1967 Northern Lights

Northern Lights Rally winners, Derek Boyd and Esler Crawford hurry their Ford Cortina through Davagh Forest.

Mid-Antrim Northern Lights Rally
Report by Esler Crawford

This report is reproduced from Wheel Magazine – March/April 1967

Restricted Rallies in Ulster continue to be on the up and up, while the trend is away from the smaller 50-100 mile events. This is probably due to a combination of four factors. Firstly there is the insurance situation. The average rally insurance now costs about £2 per 24 hours for a non-international event and for this sum not too many people are keen to have only three or four hours driving. The much better value of a 12 hour rally for the same money is obviously more attractive.

Secondly the rallies themselves have improved out of all recognition and it may not be coincidence that nearly all the good events are now organised by regular competitors who really know what the “boys” want. Then there is the inclusion of classes to cater for the less experienced crews which helps to encourage new people to ‘have a go’. Finally there is the increasing tendency for events to be sponsored by commercial concerns. This enables clubs to be much more ambitious in their outlook and to put on a really attractive prize list. Sponsorship also results in another desirable feature and that is public interest. For their money sponsors naturally want some return in the way of newspaper coverage and as a result hard-working press officers are a very big asset to a club. At present, rallies are probably getting better coverage than for a long time in the Belfast papers, although this may not be entirely out of the goodness of their heart – Sponsors tend to be good advertisers!

The Mid-Antrim Motor Club’s Northern Lights Rally, which took place on the night and morning of February 24/25, contained all these factors in good measure. There was certainly good value for money for the route was 400 miles long – probably the longest-ever Ulster Rally Championship event. Newcomers were encouraged by the addition of a beginners class to the usual Expert and Semi-Experts classes, and this was obviously a very popular move for the club received the record entry of 105, divided almost equally among the three classes.

One of Dungannon’s top rally crews, Norman Reid and Gordon Taggart, scurry through Banagher Forest in their Cooper S.

Very generous financial support was forthcoming from Engineering Supplies (Ireland) Ltd., one of whose directors, Peter McConnell, is a well-known competitor, and both parties seemed to derive considerable benefit from this tie-up. The prize money totalled £95 and the company also donated special awards of the tools in which they specialise. Excellent press coverage was obtained including a full page feature in Friday’s “Belfast Newsletter” and a four minute film was shown on Ulster Television.

Finally the rally was masterminded by Robert McBurney and Beatty Crawford. In three years these two have raised the status of the Mid-Antrim restricted rally from something of a bad joke to what some competitors described as the best event they had ever been on. The rally took a similar form to the “Starlight”, with the six hour navigation section using the Targa system with only nine time controls.

The route was defined by passage controls and at intervals there were relaxed sections which allowed competitors to get back on their standard time without penalty. This whole section. which used a relatively small area of sheets 2, 3 and 5, was very well organised, with every control manned by alert officials. The Mid-Antrim boys broke new ground by the very successful expedient of running the special stages in daylight on Saturday morning. This was a popular move, approved of both by competitors and spectators. The stages comprised five old favourites – Springwell, Cam, Banagher, Moydamlaght and Davagh, and one excellent new stage in Glenshane Forest.

Harold Reid from Dungannon had Hugh Meneely navigating and they would be runners-up in the class for Beginners.

The event resolved itself into a duel between the Ford Cortina G.T.’s of Derek Boyd/Esler Crawford, in Adrian’s car, and Charlie Gunn/Norman Henderson. After the six hours navigation, which had crews really flaked out, Gunn was leading with a loss of 20 minutes to Boyd’s 28 minutes, Harry Crawford/Norman Smith. 40 minutes and Neville Johnston/Trevor Wilson having dropped 45 in their Toyota 1600S. This combination was going really well and would have been even better placed had it not been for time lost changing brake pads. So after breakfast the issue was to be decided on the 45 miles of special stages, with Boyd having to do these 96 seconds faster than Gunn to make up the deficit.

This he did with a vengeance in a really fantastic series of drives in a car lacking effective rear shock absorbers and he was fastest overall on the stages with a total time of 65 min. 59 sec.. compared to John McClean, who was second fastest in 66 min. 59 sec., while Gunn was third fastest with 69 min. 26 sec., and may have been slightly hampered by his dynamo falling off during the third stage.

Jim Campbell and Drexel Gillespie met at the UAC Rally School and Jim borrowed his Mother’s Cortina to compete on the Northern Lights.

Derek Boyd’s driving was a pleasure to experience from the passenger seat, for he has obviously great natural ability and it is a pity that he does not compete more often. The last time Derek competed in a restricted rally was over two years ago, but most people will remember his performance in the 1964 Circuit when, after retiring on the first night, he went out for the run on Sunday and set FTD on every stage!

As a result of his good stage times John McClean also moved up a place to third, with Neville Johnston remaining fourth, while Ronnie McCartney had a mixture of bad and good luck in finishing fifth. His 1275 Cooper S broke a drive shaft on the very last stage and consequently they did not clock in at the finish control and normally would have been posted as retired. However, as luck would have it, the finish control had to be scrubbed, and so Ronnie found himself in the money after all.

The winners of the Beginners Class on the Northern Lights Rally were Roy McBurney and Brian Rowan in a standard 1200 VW.

The Semi-Experts class was won by John Richardson/Dave Duffin, in a Cooper “S”, although surprisingly the fastest time on the stages in this class was set by Ronnie Nesbitt in his 848 Mini. The beginners class went to Roy McBurney/Brian Rowan, who in a standard 1200 VW were second fastest behind the 1275 Cooper S of Harold Reid, who was actually faster than all the Semi-Experts in the stages. Roy McBurney is Robert’s younger brother, and at the age of 17 appears to be a young man to watch, especially with his big brother to give a little advice from time to time.

The rally ended on a high note with a spectacular driving test in a car park in Ballymena which gave Ted Hobson’s Mini the opportunity to collect an award.


  1. D. D. Boyd/E. Crawford (Ford Cortina G.T.) 358.0 marks;
  2. C. A. Gunn/N. Henderson (Ford Cortina G.T.) 362.1 marks;
  3. J. S. McLean/H. Patton (Mini-Cooper “S”) 388.2 marks;
  4. N. Johnston/T. Wilson (Toyota) 403.3 marks;
  5. R. J. McCartney/M. Hart (Mini-Cooper “S”) 403.9 marks;
  6. H. N. Crawford/N. Smith (Ford Lotus Cortina) 413.1 marks.


  1. J. Richardson/D. Duffin (Mini-Cooper “S”) 405.7 marks;
  2. R. Truman/J. Rankin (Mini-Cooper “S”) 411.6 marks;
  3. R. Nesbitt/D. Trimble (Mini 848) 416.9 marks.


  1. R. McBurney/B. Rowan (VW 1200) 407.7 marks;
  2. H. Reid/H. Meneely (Mini-Cooper) 433.9 marks;
  3. R. Millikan/S. Houston (Ford Cortina G.T.) 457.3 marks.