Saturday 2 September 2023

Obituary - David Barlow, 1946 - 2023

Digby … David Ian Gunn Barlow, 1946 - 202

Scottish motor sport suffered another very sad loss yesterday when David ‘Digby’ Barlow passed away.

If you wanted a quiet life, David Barlow was one of those folk best avoided. This quiet, unassuming, very polite gentleman would engage anyone in conversation leaving most folks thinking the world was a better place with chatty, friendly types like him around. On the other hand if an opinion was expressed or an interest mentioned which were in tune with his own thoughts and interests, then the chat could take on a more ‘sinister’ turn.

The outcome of such conversations could have the listener volunteering for a bout of rally marshalling, club organisation work or even getting more involved at the sharp end of rallying, and all the while thinking it was their own idea. The word ‘sleekit’ comes to mind, but only in the nicest possible way.

And so it was that when he created and launched the Junior 1000 Ecosse series for 14-17 year olds way back in 2012, those talents were put to good use as he assembled a team of willing ‘volunteers’ around him to put his ideas into practice. In all fairness he was a good listener, but if those suggestions didn’t measure up they were given short shrift. The result was a safe and controlled environment for ambitious young drivers to gain an affordable foothold in the sport from which valuable lessons, skills and habits could be learned and put to good use in the years to come.

A stockbroker and entrepreneur by day, David was a rally fan by night and weekend. Like most folk of his generation he started with a Mini Cooper S in 1970 contesting local navigational rallies but the lure of the forests sucked him into stage rallying. First and foremost he was a realist and knew he was never going to threaten the podiums or the prize lists but that’s not why he went rallying. He took up the sport simply for the fun and the thrill.

He enjoyed the cars as much as the sport hence his varied choice of cars. After the Mini came a Ford Escort TC, RS1700 and Group 4 Escort rallied throughout the 1970s. The trouble was, running a Group 4 car was pretty expensive so he switched to an alternative form of competition with the proliferation of ‘one-make’ challenges in the 1980s. He competed in the initial Vauxhall Nova and Astra Challenges where limited modifications to the cars ensured a much more competitive element to the contest.

That led to what he regarded as his best result ever – when he beat Colin McRae! In the 1987 Scottish Rally Championship David finished the season eighth in the Group A Class Up to 1800cc, two points clear of Colin who finished tenth. The mere fact that Colin only scored points on one Scottish round that year was somehow overlooked in the re-telling of the tale!

To be fair, David rarely contested a full championship season himself so his end of season championship placings were not truly representative of his talent behind the wheel. He was indeed a more than competent amateur driver.

Thoughts of hanging up his driving gloves were already in his mind but he relished one final fling and bought the ex-Stewart Robertson Talbot Sunbeam Lotus in 1989 – the last ever works rally car built by the factory team. In July he contested the Jim Clark Memorial Rally with Ian Flockhart but retired the car with an engine problem. However he was back out on September’s Kingdom Stages with Ian where he finished 47th overall – third last! A six minute ‘off’ on SS12 (of 14) ruining a possible top twenty finish although a 28th overall finish on the end of season Trossachs Rally was a better result for him and Ian.

Outings were sporadic thereafter, picking and choosing championship and non-championship events as when he could fit them in to his own busy business schedule but on the 1990 Kingdom Stages, he and Ian finished 20th overall and sixth in class. That was followed with a 34th on the Hackle and 25th on the Trossachs.

It was on one of his final events that he scored the best result of his career when he and Jim Noble finished 11th overall and fifth in class on an event which meant so much to him, Dunfermline Car Club’s Scotphone Stages Rally. After which David said: “This was the most expensive and enjoyable rally car I ever bought and there was a tear in my eye when it was sold.”

A former director of Dunfermline Car Club, it could be argued that David put much more back into the sport than he derived from it, and perhaps his lasting legacy will be the inspirational Junior 1000 Ecosse Rally Championship which he devised, created and managed along with his enlisted ‘volunteers’.

Over the past decade this competition series for 14-17 year olds in one litre cars has introduced over 180 youngsters and their families to the sport in a safe, friendly and affordable format – if anything in rallying can be called affordable! But for those desperate to try rallying and gain valuable experience, this series offered a serious opportunity with quite a few going on to bigger and better things in ‘senior’ rallying.

In 2016, David was nominated by the Scottish Association of Car Clubs for the UK-wide JLT MSA Volunteer of the Year awards which he duly won for his persistence in improving access to the sport for all.

A stalwart of Scottish Motorsport for five decades, having been a marshal, Clerk of the Course, a co-ordinator, commentator and competitor, he received a trophy and £1,000. It was after this that he earned the unofficial title of “Saint Digby” in certain sections of the Scottish motor sporting press!

It is said that no-one is indispensable, but looking around the current leaders and office bearers within Scottish motor sport, there is no obvious candidate who could fill his racing boots.

Our condolences to Hilary and the two ‘boys’, Lee and Chris, his wider family and huge circle of friends.

R.I.P. Saint Digby

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