Friday 26 June 2020

Rally - Mull 30 years ago

The organisers of the 2020 Beatson's Mull Rally have stated that a final decision on whether this year's event will run or not will be taken by the team and the island on the 24th of July. By that time the picture will be clearer on lockdown/isolation rules.

Although it has been encouraging to note that such a relaxation is now underway, we daren't get ahead of ourselves. The folk who organise the rally have two major considerations, not just one. They not only need the goodwill and support of competitors, officials and spectators but they also need the permission of the islanders.

So far, the Isle of Mull is a Covid19 free zone so it is quite understandable that some folk are nervous about opening up their island to such an influx from all corners of the UK. For sure the island needs the income after a barren and difficult year but that has to be weighed against the risk to public health. A difficult decision looms - either way!

Anyway, I just thought it would be timely to reprint a Column which was written for Rally Sport Mag 30 years ago this year. This was written immediately after the running of the first Closed Road Rally on 'mainland' Britain. And yes, I know the Isle of Man is an island too, but IOM have their own 'Parliament' and laws whereas Mull is regulated by Westminster and also now Edinburgh.

History records that this momentous event was won by Andy Knight and Mike Corner in a rather special 1600cc 'lightweight' Vauxhall Nova which had been loaned to them by Kendal based Atkinsons Motor Sport. Neil MacKinnon was leading till his Escort's engine failed with second placed Knight taking over and crossing the finish line some 6 minutes clear of Ron Beecroft in his 2.3 Escort. History was made.

Anyway, here's the Column and as usual no changes have been made to the text. It reflects what happened and what was said at the time so if you are too young to recall some of the names then lift the phone and call one of the auld gits or club members and ask for information. They'll appreciate the call given these strange times in which we currently live ...

The Column ...
It's not only footballers who cry. At the prizegiving following the 21st Gemini Tour of Mull Rally I distinctly saw tears. They were perched precariously on the edges of Brian Molyneux's red rimmed eyes as it slowly dawned on him that he and the rest of his cohorts in 2300 Club had achieved a minor motor sporting miracle - the first ever closed public road stage rally on the `mainland' of Britain.

The rally set another record too. At an hour and forty minutes it was one of the longest post-event prizegivings in motor sport. The only folk who minded were those who were unable to squeeze into the already jam-packed Aros Hall in Tobermory High Street. Brian Molyneux was first to speak and he publicly thanked all those who helped, from loyal club members to local councillors, from regional authorities to the Houses of Parliament and there were words of praise too for the RAC MSA, the RSAC and long time supporters Shell.

There was silence in the hall for that emotional speech as the crowd realised they had just taken part in a little bit of motor sporting history. Then it was Taff's turn. The Welsh accent embellished his words as he sang the praises of one man, and it was this that tingled the tear ducts. After Brian had heaped praise on all those who had helped to make the event possible, Taff put the record straight, but for the tenacity and vision of one man, the whole project would never have happened. Brian Molyneux was 95% responsible for this unique event. A fact confirmed by Argyll & Bute Member of Parliament Mrs Ray Michie who steered the necessary Bill through Parliament.

The tears still hadn't quite fallen but Eddie O'Donnell put the matter beyond doubt when he made a presentation to Brian on behalf of the people of Mull. Two specially commissioned framed photographs were presented, one showing Tobermory Bay and the other depicting what Brian has often described as the most glorious sight ever, Glengorm Castle at sunset. That was it, handkerchief time!

The rally itself differed only slightly from past selective events. The route followed the traditional pattern of Friday night and Saturday night sections with a Saturday afternoon daylight run through the forests. It was however, shorter than usual with only around 70 miles of stages on each overnight run compared with over a hundred miles of selectives. This was a sensible move in light of the necessity for a problem-free inaugural event and entries had been restricted to 100 cars for similar reasons.

There were a few hiccups regarding the different Marshalling, Timing and route marking requirements but this was to be expected on their first attempt at a `proper' special stage rally. There was however, no shortage of manpower, and one marvels at the dedication of the Marshals who flock to the island annually, at their own expense. After years of experience, safety and communications offer little problem although the `Raynet' amateur radio group have to set up four hill-top relay stations to cover the whole island. It might come as a surprise to those who have never been to Mull, but this 350 square mile lump of grass and rockery off the west coast of Scotland is far from flat!

The road closure procedure worked pretty well too. It had to really, with three different Police traffic authorities represented on the island, increasing the normal Police presence from 5 to 14 officers. Two cars ran ahead of the rally, the first carried visiting dignitaries but it was the second traffic car which officially closed the route. After the rally had passed, the organisers had an `opening' car with illuminated roof-top sign bringing up the rear. Most spectators were pretty responsible and respected the road closure orders, but there was one minor panic when a drunk driver crashed through a `road closed' sign on Friday night at Dervaig. The Police then howled off in pursuit and quickly caught up with him to find that he was a likely customer for the wee green balloon. I can however deny the rumour that the Police had to send over to the mainland on Saturday morning for more disc pads for their Rover SD1!

The island of Mull is perhaps the only place in Britain at the moment that could host a closed public road rally. If anyone thinks this motor sporting precedent is about to herald a whole new way of rallying, then forget it. The costs and the paperwork would defy many organisers. Equally important, there has to be, not just the public will, but the active support of the local inhabitants. And that is where Mull scores. In this strictly controlled environment the vast majority of the 2,000 inhabitants are all for it. And then there's the atmosphere. Can you imagine any other event in the world which holds pre-event Scrutineering INSIDE the local distillery?

Sunday 21 June 2020

Rally - Before the Internet

Although many younger rally competitors and fans enjoy looking back at films and photographs of rallies past, featuring such historic delights as Minis, Chevettes, Sunbeams, Corollas and Escorts, they don't know much about the working background of the sport before mobile phones and laptop computers.

Indeed, 40 and more years back, most rally fans headed for home after an enjoyable day's spectating not really knowing who actually won the rally they had been watching. That included many competitors on that self same event who also went home not knowing how well or how poorly they had done. They had to wait for the Final Results to pop through their letter box anything up to 7 days later.

That was because the recently introduced computerised results services were really only used on International events like the Lombard RAC and RSAC Scottish. In fact it wasn't until Martin Liddle (Tynemouth Computer Services), known in some circles as 'Sparky the Electronic Wizard' came up with a self built computer encased in a plywood box in the late 1970s that the sport entered a 'new' age. 

Think about it, before computers, a Results Team had to calculate the individual stage times for entries of 100 cars, or more, contesting anything up to 10 or maybe 12 stages. Not just that, but Arrival Times and Passage Control times had to be checked and any Road Penalties calculated. No wonder fans and competitors left before Final Results were announced.

By the same token, the issue of field results and competitor information during an event became an industrial art form in its own right. Rally HQ would call up 'manned' telephone boxes and give the Marshals and Officials leaderboards and times ahead of the rally arriving at that point. The Marshals would chalk these up on blackboards for crews to note as they stopped to present their Time Cards.

It took an enterprising couple from Northern Ireland to come up with the best invention since thermos flasks. Some major events were already offering a field results system whereby times were printed off at remote locations on route and handed out to competitors, but what Brian and Liz Patterson did was take that a stage further with their 'RallyNews' bulletins.

Not only did they issue Provisional leaderboards, but Brian would add snippets of news and gossip. They also carried a small generator in the boot of their Volvo estate and a duplicator printer. This was a machine with an ink filled drum around which was wrapped a stencil. Using a manual ribbon-less typewriter balanced on her knees Liz 'cut' the stencils which were then taken to the duplicator in the boot, wrapped around the drum and hundreds of copies of their Results Bulletins were run-off within minutes.

Supplies were then given to volunteer Bulletin distribution crews whose job it was to distribute them free of charge to a wider audience.

It was a tremendous service. What made it so special was that Brian was often ahead of the official results teams. As he interviewed drivers for nuggets of information he asked the co-drivers what their times were and was able to compile a very provisional, but unofficial, top six or ten plus latest news. The 'RallyNews' service was soon in demand right across the British and Irish Isles.
The photos show the team at work on the 1981 Lombard RAC Rally with Liz typing up Brian's dictation notes in the front seat before manning (womanning?) the duplicator printer. It's perhaps also worthy of note that it was considered dangerous to approach Liz while she was typing, such were the tight deadlines to which the team were working. The unknowing would be quickly repelled by one of Liz's favourite sayings: "Dae ye waant a moothfae o' dandruff?" which was uttered in a bold but confident attempt at a Scottish accent!

This temporary base of operations (in the photographs) was just outside the rather quaint Moorcock Inn at Langdale End in the huge Dalby Forest complex. The location was chosen simply because it had a red telephone box near the stage exit and close to the pub. It was indeed a very busy phone box that night.
Regarding the Moorcock, I say 'quaint' but that's a polite term. Served up by the elderly proprietrix, Ada Martindale, there was more raw penicillin in the cheese sandwiches than in the medicinal stock room at Boots, either that or the 'furry blue' speckled bread had come out in sympathy with the blue cheese! The trouble was, one Information crew was so hungry that after a quick scrape of the stale bread with a blunt knife, the sandwiches were eaten.

This was indeed a much valued service back in the day, and one that was copied by a certain notorious character on the similar, but smaller scale, 'MullMurmurs' Bulletin service on the Isle of Mull for many years.

Aye, them were't days.

A longer version of this article is here:

Thursday 18 June 2020

Rally - 40 years ago

Just like the word 'awesome', the word 'hero' is over-used these days, to the point of almost meaningless mediocrity. For sure there are many folk young and old who perform exemplary acts or feats but to be a real hero surely requires much more audacity and bravery and possibly into the realms of superhuman effort and endurance. Surely it's all about going above and beyond what is regarded as normal.

Of course, there are indeed people who transcend the ordinary, whether you regard them as heroes is up to you, but there are four characters who have helped to shape my view of rallying. The first was Timo Makinen whose exploits in Minis, Austin Healeys and Escorts were full of unbelievable truths and tall tales. Closer to home, my second was the late Drew Gallacher, big man, big heart, huge talent. Of equal stature for many of the same, and indeed some different reasons was, and is, Ken Wood, engineering genius and gifted pilot - both on the ground and in the air. And then of course, there was Colin.

Anyway, the reason I mention  Gallacher and Wood is that they were an integral part of the fight for the 1980 Scottish Rally Championship title. This was the year that Gallacher scored his hat-trick of three in a row national titles bringing his tally then to a record breaking four Scottish titles (his first was in 1973) but if that statistic makes his fourth title sound pretty easy, it wasn't.

I have republished an article in the on-line mag which was written by my Big Pal Jaggy in a 1980 Scottish Championship newsletter and as you can guess, the big chap let his tongue run away from his brain.

The article was written immediately after the Esso Border Counties Rally which was both a counter in the BTRDA Championship at that time and Division 2 of the Scottish Championship. In other words, all the top crews from down south had assembled in the Tweed Valley to do battle with the Scots. The fun was fast and furious and the 'craic' was both colourful and plentiful.

This was one of the first events which elevated Wood into Makinen and Gallacher status as far as the author was concerned. However, a word of caution for those of faint heart and a weak constitution - there is some mild 'racism' portrayed in this report. What we used to call 'banter' back then, but reflective of the times, and so the report has been left as it was - the English readers can direct their wrath towards Jaggy, not me.

Anyway, the report has been republished as it was and I'll leave you to work out the nicknames and try and recognise/remember the others, cos that's half the fun, is it not?

Monday 15 June 2020

Rally - Training Day

A couple of weeks back I posted some photos from Scotland's first ever Rally Clerk of the Course Training Day, well, here's some more. In 1984 the Scottish Rally Championship together with the Scottish Motorsport Marshals Club organised a Marshal's Training Day at Blair Castle in Perthshire.

This was more than just a training seminar. It was an actual hands-on practical session where a proper forest stage was set up in the woods behind the castle with an Arrival Control, Stage Start, Flying Finish, Stop and Passage Control - and speeding rally cars.

All the marshals and would-be marshals were guided and shown through the process of setting up a stage, including the need for accurate siting of arrows and stage signage as well as using timing clocks and becoming familiar with the rally crew paperwork.

The event was also well supported by a number of drivers who had brought their rally cars and co-drivers to add a dash of realism and some young marshals actually got a run through the stage. That impressed upon them in graphic terms the need for accuracy when siting arrows and stage signage and ensuring that all signs were visible from a distance.

They even got fed, thanks to a donation from Golden Wonder with a supply of Pot Noodle/Rice and crisps. Some financial support also came from the government's 'Sport for All' campaign at the time.

This event was another first for Scottish rallying and when the Motor Sports Association posed the question: "Why are you doing this?"
Back came the response: "Because YOU are not!"

Back then the MSA seemed to regard themselves as purely the law makers and regulators. Little thought was given to the publicity and promotion of amateur sport whilst training appeared to be left primarily to those race circuit based marshalling organisations and the growing 'professionalism' of rally clubs.

It was a time when the amateur clubs were taking the lead and taking responsibility because leadership from above was distinctly lacking. It seemed that the emphasis there was all to do with control and governance.

Hopefully with a new structure and new leadership in place at the revamped Motorsport UK, things can and will progress in a more positive and democratic manner. I said hopefully.

Anyway back to our training day. It proved to be a most worthwhile exercise. The 'classroom' session was held in the Castle's restaurant where the main group photograph was taken. Amongst this eager and youthfully enthusiastic brigade you might just spot one bright eyed young teenager in the middle of the front row who went on to become a World Champion.

Perhaps the most worrying thing is just how many of those hopeful, optimistic young things are still doing today what they did back then, only slower, with more creaks and groans, aches and pains, and topped off with grey beards and even greyer hair. 

How many can you spot?