One of Britain fastest and most renowned racers of historic cars is also the head of a leading race preparation and restoration business. Paul Lawrence chatted with Martin Stretton about his racing team.
When did you set up Martin Stretton Racing?
“I started the business in 1988 almost by accident. I started it to try and help my racing. Very early on I met a gentleman called Mike Hayward, who remains a very good friend, and persuaded him to buy me a Formula 2 Cooper to drive with HGPCA. The first time I raced it I got a letter from the HGPCA telling me a Formula 2 Cooper wasn’t supposed to go like that! I wish I’d kept that letter. He raced as well as and we then got a 2.5-litre Cooper T51 which was a great car to drive and I had a lot of success with.”
Was there a pivotal moment in the formation of the team?
“That was the ex-Rob Walker Connaught B Type, which David Duffy kindly asked me to drive in the early days of the Silverstone Classic. It was much to my surprise that he asked me and I was delighted. I had three laps of free practice and three laps of free qualifying when I was fortunate enough to get pole and then won both races. In those days it was magic for me and that was when people started asking me to drive cars. It was very much the catalyst for me and I didn’t quite realise how life-changing it would be. If I’d realised how big it would be, I’d have probably wilted under the pressure. But I was just so made up to be driving such a fantastic car. I raced the Connaught for a couple of years and we had a lot of success.”
How has the business changed?
“The business started as a restoration business with a bit of racing and has evolved over the years and now everything we do in the workshop is to do with going racing. It’s a great business to be in and you get some great customers. Looking after your customers and seeing the smile on their faces is the most important thing. For about 25 years I’ve quietly run a coaching school down in South Wales and you learn a lot about teaching people and a lot of the time you are making a car that will give them the most confidence. It is surprising what gives people confidence and when you are coaching people, you learn how differently people drive. You also have to learn at what level people want to compete, and spend. Sometimes I end up sponsoring cars because I spend more money than I should to get the car right. I do a lot of testing for other people as well. Business is great and it’s a very friendly business. You talk with your rivals, because they are friends as well.”
What are the challenges the business faces?
“The biggest problem we have is finding good staff. Russell Shepherd has been with me for 20 years, he’s known as ‘no fuss Russ’. He’s one of the best guys out there and we’ve been together longer than most marriages, which is not too bad. At the workshop we have between 30 and 40 cars, some of which are fallow. The main workshop has about 16 cars, so we’re always shifting them around. I have a core staff and then some very good contract professionals who are capable of running cars to a high level, so if we have 10 cars at the Silverstone Classic it’s not a problem. You need the right people and the commitment of these guys is fantastic.”