With over 700 races and 250 rallies behind him, Williams continues to entertain on and off track
No British race report is complete without a shot of a car ludicrously crossed up with Barrie Williams beaming through the window. Ruddyfaced, always chuckling, he seems to be everywhere at once in this, his 40th competition year.
After leaving Hereford Cathedral School, he began rushing up Prescott in a Singer shared with his father, who ran a small engineering firm in Bromyard. Williams went the same route, apprenticed to the David Brown group. Before long he was hillclimbing an Austin A40 Devon: “it wasn’t competitive, but it made a lovely noise with a tractor exhaust on”. It was soon replaced by a Morris 1000 which brought Williams his circuit debut at Rufforth in 1959.
Then his father entered karting, building his own design ‘Fastakart’ and running a team which included B Williams, who now reflects, “karts must have a lot to do with my stupid driving style, the difficulty I have keeping the car straight.”
By now his road car was a Mini-Cooper S, in which he entered the 1964 Welsh Rally, and won the first international rally win for a Cooper S. “It was a turning point everyone then expected me to win everything.” Stuart Turner, BMC’s competition boss, offered a works RAC entry, and Williams did the Swedish Winter Rally with John Davenport “we were the first Brits to finish a Scandinavian rally”. Alan McKechnie next put him in a Lotus-Cortina, then into F3. “Foolishly, I won my very first single-seater race, the Wills International Trophy at Silverstone in1966. Suddenly I was going to be World Champion.” But when team-mate Chris Lambert was killed in an F2 race at Zandvoort, Williams reappraised his career. “Tony Lanfranchi said ‘you’ve had enough in single-seaters you’ll hurt yourself’.” Instead he raced Rob Beck’s Jaguar-Egal, a 7-litre V8 E-type. “I upset a few egos with that, beating things it shouldn’t have beaten, like GT40s and Ferraris.”
Becoming a BRDC member in 1971, he raced anything he could get his hands on, tackling saloons, sports and historic cars with the same speedway style, flinging the car through pendulum swings of unrecoverable degree except that he usually does. Spectators and organisers came to rely on him for entertainment, and the paddock labelled him ‘Whizzo’. He made an impact at the 1975 British GP by collecting the Driver of the Day award and a trip to Barbados. “Fittipaldi couldn’t understand why I’d got it, not him, because he’d won the Grand Prix.”
Though by now racing everything with more than one seat here and abroad, it was only in 1985 that he had a high-profile victory. That year Renault’s Alpine GTA series came to Brands Hatch to support the European GP, and Whizzo was invited to deputise for Jan Lammers. “They only told me on Wednesday I had to use Hans Stuck’s overalls.” But the rear-engined GTA suited Williams perfectly; he humbled the regulars and won. “Dear old Murray hugged me and said he’d lost his voice commentating because of me. And next day my old team-mate Nigel Mansell won the Grand Prix.” He and Mansell had shared a BMW for Gloucester in the County Championship.
Frequent endurance wins include the 1995 Spa 6hr event with Joe Ward in his TVR Griffith. “That was good, because in between stints I was running down the pits and jumping into Norman Grimshaw’s Cooper S. And we won our class in that as well!” Here he dissolves into giggles.
There’s scarcely a field he has not tried: “I did Supersports with Jim Crawford in a ChevronMazda, won plenty of Porsche Goodrich races; and Dick Skipworth and Nick Mason and others have given me some lovely historic drives, like last weekend at Monaco tremendous fun. And -” (There’s always an ‘and’; Whizzo talks like he drives, all waving arms, bubbling laughter, sudden veerings in unexpected directions.) “And I’ve just driven the Ecurie Ecosse transporter back my head’s still ringing!”
Proudest moment? “That Renault race I showed that car my business card. But I love long-distance races. Once -” He’s off again. “Once I was in an M3 at the ‘Ring in dense fog at 7800 in fifth and I couldn’t see at all I actually radioed in and said I didn’t know where I was.”
It’s all fun to Whizzo: “I’ve made so many friends, almost anywhere I go I can find a bed figuratively speaking, of course!” Apart from teaching at Silverstone and corporate track days, his infill business of transporting cars can takes him across the world. He also helps setting-up cars.
Has his style changed? “I think more now. In the old days it was foot to the floor and sort it out like a rally-driver. But at the Monaco historics I kept my place by racecraft. I’ve always been very professional, though I can be a joker, but I’m very particular about the car.” That’s why racers value his tuition, and why his finishing record is so high.
What remains to be ticked off? “I’ve never driven at Le Mans; I’d like to race a competitive GT, and one day I’d love to drive a current F1 car when there’s no-one about; just do 20 laps, then thank everyone and go to the bar… And perhaps Mason will ask me to drive his V16 BRM.”
And when the racing has to stop? “The day I find it boring, or haven’t had a really great scrap, then I’ll sit down and see how to help other people. I’d like to be able to afford to run a team and put other drivers in and enjoy seeing them do well.” He really enjoys offering help, whether driving advice or pit-lane diplomacy he was a BRDC director for 11 years.
Win or lose, he radiates contentment. “I’ve had a bloody lucky life. I’ll never say I’m not jealous of some of the drives my colleagues get, but I’m there to support them, and I love seeing people do well. I just get on with the job and enjoy it, as long as everybody’s happy around me.” GC