Rod Birley: more than 600 victories… and counting

Brands Hatch, August, 1965. Jim Clark’s works Cortina reappears from the circuit’s woodland loop. “He clipped the Clearways kerb and rose up on two wheels,” says Rod Birley. “I turned to my dad and said, ‘I want to do that’.”

Within 10 years he’d be racing – and more than half a century later he still is.

Birley has been a familiar paddock presence since 1973. He was away for a while, taking up oval racing after what he calls “a run-in with the MSA”, but on the day we chat he notched up his 620th success, a cocktail of class, outright and hot rod victories.

The journey began in a production saloon Hillman Imp with a George Bevan engine (the start of a long relationship – the Bevan family still looks after his Honda Integra, which he races when commitments with his 500bhp Ford Escort permit).

“Short ovals really sharpened my racecraft,” he says. “You had to be aggressive, but as it was a non-contact sport that also had to be controlled.”

He returned to circuit racing during the early 1980s and, now 62, has no plans to quit. “I love it,” he says, “and the hairs on my neck still stand up when I venture out on the Brands GP circuit – it’s up there with the best.”

And there’s another reason to continue, too. The Bevan family has reacquired its most famous Imp, which Bill McGovern took to three straight BSCC titles between 1970 and 1972. Once its restoration is complete, Birley has been invited to race it...