Chasing the truth

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Amongst long-term racing journalists, very few ever set out to be nasty or unkind. We do, however, try to tell it the way it was…or the way that available evidence indicates it was. occasionally this causes hurt. if the evidence stacks up, I’m afraid that’s tough upon those upset. if it doesn’t, then somebody plainly owes them an apology.

In the April issue i drew attention to this Easter’s 60th anniversary of Mike Hawthorn’s stunning debut at Goodwood, 1952, in the Cooper-Bristol owned by Bob Chase and prepared under Mike’s father, Leslie. I described Bob chase as being a “colourful, alcoholic dealer in military surplus and marine diesel engines who ran an ex-coastal Forces motor launch and who’d reputedly had several close calls with the revenue men while ‘trading’ cross-channel”.

Peter golding – whose late father-in-law Joe Spoors was a great ex-rn coastal Forces friend of Bob Chase – assures me this portrayal is quite wrong. He writes: “During the second World War [Bob] volunteered and was commissioned as a lieutenant-commander in the navy working out of lymington on the mtB leet. After the war was over he was awarded the ‘St Olav Medal’, by King olav of norway for his wartime exploits.

He then, through his wartime experiences with GM Marine Diesels [became one of their] main distributors for the uK. His company, RJC Motors at Saltdean, had extensive testing, engineering and spares facilities [in] their large factory.”

He conirms that chase’s racing interest began pre-war, and he had known Leslie Hawthorn for years before he bought the Cooper-Bristol. Peter says: “He was never an alcoholic, or loud and colourful; in fact I always found him a quiet, reserved charming man, and generous to a fault.”

So close was the friendship between Bob Chase and Joe Spoors that Peter “…was dispatched with Joe’s daughter whom I was ‘courting’ (nice old expression that shows my age) to be approved of by Bob. With a great interest in cars and racing I was on a winner! We married in ’59. yes, they did drink, but everyone in that era of motor racing and business drank, and it was mainly whisky, and they had a great time, as many of the reminiscences in your magazine confirm, but alcoholic they certainly were not.”

He also recalls Bob chase’s “large pleasure boat called the mae mccloud (his wife’s maiden name), that was used with the family and friends, and ended up in the south of France in the summer for holidays. my wife remembers holidays in cannes with Bob and his family on the boat in the harbour, certainly not ‘evading the revenue men while trading cross-channel’”.

Being a charitable chap Peter concludes his letter by wondering “…if perhaps Doug Nye got him mixed up with someone else!” Well, I can’t claim that I did. But none of the personal sources of my irst version are still with us: John Cooper, Hawthorn mechanic Brit Pearce, eric Brandon, Alan Brown and Guy Grifiths (from whom came the revenue story).

Some still recall Bob chase as being one of the few men capable of drinking Leslie Hawthorn under the table – which evidently took some doing – but over 50 years of tall stories do tend to caricature people, and to enhance old yarns, while I admit we mere reporters sometimes just flat get it wrong. Frankly, in this case I’m not sure which one applies, but Peter golding’s account comes irst-hand, mine did not. regardless, let’s just celebrate what mike Hawthorn achieved thanks to Bob chase’s undoubted generosity.

Doug Nye