THE ULSTER BRAINS TRUST
THE first Of ii, series of Combined Motoring and Motor Cycling Film Shows and Brains Trusts was held at the Grand Central Hotel, Belfast, on the afternoon of Sunday, August 20th. The 130 enthusiasts who .attended included many well known in Irish Motor Sport before the war. Many members of ILM. Forces, who had read of the meeting in the motoring press, also attended. The large room was decorated with some fine photographs and paintings of motor and motor-cycle racing, while at one end Were displayed Mr. Rex MeCandless’s special Triumph motor-cycle which had been developed for grass-track racing and was fitted with a special system of rear springing designed . and constructed by its owner, and Mr. Arthur Boll’s special trials machine of the same make. Between them, a highly polished B.S.A. Gold Star engine WO attracted considerable attention.
Mr. John Patterson opened the meeting with a short welcoming speech, in which he explained that the two chief aims of the organisers were the bringing together of the motoring and motor-cycling enthusiasts, and the keeping alive Of enthusiasm for Motor Sport in Ireland. The film show began with the projection of some reels lent by Mr. Charles Agnew, which included some excellent news-reel shots of racing at Cork in the rain. It was very heartening to see E.R.A.s, Alfas, M.G.s and other cars cornering once again to the tune of the blare of open exhausts, which sounded like music in our ears after being silent for so long. As some light relief, the next film showed the locating and curing of a squeak at a garage ran by the combined genius of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, whose methods seemed just about as startling as those of some other well-known service stations in these parts. A film on the care and maintenance of aircraft sparking plugs was followed by “The Pace that Thrills,” a documentary film dealing with the design and construction of those famous little overhead camshaft Austin racing ears. The silent version was shown, as the sound one could not be got through the censors in time. The organisers felt a trifle envious of their colleagues across the water who are not troubled by this particular bother, which was responsible for many of the films they had hoped to show not being available in time. [Nevertheless, London was long without a motor-racing film show until the ” Rembrandt ” gathering on September 17th.—E0.] After an interval for tea, Mr. Charles Gray projected some Of his films, which also included .many fine news-reel shots of racing in Ireland and elsewhere. The film show concluded with the showing of a documentary film dealing with the training of Canadian Army despatch
riders in England, which was of great interest, especially to the many D.rt.s of the Ilster l tome Guard and National Fire Service, who were preseitt. The members of the Brains Trust then came forward to take their places at the top table. They were Mr. Stanley Woods, who has raced both motorcycles and cars; Mr. Arthur Bell, another motor-eyclist who has Competed in races all over Ireland and the Isle of Man, and in many trials ; Mr. Rex McCandless, who is well known for the outstanding spring-frame machines he has designed and built, and who has also competed in motor-cycling sport ; Mr. Charles Neill, the secretary of the Ulster Automobile Club, and a frequent
illpetitor in Irish races and hill-climbs Nvith a Bugatti ; and Mr. John Patterson, who has played a prothinent part in the organising of many Irish races, and who ilaS been Major A. T. G. Gardner’s riding mechanic oil various occasions. The Question laster was Mr. Philip A. Turner, the motoring journalist.
The first question received from the audience asked for advice on the snags to be avoided when starting motor-cycle racing. Mr. WOWS said that it was a very comprehensive question, but he thought one of the most important things was to avoid the other fools. He thought it important to learn to ride really well on the road before attempting any competition work. He said it was much easier to make a beginning when he started, as the gap between touring and racing speeds was not so wide as it was to-day, when it was necessary to go very fast indeed to do any good. Ulster in the past had catered for the beginner by running small and relatively unimportant road races, which were a very valuable training ground for the newcomer to the game, and he strongly hoped they would be revived after the war. To prevent inexperienced riders from competing in big events and being a possible danger to others, he wondered whether it would be a good thing to introduce the -system of dividing the riders into two classes, licensed and unlicensed, only the former being allowed to co nq mete in first-class events. This had been tried with some success in Germany before the war. Mr. Bell said the only point which he thought Mr. Woods had not dealt with was the choice of a machine. The beginner usually has to keep a close eye on the financial side, and he would do well, therefore, to acquire a well-known make., one that had proved itself over the years, and to prepare it very carefully with the help of his enthusiastic friends. Mr. MeCandlesa said that one point which had not been touched on was grass-track racing. He thought it a very good way of starting, as there was a lot of useful knowledge to be learned if the beginner could hold the machine and learn the art of proper balance. He had always not iced that after he had been competing over a slippery grass track, riding on the road, even over greasy tramlines, seemed comparatively easy. Another point in its favour was that even if the rider did cane off he did not get so severe a fall on the grass as he did on the road. The next question to be dealt with was the possibility of car and motor-cycle chills getting together more, and of their running joint meetings after the war. Mr. Neill thought it was a very good thing for the two sides of the Sport to co-operate more closely than they had done in the past, but as to running joint
events. the chief difficulty lay in finding a course suitable for both ears and motor-cycles. Mr. Woods agreed with this so far as trials were concerned. He added that he had raced motor-cycles over a road circuit on which a car race had just been held, and had found. it highly angerous, as the cars had left oil droppings and shreds of rubber front their tyres on the corners. A member of the audience then asked whether the Brains Trust thought there would be any events held 8.0Q11 after the war. Mr. Neill said the outlook was not too bright, mainly owing to the fact that before the Government would permit a road race to be held they required unlimited insurance cover for it, and this was, somewhat naturally, impossible to obtain. He hoped there had been a change of heart during time past five. years. Mr. Woods said time resumption of racing in the Irish Free State depended entirely on the tyre and fuel situation ; there were no worries about closing the roads. It therefore all depended on how soon the British Govermnent would allow these two necessities to be exported. (ha! suggestion he would like to make, and that was the closing of all approach roads to a circuit after the war in order to be in a position to make the public pay to watch the racing. The next question, ” Did the Brains Trust think that entry fees for Irish races were too high ?” found the general opinion to be that they were not. In answer to the questi(w, ” Why are road races held ? ” Mr. Wo(ak said most races were rim with I he object of giving pleasure to the org ausers, public and competitors. Some, liowever, were run fin. profit, while others were held to develop design. The next question dealt with the vexed subject of handicapping. A member of the audience said t hat road racing of recent years had become so specialised that time layman stood no chance at all in a scratch race. 11is only hope of gaining any SUCITSS was in handicap races : would tliesi. I:c continued after the war ? Mr. Bell was of the opinion that they should be continued. Mr. Patterson agreed, pointing out that. in a 1,500-e.e. scratch race, for instance, there were very few ears which stood any chance of winning, with the result. that a very small field came to the line. He thought this was a bad thing from the spectators’ point of view, for he did not think a field of ten cars or so produced a satisfactory race and that, within reason, the bigger the field the 1;etter. A handicap race was not altogether satisfactory, but it did seem to be the only way of obtaining a decent entry. Mr. ‘Woods was in favour of handicap events, but had some pertinent things to say about handicappers and the way they treated the scratch then. De was in favour of class rather than individual handicapping. It did not seem fair that if “A’ and ” B ” both owned identical ‘bikes or cars, “A’ should be penalised because he was a better rider or driver than ” B.” He also protested against the tendency of hamlicappers dealing lightly with entries about whose potential performance they knew nothing. He thought it was a great mistake to give the “dark horse” the benefit of the doubt. [Even class racing used to be abused by certain organisers, who did not use a straight-line graph, or who changed the requirements for one group only because of the previous year’s good showing by cars in that group.—ED.1
Mr. Neill said the only really successful race run in Northern Ireland was a handicap event, and it was the only way of giving everyone an equal chance. He was in favour of handicapping the car and not the driver. The next question dealt with post-war grass-track racing. The questioner said he had heard talk of a scheme to hold really big grass-track events after the war and to charge the public for admission. He said he had experienced difficulty in selling programmes even for the Ulster Grand Prix, which led him to wonder how much support would be forthcoming for such a scheme. He was also interested to know how they managed to attract such large crowds to motor-cycle racing on the Continent. Mr. Woods said motor-cycle racing had more prestige, and attracted far more public attention on the Continent. The Continental crowds got used to the idea when they were young that they would have to pay if they wanted to watch the racing, and they were far more used to discipline than we were. The only way to make a motor-cycle road-race a financial success was to close the approach roads to the circuit. The Continental crowds would agree to this, whereas the Irish crowds would begin to talk about their rights. He could not see the large-scale grass-track idea working. It would have to be run like the dirt tracks, with weekly meetings and visiting teams, and he did not think the country big enough to supply the necessary number of teams. A member of the audience suggested that the motoring interests ought to have a representative in Parliament. While the Brains Trust agreed, they could not see it happening. The next question was, that if it could be shown to the satisfaction of the Government that the crowds would be controlled, would they not be satisfied with a lower insurance premium ? Mr. Neill said the control of crowds was a very difficult matter, and he had his doubts about it.
“Would a revival of the Irish End-toEnd Trial be possible after the war ? “
was the next question. Mi. Bell said the idea had been much discussed of late and he hoped it would be. Mr. Woods said that the success of failure of these events depended on the entries received. If there were enough people interested, he thought the clubs would join together in running it. Trials were the subject of the next question : “Would the postwar events be short and severe, or would they be like the 1933-4 events ? ” Mr. Woods said he thought they would be short, as long trials were apt to include rather dull rides along a road to the next section. Whenever trials are discussed, someone is bound to raise the eternal tyre question, and the Brains Trust grappled with the “competition or standard” problem, deciding in favour of the competition type. The question of tyres having been raised, someone then asked whether it is better to fit a large or a small-section tyre to a machine with a spring frame ? Mr. Woods said he was all in favour of the large section, and mentioned that, when riding the Guzzi, he used a larger section than the rest of the team and ran at a lower pressure. The questioner then asked if there is any danger of roll with a large-section tyre. Mr. McCandless said he thought there was, but Mr. Woods disagreed, saying the danger of pushing a back wheel out from below one was greater with a small tyre. Mr. McCandless said that while he hesitated to disagree with Mr. Woods, he had found in the course of experimental work with touring machines that a smallsection tyre effected a considerable improvement in the handling. He thought it was all a question of unsprung weight. The only way to keep this low was to use either an alloy wheel or a small-section tyre, and he thought the latter was preferable. It was suggested that the large tyre might be necessary on racing machines to transmit the power, just as the Germans were compelled to use huge rear tyres on their Grand Prix cars for the same reason. Somebody then wanted to know whether there was any great snag in getting possession of a redundant airfield after the war and laying out a racing circuit over its perimeter tracks and runways. Mr. Neill thought the chief snag was a financial one. It would be necessary to provide safety fencing and a staff to control the crowds. The cost might be offset to some extent by letting the arable land inside the circuit to farmers for grazing, etc. Mr Woods said he thought it would be cheaper to start from scratch, buying up some place like Doning,ton Hall. Before an airfield could be used, many of the buildings would have to be pulled down and all the roads would have to be rebuilt to stand up to racing speeds. [Surely the same, as far as the road is concerned, applies to most country parks ?—ED.] The next question concerned the eligibility of supercharged cars for the T.T. Mr. Neill said he hesitated to answer, for once superchargers were fitted, there were so many ways in which the scrutineers could be hoodwinked. Mr. Woods thought that, provided standard cars were used as a basis, blowers should be permitted. In his opinion, the faster the car could be made to go the better. [The difficulty is that if superchargers are allowed on engines not normally supercharged, every other modification must be permitted those who engine normally aspirated cars, whereas the T.T. regulations expressly limit the modifications permissible from standard.—ED.] A member of the audience pleaded for closer co-operation with the Army. They took a keen interest in motor-cycling, and he asked if they could not be represented by an officer at club meetings and events. Mr. Neill thought it was possible with motor-cycles but not with cars. Mr. Woods was in favour of it and the Irish Free State Army and the motorcycling clubs had co-operated to a certain extent in the past, although the enthusiasm for motor-cycling was not so widespread in the South as it was in Ulster. Mr. Bell said it had been tried in 1942 before the basic ration came to an end. The Ards Motor Cycling Club, for instance, had helped to organise a few Army trials and had provided instructors at these trials. He did not think, however, that the Army would he interested after the war. [Four-wheeled vehicles played as great a part as two-wheelers on all fronts, in general, so why the Army should forget this with the peace we cannot comprehend. —ED.]
The discussion was then closed and a hearty vote of thanks passed to the various members of the Brains Trust for their contribution to making it such a success.