FLAME & FORTUNE
ERIC THOMPSON’S RACING HAD TO PLAY SECOND FIDDLE TO A DEMANDINGJOB IN THE CITY, BUT HE PACKED A LOT INTO HIS ALL-TOO-RARE OUTINGS — ESCPECIALLY IN THE GOOD WOOD NINE HOURS. BY PAUL FEARNLEY DURING THE TWO WEEKS’ HOLIDAY (AND EVERY THIRD
Saturday) when he wasn’t brolcing at Lloyds, Eric Thompson would take his jacket off, tuck his trousers into his socks and go motor-racing. This ad hoc approach did not, however, consign him to midfield clubbie obscurity. Far from it.
His second-ever race was the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hours in a HRG Lightweight alongsideiadc Fainnan. They finished eighth, first in class. One week later, they doubled up with a class win in the Spa 24 Hours.
Thompson, a late starter at 28, had already caught the eye: from 1950 to ’54 (he retired from racing in ’55), he would be an Aston works driver. He would also drive for Rob Walker and Connaught. It was with one of the latter’s A-Types that he finished fifth in his one and only GP appearance, the 1952 British.
With Aston Martin, he finished third in the 1951 Le Mans (with Lance Macklin) and second in the 1953 TT at Dundrod (with Reg Parnell), having won that year’s Goodwood Nine Hours (with Parnell).
Despite this success, motor-racing was never more than a hobby: “I had a living to make and there was no money in racing in those days.” So Eric was happy to be one of Aston’s talented amateurs (Pat Griffiths and Dennis Poore) who ably supported their band of pros (Reg Parnell, Peter Collins and Roy Salvadori). This was not to condemn him to short stints designed to keep the car on the island while his co-driver had a nap. Far from it This modest man was damn good. At Goodwood in 1953, “Uncle” Reg Parnell took the first stint, handing over the DB3S to Eric after
70 hard laps. Thompson then pounded round for 77 more, whereupon Parnell jumped back in. After just 22 laps, though, he was back, having suffered puncture. A new Avon fitted, he roared out for 53 more laps.
Their final scheduled stop was at 9.45pm. Before Eric hopped aboard, Reg explained that the clutch was refusing to disengage. Tyres on, fuel in, Eric lurched back into the darkness on the starter motor. He was fourth, four laps behind the leading Jaguar, with 2hr 15min to go. But he knew from experience that anything could happen.
In the previous year’s race he had brought his DB3 into the pits with smoke pouring from its tail. Unusually Parnell was not poised on the pit counter. Instead he grabbed Eric by the arm and marched him to the front of the car, which promptly went up in a ball of flame.
“We had planned to do short stints, the idea being to keep the drivers fresh and the cars light,” says Thompson, “but it wasn’t working and we changed strategy. Because of this there was confusion with a fuel chum and they overfilled the car. And whoosh!” A red-hot seized rear brake caliper was the ‘spark’.
‘Anything’ again happened in 1953, and Eric swept past the chequer, in the dead of night, in front of a small, tired crowd. The prize money went to the team as did the trophy. “I haven’t got a single pot from any of my exploits with Aston Martin.” As usual, he would thank John Wyer for a “very enjoyable weekend” and put his jacket back on. CI