Mechanics of racing caught on film

It’s amazing just how much detailed history has come down to us not necessarily recorded in any history book, but instead scribbled on scraps of paper, on the back of old photographs, or as a fleeting caption in a scrapbook. One of the best respected of all specialist racing mechanics through the 1930s was Jock Finlayson. He had served his time with the Bentley factory team, Birkin & Couper, and then worked for and with Whitney Straight, Dick Seaman, Hans Ruesch and fellow mechanic/engineers Giulio Ramponi and Billy Rockell.

I recently unearthed a couple of the late Jock’s photographs, the first showing the Bentley pit at Phoenix Park, Dublin after the 1929 Irish Grand Prix there for sports cars. In the 300-mile Eireann Cup handicap race, an Alfa Romeo 1750 led home the works’ two Speed Six Bentleys, driven by Glen Kidston in second place and then Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin finishing third. In the Finlayson photo taken just after the race (top), urbane ex-naval officer Kidston is relaxing on the pit counter, inevitable cigarette in his right hand, while immediately behind him marked with an inked-in ‘X’ is Jock – minus his later trademark spectacles, but with goggles slung round his neck – and with ‘Tiger Tim’ to the right. Jock’s caption is simple, reading just ‘My second ride with Birkin’.

Another hugely significant photo he preserved has scribbled on the reverse “1936 Berne Delage motor 1st Seaman 1½-litre class”. That’s from the historic Voiturette racing season in which Dick Seaman won almost everything in sight in his basically nine-year-old straight-eight Delage 1.5LS Grand Prix car, updated by Ramponi and Finlayson. It’s very rare to find any nutsy-boltsy shots freezing in time how a racing engine appeared on the day of a great victory – but here it is; taken on the day on which Mercedes-Benz team manager Alfred Neubauer sat up and took notice of a young British racing driver, named Dick Seaman, and began to consider him seriously for a Silver Arrow team test drive… Through 1937 young Seaman would find his feet within the Mercedes-Benz works team, and by 1938 he would be sufficiently well fledged to win the German Grand Prix for them, at the Nürburgring. In some ways adopting the dashing and talented mantle of the long-gone ‘Tim’ Birkin, ‘Der Englander’ had arrived.