Driver Profile

 

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I started racing in 1973 at the tender age of 17 just a few days before my 18th birthday. My first car was a Hillman Imp, which was formerly owned by Andy Slaughter!

My first race was at Silverstone in  Production Saloons, where despite stalling on the grid I finished third in class. During the season I raced against Tony Lanfranchi and John Webb (yes that one) who drove Moskitvich's. I commuted to Ingliston in Scotland to contest their series (they paid start money...16.00), driving the Imp on the road. On one occasion the head gasket blew on the way there, and I managed a temporary repair at Shap Fell. After the race the car consumed water faster than petrol, however, the result did help me to win my first Championship.

In 1983 I took part in a televised Hot Rod event at Northampton Stadium. As track champion I had to start last on the grid but it was a Le Mans style start, with drivers running to their cars. I practiced several times but I usually ended up sitting on my seatbelts so on the day I tied the belts back with cotton, which was easy to break once in the car. The race went out live on ITV and we sat out on the grid for a long time. Then despite the fact that it was August, it began to rain. Everyone was on slicks but there was no time to change to wets with the race starting imminently.

I managed to get away well at the start bearing in mind there were 29 other cars on a quarter mile oval. By lap 10 I was in the lead closely pursued by Peter Grimer, an acknowledged wet weather expert. Soon he swept around the outside and started to pull away. However I quickly realised that the outside line was slightly dryer on the banked oval and slowly began closing up again, particularly when Peter caught a gaggle of back markers. With 2 laps of the 30 to go I made a move but Peter saw me and tried to edge me wide. I glanced the safety fence but thankfully got away with it and took the lead with one lap left. Needless to say, Fred Dinnage in the studio was moderately impressed. The manoeuvre went on to get a replay in  the sports round up later in the day.

It was my late father who took me to see me to a Bank Holiday meeting at Brands Hatch, who introduced me to Motor Racing. My overwhelming impression of that day was seeing Jim Clark two wheeling a Ford Cortina around Clearways. Clark went on to drive a couple of other cars that day, but the Saloons always stayed in my mind.

Over the years I have been fortunate  to drive over 50 different types of cars, ranging from the small Mini to a huge Mercury Cougar. The Mazda RX7, Honda Prelude and the current Escort WRC have been three of the more successful examples but the best handling ?......that has got to be Rob Cox's BDA engined, Caterham 7 based, "Black Brick"

The quickest car must be a Ford Sierra with a Porsche 956 engine. It was capable of over 180 mph on the old pit straight at Zandvoort in Holland, this car also gave me a huge scare when it took off over Deer Leap at Oulton Park.

My biggest accident was rolling end over end at Epymt in Wales on the Tour Of Britain in a Ford Capri. Some kind soul ha removed a warning sign just before a blind brow. There was also a bone jarring incident with a marker barrel at Northampton Stadium, which took the best part of six months to heal. However the car was repaired for the next day.
The mid 1980s to early 1990s saw some of the wildest saloon cars roam the English circuits in Thundersaloons. I was lucky enough to drive cars in both class A and class B, including Ford Sierras, Ford Escorts, Mitsubishi Starion, Mazda RX7, Opel Manta, Honda Prelude with such talented drivers as Andy Rouse, Dave Brodie, John Brindley, Richard Piper, Mike Wilson and Jonathon Buncombe. It really was an exciting time. During this period I also got to drive various other cars ranging from Peter Bevan's fabulous Ford Anglia, Sean Brown's Toyota Corolla and Ford Sierra, Frank Cundell's BMW M3, John Harrison's Sunbeam Tiger and Chris Weedon's version, Tim Bowles' Camaro and Nick Torregani's Mustang.
 
By 1995 most of the saloon classes were in decline. Thundersaloons had been killed off, whilst Historic saloons had so many rule changes no one knew what would be eligible from one year to the next. Production saloons had also disappeared. My enthusiasm had also gone.
 
It took an offer from Mark Burnside to share one of his MGs at Lydden to kick start things again. There then followed some successful forays into Europe, firstly with Frank Cundell's Escort Cosworth, then with Dave Thomas's Ford Capri to really get into top gear. By now the Honda was allowed into Formula Saloons despite having to run with a restrictor. Julian Swayland had also loaned me various Sierras until we got hold of the now familiar Ford Escort WRC.
 
The rest,as they say, is recent history. With on going development, courtesy of Joe Stevens, this has turned out to be one of my most successful cars. The four wheel drive makes it virtually unbeatable in the wet, although it is surprising how few wet meetings it has raced in.
 
During my 40 or so years of racing I have been lucky to attract sponsorship in various forms. Quite often it has only been free product. However, when times are hard this is most welcome as it means money can be spent on other items.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page was last updated Sunday February 05, 2017 02:44 PM

Copyright Rod Birley & Shawn Herrington.