrett at the BRSCC
and had previously worked for the BARC and Commercial Motor as well as
coming from a family deeply immersed in motor sport. Her father
Anthony Curtis had driven HRGs pre war in races and trials as well as
being secretary of the JCC while more recently he had headed the Antone
Company responsible for the public address systems at places like
Silverstone, Goodwood and Shelsley A pleasant easy going character
who only bridled when the PA system was referred to as a “Tannoy”.
many similar partnerships Jean and I made a good team which I think
contributed much to our successful years. As well as looking after
the pit she drove the racing Mini to and from races while I followed on in
the Mini Pick up or Traveller for these were the times when many cars
competing in the road going classes, touring and GTs, regularly arrived at
race meetings under their own steam. Apart from the fact it was
quicker and easier than towing we had the theory that many stoppages in
long distance races were caused by trivial things falling off and driving
the car on the road would sort these problems along the way. Thus by
the time it got to the circuit anything loose would have detached itself
and been replaced properly.
also tended to use the “racer” to visit her horse which lived in the
next village and we were once embarrassed to find the boot full of hay
when we opened it for scrutineering at Brands.
was regarded as a safer option as there was always the question of getting
home if it blew up and to guard against this we usually carried a self
steering towing bar with small brackets on the front of the “racer” so
it could quickly be attached. This was a system not used much
in England but very common on the continent.
once did we have to use this in anger and on that occasion a factory
prepared engine we had “borrowed” from Ken Tyrrell – I dare tell
this story now Ken is sadly no longer with us – broke irreparable as we
entered the paddock at Montlhery. Ken’s engines were Downton
prepared and whilst very good were a little more edgy than ours and for
this reason we had been forbidden to drive it on the road; in any case Ken
did not know we were taking it to Montlhery as it had only been lent to us
for one meeting – Zolder the preceding week where it had given us a
the way back to Calais the next day, late after stopping for a good French
lunch, we were pressing on to make up time and passed a heavily loaded
French family who were so surprised to be overtaken by two Minis, one
without a driver, that from my mirror I was able to watch them gently
drive off the road and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of the village
one occasion though we had to fall back on a trailer. It was at the
Nurburgring 6 Hours Race where our friend – the late, sadly, - Sheridan
Thynne, who later rose to fame with the Williams GP team and today
organises historic racing, particularly wanted to do well on what was his
first visit to the place. He had a very quick well prepared 1000cc
Mini Cooper so we lent him one of our drivers Charles Stancomb who knew
the circuit pretty well and was generally an accomplished driver
particularly in Minis. Of course the inevitable happened.
Sherry worked hard at learning the circuit and was beginning to return
respectable lap times when Charlie took over to do his qualification laps
and generally check the car out. In those days on the steep descent
to Adenau Bridge there was a fast right hander where to get a good apex it
was necessary to clip the hedge which in pre Armco days surrounded the
track . On this occasion Charlie was a little over enthusiastic with the
result he arrived at the next corner on what had once been his roof.
this drama was unfolding on a different part of the circuit my almost new
1275S decided to put a rod through the side of the block comprehensively
destroying the whole unit.
the two wrecks back in the paddock garage we came upon the obvious remedy.
I had a good car and there was a good engine in the remains of Sherry`s.
Uniting the two, meant I – after tossing for it with my double headed
penny – could have a race. Poetic justice struck after a few laps when I
too overturned although with a bit of pit lane bodging and the loan of my
co-driver`s goggles to compensate for a broken screen we were able to
finish – in about 5th place in the class. Much later that
evening after the usual riotous prize giving someone in our party thought
it would be a good idea to buy Sherry a consolation drink but when we
arrived at his hotel his wife put her head out of the window and told us
in no uncertain terms to go away as having destroyed their car she had no
intention of letting us get him drunk – as though we would.
We made amends though by sending someone back to Nurburgring later in the
week with the ever willing Mini Pick Up and a large trailer to recover the
well as wives and girlfriends most of us had a band of regular helpers who
came along to meetings and “Go-fered” between times. Few of us
could have afforded a crew of paid mechanics and pit crew and yet some
form of infrastructure is essential. The “go-ferring” approach
works both ways though and I know many successful drivers who learnt all
about the inside of racing through accompanying friends to races in a
dogsbody capacity. Last year I was surprised when I went to
Silverstone with my nephew who had recently started racing to find he had
already amassed an excellent team of competent but unpaid friends –
thank goodness something remains the same in these commercial days.
our racing we were fortunate with our helpers. Being based near
Cambridge and with a long association with the University Automobile Club
(CUAC) there were always students enjoying the use of our workshop and
pleased to help out in return. Many of these like John Thurston,
John Terry and the aforesaid Charles Stancomb had their own Mini Coopers
which we looked after and helped them with race entries especially on the
continental. In fact these three had an excellent season in 1963.
This was the first year of the European Touring Car Challenge and when
they had finished with college in May spent their whole time on the
continent contesting speed hill climbs in the weekends between
unfair to single out some among so many willing helpers, two must be
named. Howard Vero and John Whittall were both stalwarts who
shared so many of our successes and sorrows over the years. Howard
regularly organised the pit stops and looked after signalling but thank
goodness my eyesight was good and could cope with the long messages he
wrote on our blackboard to keep me in the picture. John liked a
roving commission and during the race would wander around chatting to
everyone and watching what was happening in the opposition’s pits, at
the same time making notes. This was a tremendous help in two ways.
Not only did it help us to decide on race strategy but it gave me
all the material I needed for my magazine reports after the race.
now we had a successful race preparation business established with my old
friend George Cayley, who went on to become a successful Citroen dealer,
in charge with two young Dutchmen, Han Akersloot and Dick van Yperen
wielding the spanners and occasionally ducking to avoid those that flew
through the air when George was having a bad day. Although we did
not pay any of them much we gave them their keep and lots of chances to go
racing. Han had some successes with my Minis, then with Bill
Blydenstein`s Vauxhall and finally returned to Holland to win the Dutch
saloon car championship several years in a row with an Alfa, a make he
later imported into Holland. Dick stayed with us for many years
becoming my personal assistant and co-driving with me on occasions.
By now we were dealing with small Fiats for which he had a great liking
and frequently he would go off to town for a small part and come back with
yet another 500 for our sales area; although I would nag him for spending
my money he usually sold them at a profit. He’s still involved in
the sport running a track driving club at his native Zandvoort.
back to those years I am very grateful for the support I received but win
or lose, John Aley Racing was a happy little team.