The Racing Mechanics
The first article under this heading appeared last month. It dealt with Robin Jackson and included an introduction. Ed.
R. F. GREEN
”Dickey” Green, as he is invariably known to everyone within five minutes of meeting him, is still of the younger generation of racing mechanics. His appearance was, perhaps, best described by a waitress at a North London café, who, after he had departed to the nether regions of that edifice, came up to the present writer with an awed expression on her face and said, “Excuse me, sir, but is your friend Danny Kaye?” The mistake was excusable, because the likeness is quite striking if you pause to think about it. Dickey comes from London stock, and has all the lovable attributes that go with such extraction. He must have loved motor cars and motor-cycles since he was a small boy, but, as for so many others, the war chopped off his career as a draughtsman in the Patent Office, and a spell in North Africa with tanks and several years in the prison camps of Italy and Germany did nothing to further his ambitions in the motor-racing direction. But, after that experience was over, with youth and enthusiasm on his side, he got a job with a small tuning establishment under Marcus Chambers, and started in earnest towards the chosen path. There wasn’t much motor-racing in those early post-war days, but he helped Marcus with the little single-seater Austin and the 1908 Hutton in the hill-climbs, the latter car doing much to foster his interest, always maintained, in Edwardian, veteran and vintage cars. As an illustration of this, he once ventured the opinion that no saloon car was much good unless you could open both the back doors and walk straight through, bolt upright, wearing a top hat. The Edwardians in the immediate post-war days always seemed to be his first love, and just before setting out on a trial trip he was accustomed to stand back and gaze upon his handiwork with a perfectly solemn expression on his face and say “Now there’s a rorty machine for you.”
It was Rivers Fletcher, if memory serves, who made the famous remark about those who found in motoring “if not a religion, at least a way of life,” and surely R. F. Green, Esq., is the living personification of that idea. Go for a long drive with him, and there is no question about what subject the conversation turns upon, the only question there may be is upon what particular aspect of motoring, ancient or modern, the talk centres. No one may for long remain silent or depressed before his presence, for the loud bellow of laughter that follows the recital of some memory that comes to him is very infectious, and the time passes all too quickly in his company.
However dire the situation, and however late the hour, the same cheerfulness is always apparent, and for this quick and cheerful acceptance of the changing situation, the forces were an excellent training. The writer remembers well a hotel booking going astray at one of the earlier Silverstone meetings which necessitated an unexpected acquaintance with a formidable double bed in a council house in some local village. The brass knobs gleamed horribly in the candlelight and the mattress was as hard as iron, but Dickey’s voice from the darkness “We might as well have slept in the back seat of the Itala” soon restored the usual laughter. Like all those who have chosen this particular profession he has had to learn as he went along, and his experience at the tuning shop with Bentley, Maserati, H.R.G. and others helped him to grow from an enthusiast to a mechanic. A spell of five years with a supercharger firm extended his experience, and administering to these components on several well-known racing cars brought him into contact with motor-racing proper, and then he set out for, and got himself a job with, the Aston Martin racing shop, where for some years he has helped to tend those successful David Brown productions.
Technically, there is yet nothing special to single him out as a racing mechanic, but obviously he possesses, in full measure, the natural aptitude which his profession demands. Cleanliness in working, the ability to see a job assembled in the mind’s eye before actually assembling it, so that it will not all have to come down again because a small shim has been forgotten; patience with the nut that is a real b——— , and gentleness with the delicate bits. Those who are prepared to learn these things that are so simple to write about, but so difficult to do, are those who become racing mechanics and craftsmen, those that don’t clutter up the small-time garages, where the customer does not return a second time The newer generation of racing mechanics, of which our subject is so good an example, are worthily maintaining the old traditions, and this is particularly creditable considering the vast expansion in motor-racing since the war with the resultant tightly-packed schedules that have to be maintained. It is difficult for the layman, like the writer, to appreciate how hard it is to carry out this sort of work, especially under difficult conditions. It is one thing to strip, clean and reassemble a carburetter, for example, in a well-lit workshop with a clean bench and bath of petrol handy, but quite another to do the same thing “in the field,” with the bits liable to drop on the ground and with dust present to plague you, and there lies much of the skill. A small point, too, that one notices in these folk is that, although the job must sometimes be a dirty one, racing mechanics never seem to get themselves into a state where more than a quick wipe of the hands is needed to restore the appearance, and this “second nature” cleanliness is very marked in the R.F.G. case.
To him, one feels, “mechanicing” is not an end in itself, it is a means of living to the full the life of a motoring enthusiast always on the look out for fresh adventures with motor cars, breathing in the atmosphere and appreciating the traditions of the past whilst helping to make the future.
In spite of the fact that the pay is good, and the “glamour” has long since worn off, what else but enthusiasm could keep a person going through an average week of 60 hours, and carry him through such adventures as befell him just prior to the I.O.M. races not so long ago? Recalled to the works at 9.45 p.m. one night, he stripped out a pair of drive shafts from a car there, and left Feltham at 1.45 a.m. to drive up to Speke Airport, where he arrived at 6 a.m., in time to catch the 7.45 a.m. flying machine to the island. By 10 a.m. that morning he and Eric Hind had the car that Reg Parnell was driving motoring again, and it subsequently won its race. What followed was cryptically described by Dickey as “a fair night out.” Very right and proper too! As to travelling, a season may well embrace visits to Silverstone, I.O.M., Sebring, Le Mans, Jersey, Goodwood and Monza and the Mille Miglia. In between there are prototype cars to be built and a certain amount of demonstration driving. It is most obvious that a real team spirit exists in the D.B. organisation under John Wyer, and in describing his own part in the hectic rush of the season, the only comment made by Dickey is “we all muck in.” He insists, too, in paying tribute to the help he has had from those of the older school, Jack Sopp and John King in particular, and in fact suggested that one of them should have been substituted for himself as the subject of this article. But the writer insists that the transition from the young and enthusiastic mechanic who accompanied the Hutton to Prescott in 1946, to the fully-fledged works mechanic that went with Dennis Poore to the same venue with the Aston recently is just as interesting, especially as it has been his privilege to know him personally during part of that transition. Nor is Dickey any sluggard at the wheel either, as the writer well remembers during a series of aerodrome tests of an early British post-war sports car. It was a question of finding out how fast a modified version would go over a measured distance, and a certain racing driver, very wisely, decided that as certain parts were liable to seizure at speed, he would prefer to drive the stop-watch. It therefore fell to Dickey Green and the writer to do the driving, and with little or no previous experience of high velocities Dickey made a first-class and extremely well-judged performance. Inevitably, amongst those who view the thing superficially, there is apt to be held the opinion that this overpowering motoring enthusiasm makes for narrowness of general outlook in a person, but, needless to say, within the confines of the racing. Shop the same qualities still have the same values as in the outside world. Common sense, a sense of humour, perseverance and tact, and the R.F.G. enthusiasm well prove the point, he being no mean sage in a quiet way on life in general.
He is handy with the sketch-book too, and very penetrating! Narrow in enthusiasm but big in outlook, like most mechanics, it can he safely said that while such people serve the game of motor-racing, its post-war commercialism (which so many of the pre-war enthusiasts deplore) can never completely wash out the essentially pleasant background of fun and sportsmanship that is its deeper glory. The mantle of the older mechanics is falling on the new, and the new are not shirking their responsibilities, and, judging by the Green case, the next generation is safe too, for young Graham Green at the age of five could tell the difference between a 12 and a 24-plug Ferrari, and could not only tell you the make of an approaching motor-cycle, but also its type and capacity as well!
The writer hopes that he will be forgiven by his subject for tying his knowledge of him to the younger generation of racing mechanics as a whole, but his enthusiasm is indeed so typical of them all. More power to their elbows. — “A. B. C.”