Ebby: timing it to perfection
I DO NOT THINK THAT THERE HAVE BEEN ANY DEAD-HEAT
finishes in grands prix or in other classic long-distance races. But the handicapping of individual cars was adopted at Brooklands in 1907 by the legendary A V Ebblewhite, to liven up racing at the then-new Track. Mr Ebblewhite was a quite extraordinary person. His
stamina in working out handicaps for every car raced at those BARC meetings and being starter, handicapper or lap-counter at almost every other competition, including important contests such as the Ulster TT, etc, was almost beyond belief. How this not exactly young man an unmistakable figure with his trilby hat, city suit, case of expensive stopwatches, and his little flag performed his tasks weekend after weekend, and also managed to run his musical instrument shop in London’s East End, was quite remarkable. Helped by T D Dutton he handicapped Brooklands racing uninterruptedly from 1907 to 1939. The ideal handicap should see all the contestants cross the finish-line together. It has never happened; but a dead heat is the next best thing. At the very first Brooklands meeting, when racing was provingless appealing than had been hoped, although speeds were high, it was enlivened when two great British drivers, Frank Newton (Napier) and Charles Jarrott (de Dietrich), observed by the Judge, Mr Fowler, crossed the line together in the 10.3-mile Byfleet Plate. They shared the 550 sovereign stake money although Jarrott thought
he had won by half-a-bonnet’s length and the Napier was criticised for using oxygen to boost its speed. Dead heats at the Weybridge Motor Course were rare, so doubly exciting. But they happened three times in the between-wars BARC period. In 1925, `Ebby’ set Harold Purdy’s 12/50 Alvis off 18sec before George Newnnan’s
2-litre Austro-Daimler, driven by J P Turner, in the Autumn 75mph Short Handicap. Mr Fowler, who went on judging until 1939, saw them dead heat, after they had lapped at 73.64/88.15 and 80.56/93.09mph respectively, in the 534-mile race. It happened again at the 1932 Easter races, when W K Faulkner’s s/c 2.3 Bugatti was on the 1 min 30sec mark in the 12-mile Norfolk Lightning Mountain Handicap, and Whitney Straight’s non-s/c
Bugatti was on the minute mark. They finished side-by-side, after fastest laps of 65.81 and 68.38mph. Ebby’s produced another dead heat, in 1936. On August Bank Holiday, Rex King-Clark’s s/c MG Midget and Roy Eccles’ s/c Rapier Special tied, after respective averages of 66.23 and 68.40mph. These were
tributes to the skill of Ebby’s handicapping.
Even more impressive was how he would estimate the time a given car would take to win a long-distance event on a class-handicap, and be correct within a minute or two, his calculations allowing for pitstops and the weather. A quite remarkable character, of whom it is sad that so little has been recorded.