Sunday 7 January 2024

Hugh Steel, 1950-2023

The year 2023 ended on a deeply sad note with the news that Hugh (Shug, Shooey, Uncle Shooey) Steel lost his long fight with cancer. That means the sport of rallying in Scotland will be quieter in the years to come, much quieter.

Truth be told, folk would hear him long before they saw him. If it wasn’t the laughter it was the insults. Forget kind words and bonhomie, no one was safe from his caustic wit. Even greeting close friends was accompanied by some insult or in Scottish terms a ‘slagging’ before the banter was engaged. In fact if you weren’t insulted, you felt insulted for being left out!

Of course that was all a front. Although he would never admit to it, there was a kind heart and generous nature lurking behind that bold fa├žade and many, many competitors, crews and rally fans will be only too well aware of that side of this larger than life personality.

When it came to driving rally cars, he would be the first to admit publicly that everyone else was rubbish (or words to that effect!) but to be perfectly honest, it was entirely unlikely that he would ever threaten a rally podium.

Of course he knew that only too well within himself but would never admit it publicly. Nope, according to the bold Hugh, he was the guy who nurtured the talent of a young and impressionable Colin McRae and later Alister and also took some credit for Jim’s early success when he provided servicing back-up on the senior McRae’s early rallying forays! Modesty was not one of his attributes.

A stalwart of Coltness Car Club, Hugh helped out many young aspiring rally drivers offering advice to the likes of Robbie Head and Neale Dougan in the early days – whether they wanted it or not.

In fact, he was a plumber, heating engineer and hotelier before a stint as a garage proprietor with the Autofit premises in Stonehouse becoming a boisterous, banterous haven for club members and local rally fans all willing to be slagged-off to within an inch of their lives.

Behind the bluster there was indeed intelligence and mechanical skills and the many rally cars he built, maintained and repaired will bear testimony to that.

Hugh never doubted his talent. He was a competent, consistent midfield runner but could have improved on that if he had contested more events more often, but that’s not what rallying was about for Hugh. It was for fun, a break from business, a chance to banter with like minded folks. Throughout his driving career since 1981 he had a succession of 1600 and 2 litre Ford Escort Mk2s although it has been said that he only had one set of number plates!

Of course, that’s not quite true, but when he first received his diagnosis, he responded in typical fashion. He replaced the Escort/s with a Subaru Impreza for a final few flings through the forests and around the Berwickshire and Isle of Mull roads.

Perhaps fittingly his final rally outing was the McRae Rally Challenge at Knockhill in 2022 but the car broke down. At that point the air turned blue, not from oil smoke but from the cursing and swearing that emanated from the driving seat. Naturally, back in the service park, gales of laughter flowed like the Knockhill weather and onlookers could be forgiven for thinking that he had been leading the rally at the time and would have won had it not been for a mechanical malfunction. Yet another potential victory snatched from his grasp through no fault of his own!!

Goodnight sweetcheeks, you will be sorely missed.

Condolences to Jannette, David and Susan, his wider family and his legions of pals, friends and insultees.

His funeral service will take place on Wednesday, January 10th at South Lanarkshire Crematorium, 31 Sydes Brae, Blantyre, G72 0TL at 15.00hrs, thereafter all are invited to Strathaven Golf Club for a celebration of his life.

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