LOOKING BACK ON THINGS Random Recollections Past Racing Experiences—
BY D. M. K. MARENDAZ.
I . .00KING down the avenue of the last ten years—the length. of my racing experieneeit is clear to me that it is virtually, an im 4 possibility for the racing aspirant of to-day to run into the tremendous troubles and obstacles that beset the beginner in those times. ,
It will be within everyone’s knowledge, I imagine, that the War put an end to all racing activities, but it may not be generally known, however, that Brooklands was in 1914-1918 an R.F.C. artillery observation and reconnaisance school at which I, amongst others, did my share of writing off the death traps With which our good Government provided us for our aerial activities. The cessation of racing was not the worst blow dealt by the War to Motor racing. In my opinion, the greatest loss it occasioned was the dispersal of the pre-war racing equipes beyond resuscitation. Consequently, the start of racing just after the War was fraught with the troubles arising from limited knowledge and inexperience. ‘With few, if any, exceptions, any degree of reliability in a racing car of those days was non est.
It is impossible in the short space of such an article as this to fully recount our sublime ignorance. A true story relating to the post-War product of a certain concern whose name to-day is a household ‘one, will serve as a good example. After the War this company decided to produce a fast Closed car and after much heralding by trumpets and Otherwise, the first of the type was available for demonstration in palatial Vest-end showrooms. It happened on a particular morning that a demonstrator was told off to give a run to Lord ” So-and,So.” After A very satisfactory run, which included that famous bygone test hill, St. John’s Wood Avenue, the car was again within 100 yards of its West-end home when the driver discovered that it no longer answered to the steering wheel. (Apparently the stub axle, swivel and steering lever was a one piece casting of malleable iron !). I think the demonstrator’s ‘action in this predicament would be of interest ; he alighted, and opening the rear door, said, ” I would ask your Lordship to be good enough to walk from here to our showrooms owing to the grave diffi c
culties we have experienced with the police for standing our cars outside the showrooms.”
Melted piston tops, through Our misconceived belief in the lightest of feather weight pistons exhaust valves burnt beyond recognition through lack of suitable steels ; connecting rods that would persist in discormecting themselves from their proper position in the engine through undue lightening and lack of adequate oil pressures, were the order of the day and attended assiduously our efforts to develop a small high speed engine. I relate these difficulties so that the beginner of today can realise that he is in clover, very much on the Same basis as one of my visitors during a recent illness -greeted me by recounting the decease of two or three different people, so that, as he said, I should take heart inasmuch as my incapacity was not nearly so distressing !
” Disc-oncerting ” for Don.
Looking back one can see the humour of some of these incidents, and however unnerving at the time, I feel that the sight of a well-known racingdriver of to-day, to wit, Kaye Don, coming up the straight at Brooklands, driving an A.C. car at speed on three disc wheels and one hub, is not without its lighter side. This will be understood the better by those who know him well and his distaste to featuring as the central figure of a situation tomique. Nothing could afterwards induce this driver to engage in. future speed events on disc wheels. Somewhat akin perhaps, was my own experience in 1923 at Shelsley Walsh when after weeks of hard work and contriving, a single seater chassis, weighing cwts. less than standard, graced with a body (save the mark !) weighing but a few pounds, was ready for the great day. As the flag dropped the car shot forward, and it was evident during the first 100 yards that the she liked the hill well. In my endeavour to get full throttle after changing down at the first bend by the well-accepted method of getting your back hard against the rear squab and your foot hard down on the accelerator, the fairy-like wisp of plywood serving as a rear squab decided to divide in twain. I think it will generally be conceded that this is likely to put one off one’s stroke, and although the result was considerable loss of speed there was fortunately no loss of control, and the car clocked 55 1/5th seconds in spite of this grave handicap.
Apart entirely from our mechanical difficulties, there was a host of other things sent to try us. Not the least of these, perhaps, was an ever-present bugbear—tyres.
I well recall a brilliant summer day, a large crowd, a popular southern hill climb. The hill was a particularly sporting one—short but sweet—good corners—and was, as usual, very narrow. The road such as it was, was bounded by two tall Maythorn hedges. On each bend was stationed an unfortunate marshal whose duty it was to signal “all clear” on his bend, and so on down to the starting line. On the second bend my offside front tyre decided to burst, and it was questionable whether I had control of the car or whether the car had control of me. At all events, with foot hard down we charged for the overwrought second marshal. He was surely endowed very strongly with a sense of self preservation, for realising that he could not sprint to the other side of the road at sufficient speed to miss the car, he, with great presence of mind, somersaulted backwards and disappeared into the Maythom hedge. It was fortunate for him because it was only after passing the very spot on which he had stood, that the car yielded to my gentle persuasion and regained the proper course. Naturally, the loss of one tyre did not make us decrease speed in those far-off days and we wended our way to the top of the hill, making fastest time in our class.
Handicapping—and a secret.
After these few cheering words and having regard to the fact that to-day Brooklands is the Mecca of all good racing motorists, I would for a few brief moments dwell on that very pertinent subject—handicapping. There is one great secret to be observed if you wish to win a race. I will let you into it. You must upbraid and blackguard the handicapper! This is a never failing charm. How pleased ” Ebby ” will be with you I cannot say, but many years ago when I last had recourse to this method, he looked on with an inscrutable countenance and a silent tongue. The circumstances surrounding our one sided conversation were that for
three or four meetings round about ’22 or ’23, I had run round in every race for which I had entered ; this after trapesing down from Coventry with my car, an attendant car, a retinue of mechanics and a host of spare parts, at great expense only to be always the last past the line ! On this particular day I am afraid, rather disrespectfully, I asked Mr. Ebblewhite if he was of the opinion that I put myself to all this expense and trouble merely for the purpose of enriching the tyre manufacturers. (Actually, I think I asked him if he thought that I ran at Brooklands to see how many tyres I could wear out.) The handicaps were, of course, arranged days before, and printed in the programme, so my discussion did not result in any alteration. When, therefore, a few minutes after my reproach I had won the 1st race, it can well be imagined that my feelings were very mixed and when I say that in spite of a re-handicap in the next race, I.pulled off a second, it will not be hard to believe that for the rest of the meeting I did all in my power to prevent ” Ebby’s ” eagle eye from falling upon me.
So that it shall not be said that “one swallow doth not make a summer” and so that the efficacy of my recipe shall be put in an unchallengeable position, I shall recount another instance of the success of this method.
A certain driver who had not met with success for seven or eight races was entered for the Light Car Gold Plate. He considered that the handicapper had left him a negative chance, and being of a somewhat excitable nature, I can well believe that in the interview he had with the handicapper, he made clear in no uncertain manner that the handicaps were, as usual, most unfair. Added to this seemingly unsurmountable bar to the Gold Plate, in a preceding race the car blew a gasket, and from the driver’s crestfallen demeanour on leaving the paddock, such attempt at repairs as he had made was not highly successful. Nevertheless, he won the race.