Early days...(part one)
Peter Venn tells the tale of life in Mono over the past 30 years.
After I told him of my intention to return to Mono, Tony asked me if I would sometime write a few lines about my early days in Mono. It has only taken about a year to get around to it….I should at this stage explain that I am responsible for Tony getting into Mono (was not sure whether to write “claim responsibility” or “admit responsibility” so ultimately chose to avoid both forms of wording..). In my early years, I was training as a chartered accountant at Deloittes and Tony was in their Birmingham office – my then girlfriend (later wife, now ex-wife) Sally worked with him there.
As has been described in the article about him, Dave Dudley is my uncle and Godfather – he was also my best man and has always been the big brother I never had. As a schoolkid I worked in his Tewkesbury butchers shop on a Saturday, cycling from my home in Cheltenham. Dave started in Mono in 1973 and I used to go as often as I could as a gofor. Needless to say, Dave gave me my first start by selling me his March 708 at the end of the 1979 season when he bought the GRD. I paid him the princely sum of £ 900 for a rolling chassis complete with Hewland Mk9 – everything except the engine. That was cheap even then – and sounds ludicrously cheap today. Fair to say, nephew got a good deal…
We elected to run the car in the new Mono Kent class, for Mono cars with FF1600 Kent engines, the main class at that stage still using the 1600 all steel pushrods. This meant an FF1600 would drop straight in. I bought an engine from Dave Wood, another of the Tewkesbury clan who also raced later in Mono. I could not afford to race immediately – I was at the time doing an accountancy degree in Liverpool. I had paid for the chassis through my summer jobs – daytime labouring on a building site, evenings behind the bar of the working mens club. I continued the bar job during term, coming home every weekend for 4 shifts in the bar. That paid for the engine.
My first test was early 1981 at Mallory Park. I well remember driving out of the pits into Gerrards and thinking “I’ll never be able to be a racing driver!” It felt very quick pottering around in 3rd gear and I knew Gerrards should be just about flat in top…to confirm this suspicion something blatted around the outside of me at about double my speed. I did not have too long to dwell on this thought as half a lap later the engine blew up – I had naively just dropped it in and started it up – it had not been timed and was running far too advanced. So we arrived at our first race, Silverstone 4th May 1981 having never tested. I knew the circuit having done a few illicit laps at the end of a race meeting there the previous season in Uncle John’s Hillman Imp.
As befits all newcomers we were not on the case with race meeting timings – were late getting ready for qualifying, fitted the wets the wrong way round and with 35psi pressures so I had some practice at catching slides but did not qualify very quickly – I was proud not to be last but only missed it by one place. I think that might have been Dave Cox, who had had a problem in qualifying. He was there in the Ensign LNF3. In the race I got into a few dices – have not got a clue who with – but left my braking as late as I dared and then when I realised the guy I was alongside had not yet braked, took my foot back off the brakes until I saw his car slowing. Seemed to work and it also blocked the inside line so he couldn’t turn in…..I finished 6th in class but there were not many more than 6 in the class.
Next race was Combe – I qualified somewhere in the middle of the pack and then it rained. Going up towards Quarry, I knew there was a right kink and then a left going up Avon rise but could see nothing but spray. When the spray moved to the right, I figured we’d got to the right kink and moved with it. I didn’t dare lift off in case someone behind hit me. We only did a couple more races that year but were enthused with the whole thing. The series sponsors of the time were Varley batteries and their MD, Bill Curry and his wife Audrey came to many of the races. They took a shine to us and instigated a new club trophy, unfortunately not awarded this year, for the young drive new to motorsport who has impressed with his enthusiasm. Thus Audrey & Bill Curry’s ABC trophy. So that I could win something….
We had a lot of fun in 1982 and 1983 with the March. We were racing against people like Dave Cox, his brother Geoff, Richard Welsh. I knew a few of the A class drivers as well – through Dave and also through Alex Lowe, the mad scouser. I went to a few meetings with Alex as a gofor – Alex Lowe stories would fill a book, never mind a chapter… In these days the guys around Mono were Tony Broster with the Lyncar, which I later bought, Bob Eccles (lovely bloke!), Godfrey Hall, Chris Fawkes, Steve Maxted and occasional outings from Richard Mallock (in a U2 of course) and Eric Broadley’s son Andrew (in a Lola of course).
My first (and only) win in the March days was at Silverstone in early 1983, when Dave Cox non started and our other main rival Richard Welsh crashed in qualifying leaving me a relatively easy win. I’d been getting used to 2nds and 3rds.
Sally and I got married in October 1983 and after a quiet wedding in Bournemouth (12 people – Duds as best man) we drove back to Tewkesbury to collect the racing car and on to Leicester - the honeymoon was one night in the Moat House at Leicester as we were racing at Mallory the next day. We had a wedding reception in the paddock as all our friends were Mono related anyway. It is the only race meeting which my Granddad Jim came to. We served wine from a wine box on the trailer ramps and had wedding cake. And watched some racing from the roof of Dave Cox’s dayglo-red fire engine tow vehicle. Howard Strawford of Castle Combe was also sat up there on the roof with us to celebrate – I can still hear that wonderful accent of his saying “oooh, I think I’ve been abusing myself” – I hope in regard to his hangover ….. In the assembly area the guys rushed over and decorated the car with “just wed no poke” and other such messages. There was also the obligatory string of cans but fortunately they were gone before the end of the pit lane. In the race the engine blew whilst I was running 3rd. I think Dave Cox won – he often did!
In part 2, to follow, Peter acquires a class A car and comes full circle.
Close up of the 708
In the March 708 following Dave Cox in the Revoray (Ensign LNF3), Combe 1982
In the March 708, Esses at Cadwell Park 1983
The March 708 again, again at Combe, this time 1983