Taking up the reins in racing

When George Duller looked around for alternative challenges to a life in the saddle he quickly lit on the four-wheeled arena

The steeplechase jockey and trainer George Duller, who had been Champion Jockey in 1918, took up motor racing in 1921, mainly at Brooklands, and on his fourth attempt that year had a win in Captain Noel Macklin’s Silver Hawk with a fastest lap of 72.18mph. In 1922 his wife entered a Sunbeam for him to drive but it failed to appear three times.

By 1924 Duller had taken over the Indianapolis Bugatti as companion to his Marlborough-Thomas which Parry Thomas drove at the Whitsun Meetings in the 90mph Short Handicap but was only placed second with 93.44mph lap, while Duller drove his Bugatti in the 100mph Short Handicap and was also placed second, with a best lap of 105.97mph. At the August meeting he had a win in the Private Competitors Handicap in his two-seater Marlborough-Thomas, with a best lap of 92.57mph. After Dario Resta’s fatal accident during a record attempt Duller became a works driver for the Darracq team, and in the JCC 200-mile race they came first, second and third, Duller finishing second with a best lap of 102.25mph, behind Guinness, and he also took the equal-fastest lap of 106.55mph with Segrave who was third. In that year he broke nine Class B records, including the standing start half-mile, kilometre and mile, the last named at 75.86mph, in his single–seater Indianapolis Bugatti. Then with Thomas and Rapson in a Lanchester he broke 30 records in 15 hours, averaging 104mph. He had also tried for the 200- and 300-mile records in his two-seater Boulogne Hispano-Suiza, but at 101mph fuel starvation due to a faulty pressure-feed caused the attempt to fail.

In 1925 an evening match race was fought out between Parry Thomas in his Leyland, Ernest Eldridge in his Fiat ‘Mephistopheles’ and Duller in his Bugatti, who came in 30 yards behind the Leyland.

In the 100mph Short Handicap in his Bugatti, with a best lap speed of 111.17mph, he was beaten by Barclay in the ex-Humphrey Cook TT Vauxhall. But then came a win in the Essex MC’s Junior Long Handicap at 105.74mph. Again in his Bugatti he won the October Essex MC’s Junior Long Handicap at 105.74mph. He had another win in the 50-mile Outer Circuit Race in Waite’s oversized Austin Seven, at 89.90mph.

At Montlhéry that year he won the GP de L’Ouverture at 97.2mph over 312 miles. Conelli was given second place although he had skidded into Duller’s Talbot just after passing the finishing line.

Duller also entered the 1925 Le Mans race with Segrave in a 3-litre Sunbeam. The car was in the lead when the clutch failed. Duller retired again in 1926 with Clement and in 1927 with d’Erlanger, in both driving a 3-litre Bentley.

In 1926, in the 90mph Short Handicap, Duller took over Barnato’s 2-litre Bugatti without informing the officials; he won at 97.03mph, but it upset the ‘bookies’ and a note in the official records observed “he should have been re-handicapped”. Then in a special Bugatti race he came second driving a straight-eight GP Bugatti, lapping at 110.19mph. A novel three-lap race was contested between Parry Thomas’s Leyland, Duller’s supercharged Austin Seven, Paul Dutoit’s Alvis and R?M?Hanlon driving a Greenbat electric truck, which won, having received a 1hr 25min start, though both Duller and Thomas retired after the first lap. Also that year his wife had a win in an Amilcar in the Short Handicap Race.

In June at Montlhéry he attempted to break a series of records in a Bentley with Barnato and Clement. After 16½ hours rain ended the attempt, but the 12-hour record was raised to 100.92mph and the Class D from 500km to 1000 miles were also taken.

At the 1927 Whit Monday Brooklands meeting in the Lightning Short Handicap he came third in Barclay’s Vauxhall.

In June at Le Mans, six cars were involved in the multiple crash at White House Corner, the three Bentleys, the two Schneiders and an Aries. Being the expert hurdle jockey, Duller jumped clear over his steering wheel and walked away with only minor injuries. One Bentley was able to resume the race and win it, driven by Benjafield and Davis.

At Montlhéry in August a Le Mans-style 24-hour sports car endurance race was held. Clement and Duller in a 4½-litre Bentley won easily, doing 161 laps or 1247.7miles, despite the car catching fire in the pits.

Back at Brooklands again in Barnato’s Bentley he came third, doing 104.41mph in the Lighting Long Handicap. Then in the Sporting Life 100-mile Handicap, Duller managed to break the E Class lap record at 109.52mph in his 2-litre Bugatti.

In March 1928, driving an original Riley 9 racer, he captured the Class G records for 5km and 10km and 5-mile and 10-mile at speeds varying from 97.06 to 97.85mph.

In the 1930 500-Mile race he paired with Birkin in his single-seater blown Bentley, but both were not at all happy and took no awards in the A, B or F classes.

The following year in the Light Car Relay GP Race, Duller’s team in a Bugatti only managed to finish, at 76.03mph.

In 1933 in the fifth BARC 500-Mile Race on the Brooklands Outer Circuit he had plug trouble early on and had to push in from the Railway Straight, and then in 1934 in the sixth 500-Mile Race, the Martin/Duller MG finished at 93.35mph but did not get a place.

Trying again in 1935 he and Mrs Wisdom, in Gwenda Stewart’s new Maserati-engine front-drive Derby, broke a piston and retired.

Later that year Street and Duller acquired the ex-Whitney Straight 4.3-litre straight-eight Duesenberg and outrigged the back springs onto solid machined brackets to widen the spring base, but it never went as well as when Straight owned it.