Thursday 30 November 2023

Rally - Whisky and Books

Perfection … The telephone rang. The voice was awfy familiar, but there were no yapping wee Corgi dugs in the background – so it couldn’t be ‘her’. However, it was indeed rallying royalty

“Hello, John. I’ve got just the very thing,” said the voice, “what better way to sit back, relax and read your books than having a wee dram in your hand to savour the taste while appreciating the content?

Of course, she’s right. And to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of her winning the 1990 FIA Ladies World Rally Championship, indeed the first Brit to win a world rallying title, Louise Aitken-Walker has launched her very own whisky brand.

But this is no ordinary whisky. This is not ‘drinking’ whisky, this is ‘sipping’ whisky. Unlike the traditional Highland or Lowland malts, Louise has opted for a rather special and exclusive grain whisky blend curated for her own personal taste.

It is also sumptuously packaged and available for us ordinary mortals to purchase, but with one proviso. There will be only 490 bottles and that number is already reducing.

To order a bottle (or two) don’t expect to pop into the garage at Duns and buy one when filling the car with petrol, do it on-line here:

Furthermore, it is whispered in learned whisky circles that this may be very similar to the nectar of the gods, primarily the ancient Scottish deity, Queen Beira herself, also known as the Guardian of the Life Force. And so it is fitting that this rather special and palate soothing potion will indeed provide the ideal accompaniment for those of you sitting back with a copy of ‘The Scottish Rally Championship 1980-1989’ and to make it last longer why not also buy a copy of ‘Knockhill, 50 Years of Racing’.

So get your chill-out kit here:




Tuesday 28 November 2023

Racing - Knockhill - The Book

More reading material … As if one book designed to trigger the old memory box wasn’t enough, along comes another one, this time from Stuart Gray at Knockhill, and what a trip down the memory pit lane and racetrack that provides. It nearly brought a tear to my eye.

The ‘Knockhill 50 Years of Racing’ book will mark the circuit’s official 50th anniversary next year and is available now. You can order online, phone Knockhill on 01383 723337 or pick up a copy from the Circuit Office.

I’m still working my way through it because every few pages I have to stop and have a ponder. In fact I had to buy a box of Kleenex Man-Size tissues just to cope with the multiple flashbacks as I flicked through the pages, recalling the names, remembering the sights and re-imagining the sounds.

What some of you may not know is that I used to commentate on some of the early race meetings at Knockhill, long before it became Scotland’s National Motor Sport Centre. Back then, individual car clubs ran the meetings while the circuit provided the venue, so there was no ‘resident’ individual commentator. As a race reporter for ‘Motoring News’ I was often asked to provide the commentary and that led on to commentating on rallies when the circuit hosted special stages or complete rallies, so the circuit means a lot to me.

But amongst the memories that Stuart’s book has stirred up was one where a bloke called Andy Jeffrey was racing in the Production Saloon Car class at one race meeting. Andy was a car dealer in the far east (Edinburgh area) and mixed in dubious company (including one J C Cleland Esq) and so I knew him quite well. Well enough to indulge in the tiniest wee bit of slagging about his driving prowess.

Anyway the race ended, and as Andy’s BMW pulled up in the Pits, the door was flung open and a wee figure jumped out still wearing its crash helmet and stomped over to the circuit barrier, vaulted it and strode purposefully across the track heading for the chicken shack on stilts (the original commentary box) then across the grass to climb the shoogly ladder to my elevated position where he proceeded to harangue the aforesaid commentator about his bias, disrespect and criticism of his excellent car control and skilful racing manoeuvres.

Apparently, Andy had been driving with his window down and had heard every word over the circuit loudspeakers because the Production cars were all virtually silent!

Now it has to be said that I accidentally and inadvertently – to be sure - kept the microphone open so the vast (?) crowd heard the slagging match that was going on in the commentary box throughout this discourse on Andy’s driving ability and the commentator’s colourful race descriptions.

I can’t imagine that being allowed these days, Derek would have a fit, but Andy and I remained pals after it – I think!

Knockhill has certainly changed out of all recognition since those early days a tribute to Derek and his hard working team and one of which they can all be proud. Stuart’s book charts the progress and the rise to become one of the country’s most accessible circuits providing the best spectating opportunities and some of the best racing in the country whether on two, three or four wheels.

You know what? I have to admit Stuart’s book is nearly (very nearly!) as good as mine. But then of course, I’m biased – just ask Andy Jeffrey.

And if you want to beat the Christmas post, best act sooner rather than later:

Thursday 23 November 2023

Rally - R.A.C. Rally

Change of Plan …. Plans to be out and about this weekend on the rally with a stock of books in the back of the van have had to be shelved. Apparently it will be too cauld and wet for auld gits, so how the rest of you will manage I have no idea. Still the thought of mixing with the expected hordes of anoraks and bobble hats is going to be hard to resist although the assorted variety of coughs, sniffs, sneezes and dripping noses are best avoided at this time of year.

Having said that, the Ford Motor Company must be turning in its electrified junction box of a grave at the thought of fleets of Ford Escorts charging through the weather and the woods long after they were supposed to be destined only for museums, private automotive collections and the scrappie must be hard to bear. Despite the millions that were originally spent on designing the Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts to be perfect saloon conveyances for the masses, private enterprise and ambitious individuals have stepped up the development to another level to create a sporting thoroughbred. Today’s ‘modern’ Escorts are but ghostly silhouettes of past life.

Not only that, the anticipated thousands who will be attracted out of centrally heated homes and away from large screen TVs will be celebrating not just Ford’s icons from the past, but those automotive products of rival manufacturers – and of course, certain other manufacturers who are no longer manufacturing!

Which brings thoughts of the 1970s to mind with their predictions and surveys which suggested that at its peak the RAC Rally would attract some two million souls to jam the roads and throng the woods in pursuit of watching this exotic machinery in its natural habitat. And not just the machinery but the stars of their time who captivated, thrilled and enthused with their skills, antics and endeavours.

And it seems it is happening all over again going by the crowds who turned out in Wales at the R.A.C. Rally Start while social media is awash with fans old, young and new seeking to make the effort to don boots, wellies, scarves and gloves to brave the elements. That all evokes memories of sleeping overnight in cramped cars with ice encrusted condensation dripping on the occupants just so that a good spectating spot could be found ahead of the crowds and at the front of the queue.

Then in the morning the senses were alerted with the firing up of the gaz or paraffin pressure stove and frying pan with its assortment of sizzling and singed, bacon and sausages to be stuffed into dry rolls and washed down with scalding tea. Sights, sounds and smells we’re unlikely to experience ever again – but maybe this weekend?

Anyway, the reason for this trip down memory stage is that way back in 1995 the World Rally Teams Association commissioned a survey which found that the Network Q RAC Rally attracted 2.1 million spectators of which 85,000 paid for entry to the ‘spectator specials’. The survey concluded that rallying was the biggest spectator draw in most countries the FIA World series visited. However, it must be said that perhaps ‘the Colin factor’ played its part in those numbers!

No matter, this weekend might just prove something about the sport, not just to our own dearly beloved Motorsport UK but to the blinkered and blazered coterie of motor racing afficionados in Paris, France. But are they listening and watching?

Anyway to those of you who might be denied the opperchancity of purchasing a book for cash live in the open air, you’ll just have to settle for going on-line!

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Eric Bryce, 1937-2023

Another sad loss, and it’s a wee bit personal … Back in the days when cameras used roll film, had no automatic focussing or exposure setting, and lenses were all fixed-focus and apertures had to be manually set, photography was a skill and an art form in its own right.

There had to be technical knowledge too, choosing the correct ‘speed’ of film and processing procedures to minimise ‘graining’ in the final shots and then long hours in the dark room developing the film before printing the actual photographs themselves. Having mastered the technical expertise a photographer then had to be able to choose and compose his/her required shots, position him or herself in the right location to capture an action shot and then be quick enough to press the trigger once the aperture and speed had been set.

The difference between a good photographer and an excellent photographer could be measured in thousandths of a second back in the early days of motor racing and rallying and Eric Bryce was not just a good or an excellent photographer, he was a master of his technology and art.

A farmer by day and photographer for fun Eric spent most weekends in the 1950s and 1960s photographing motor racing at Charterhall and Winfield as well as local car rallies and in the process capturing the early motor sporting forays of a man called Jim Clark and other local hot-shots.

When the Borders circuits finally closed, Eric started attending the new circuit at Ingliston in the late 1960s where he encountered a cheeky young would-be photographer and reporter. Unlike some of the other more established ‘professionals’ at that time Eric was not in the least bit wary or jealous of any newcomers.

A quiet, polite man, he wasn’t openly helpful and didn’t try to teach, but he would chat and make suggestions and answer any questions that were asked. That was surely the best way to teach and advise a newcomer – being ‘taught’ without being ‘instructed’. He was always willing to show off his equipment and he always had the best of Nikon gear.

Apparently this came from another local source. Andrew Cowan did a lot of business in Japan and was perhaps better known in the far east for his rallying exploits than he was here at home but each time he visited Japan he came back with the latest Nikon gear for Eric. Oddly enough, there was never any mention of cost for this most expensive equipment – or whether taxes and duty had been paid!

As Clark spread his wings Eric followed him south and photographed many races and grand prix chronicling Clark’s rise through the ranks, but he didn’t venture abroad. He was first and foremost a farmer, working the family farm at Gordon near Duns.

He also photographed local shows and Point to Point horse races throughout the Borders, as well as the Jim Clark rallies, so his output was both varied and prolific.

He spoke quietly which made folk think he was shy, but there was a twinkle in his eye and his stories were full of fun and mischief of those early days and once he started talking time just slipped away.

The last time we met was at a Club Lotus ‘do’ outside the Museum in Duns. The original cloth cap or bunnet had given way to a much-faded baseball cap, but otherwise he was just the same kindly man who had been so generous to an upstart fifty years before.

His files will provide an undoubted treasure trove of images gathered over the years and hopefully we’ll get to see some of them. There is however a book which was recently produced by the Jim Clark Trust called “Clark Through the Lens” which features some of Eric’s photographs and that is now on my Christmas list:

Sadly, Eric passed away quite suddenly last week. He was 86, a lovely, kind, gentle, polite and helpful man - and a really great photographer.

Monday 20 November 2023

Rally - A nice wee surprise

The mark of a true gentleman … This morning a wee surprise turned up in the post, a handwritten note in a hand written addressed envelope from ‘The Boss’.

Last week I delivered a copy of ‘The Scottish Rally Championship 1980-1989’ book to Tunnock’s Bakery in Uddingston to thank them for their support and thought no more of it - till this morning.

It was a wee note from Boyd Tunnock himself thanking me for the book and added some personal, very kind and supportive comments. What a thoughtful and gracious gesture.

Or maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, what else would one expect of Saint Tunnock’s of Biscuitry?

Friday 17 November 2023

Rally - Book selling fast

Phew! … barely two weeks since the book launch at the Coltness Car Club open night and a third of the books are now gone. Feedback has been embarrassingly positive but there have been two main requests for the next book – more stories and more detailed photo captions!

However there is one story in the current book which has prompted one question – is it true? It concerns young Colin’s first drive on a special stage on a rally. Was it on the 1985 Kames or the end of season Galloway Hills? It couldn’t have been before those two events, could it? He was surely under age?

Oddly enough, the ‘other party’ who was involved in this escapade was at the book launch, and he’s still not saying!

Saturday 11 November 2023

Rally - Buy The Book !!

A dedicated sales portal (that’s computer jargon!) for sales of the book ‘The Scottish Rally Championship 1980-1989’ has been created. Subsequent books in the series, as and when they become available, will also be made available on this specialist web site.

The site looks a bit plain at present but some chrome trim and dangly dice will be added in days to come. Just want to make sure it is fully functional before we make it fancy. The new site is live NOW!

The price is £35 per volume, plus £5 P&P per book, so anyone looking for a copy/copies of this unique 216 page publication (with over 350 photographs) from now on should use the link below:

And the name? The ‘Fife Motor Sports Agency’ (FMSA) was created way back in 1980 to handle all types of motor and motor cycle sporting press, promotional and PR tasks but rather faded into the background as full time journalism took hold. So this new venture was as good a reason as any to revive it for this new internet presence.

Retirement? Nope. I quickly realised that I can’t stop writing – and I’ve got a couple more ideas up my sleeve.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Rally - Book launch success

Overwhelmed … surprised, delighted, extremely grateful and most definitely embarrassed. I really didn’t expect that folk would want their books signed. I always thought ‘book signings’ were for famous authors and sporting stars. Yes, I did have a pen with me, but that’s because I always carry a pen - and a notepad! Old habits die hard.

Last night exceeded any expectations I may have had. The Coltness Car Club monthly gatherings regularly attract 20 or 30 diehards and more, but last night the place was fair hoachin’ wi’ fowk from all over. Past and present rally champions, club members and visitors, from Elgin and Insch in the north to Duns and Dumfries in the south, gathered together in a bowling club tucked away in a wee village in Lanarkshire. What a motley gathering. My only complaint was I couldn’t get round them all to have word – I sat on my *rs* all night signing bluidy books!

I arrived ahead of schedule intending to put up some stakes and rally arrows to help guide the visitors but there was already a queue at the door! I don’t know how many folk were there, but the function suite seats 90 and there were lots of standing huddles as folk mixed and chatted, catching up with long lost friends and acquaintances.

But what a wonderful show of support with James Gibb, the book’s sponsor, even dropping in on the gathering, Malcolm and Robert all the way from Mabie and Fergus dropped by too, but was teacakeless!

Mind you, it was all due entirely to them that the book made it to the printers. My grateful thanks to 5 Star Vehicle Deliveries, Tunnock’s Bakeries, Dommy Buckley at RSC, Andrew Wood Motorsport and Pirelli, Molplant Construction, Mabie House Hotel, Royal Aero and of course the Scottish Rally Championship itself. Without them it simply wouldn’t have happened. And of course, a special thanks to Big Jim and The Bears for arranging the venue and allowing me to gatecrash their monthly gathering.

As for those who were’nt there I’ll let you know when the advert goes live on Ebay and possibly one other website which is currently being worked on.

What also might be of interest is the Veterans of Scottish Motorsport Assocation AGM and Dinner this Friday night the 10th of November at the Radstone Hotel. I have been allowed to attend the pre-dinner arrival to deliver some ordered books so if anyone else wants one while I’m there I’ll have a supply with me!

However, it looks as though there will be a cost. I might just have to join the Association -  even though I’m far too young for a ‘Veterans’ club.

Meanwhile I’ll get on with the Ebay and ordering arrangements – watch this space.

And finally, my most sincere thanks to all who attended last night, “you made my day!”

Thursday 2 November 2023

Rally Book - Great expectations

Some folk seem to be getting awfy excited about this book and I just hope they’re not too disappointed when they get it!

What started during lockdown as a single volume look-back on sixty plus years of the Scottish Rally Championship quickly evolved into a multi-volume record of past championship seasons. That was because of the amount of information that was being left out and so a plan to produce one volume for each decade was evolved. Trouble was there was little in the way of paperwork and records from the early days so a lot of digging and chasing around has been underway and is ongoing.

However, it was easy to start with the 1980s since I had personally kept everything from then until I retired last year. 

Having decided that, writing commenced. Early drafts were shown to close friends. Changes were required. It was too dry, more like a historical reference book than a romp through rallying so a compromise was sought and a format confirmed.

This first volume therefore comprises four sections. Totalling 101 rally reports the first section includes a report on each round of the annual series with top ten results and class winners.

Please note the use of the term class winners. In most rallies the front runners are often excluded from class awards at prizegivings. That can cause a headache for championship co-ordinators as championship points are scored by actual class winners, not class award winners. There is a difference.

Although intended to be a work of reference and a factual record of events, the content also had to be readable and attractive so long reports and long lists of results was a non-starter. I just hope folk agree that the mix is now right.

As for the other three sections they are all photography based. No doubt there will be some folk who feel aggrieved that they are not included but I could only use what I have. I didn’t set out all those years ago to take pictures of everybody, every car and every event for the purpose of writing a book, so it was simply matter of making a selection from what was available. In my defence some folk were more amenable and approachable than others!

I make no apology for introducing a separate ‘McRae’ chapter given the family’s impact on the sport whilst the other two sections simply feature a variety of photographs which hopefully will trigger each individual reader’s own personal memories and recollections of people and events long since passed. For that reason I have deliberately included many of the clubmen and women who make up the majority of rally entries and not just the rally ‘stars’.

Perhaps of particular interest the book notes the beginnings and rise of three of our four world rally champions, Colin McRae, Derek Ringer and Robert Reid with never before seen photographs and tales. And although she commenced her rallying career in the late 1970s, Louise Aitken-Walker’s rise through the ranks is also noted.

Scotland has so far produced nine World Champions on four, three and two motorised wheels, of which four were World Rally titles. That’s not a bad record for a small country of some 6.5 million souls on the north western edge of Europe. 

Not bad at all.