Started racing career with a combine harvester!
This story about Brian Nelson is reproduced from Motorweek, 3rd May, 1969.
Ulster racegoers over the past couple of years will be familiar with the program entry “B. Nelson (Lola)”, a combination which has been at the front of the field in most Irish “Twin Cam” races since the beginning of 1968, but what of Brian himself?
Very modest man, as far as his racing exploits are concerned, Brian Nelson has nevertheless amassed a great deal of experience since he took his first faltering steps in motorsport some 10 years ago.
In fact, Brian first drove a car at the tender age of 10 when, unbeknown to his father, he drove the family car down the drive of their Hillsborough farm-type home and reversed back again without incident, without ever having any instruction, having watched very carefully the way his father drove the car beforehand. From there Brian progressed to motor cycles via the great motorised bicycle craze, and on one occasion recalls taking a 50cc Ducati engine back to Campbell College in his scholarly suitcase. Bigger things were to follow however, and our succession of motorcycles came next, finishing up with a Triumph Tiger Cub, but cars were always uppermost in his mind.
While at Greenmount Agricultural College, learning to be a farmer, Brian had his first bout of car ownership, buying a Ford special and selling it shortly afterwards at £10 profit, to everybody’s surprise, including his own.
The Nelson competitive spirit then lay dormant for a while, up until 1959 in fact, when a Ford 100E Anglia, which was being used as daily transport at the time, was (slightly) modified and hurled around the place in various driving test and rallies. His best result was a fourth on the Starlight Rally of that year, after the Halda Tripmaster had packed up, and Brian and his navigator Harry Bell had guessed their way through the ice and snow that was prevalent that year.
He also had a go at the Circuit of Ireland Rally, but managed to get lost somewhere deep in darkest Monaghan, navigated this time by his brother-in-law Walter Campbell. It was at this stage of the proceedings that the Turner arrived on the scene.
Brian had wanted one of these little cars for some time, but being slightly short of cash for such luxury items as sports cars, had decided to buy something more useful – a combine harvester. He worked hard with the harvester to earn the the necessary “readies” for Turner buying in 1961.
This particular car was fitted with a 1098cc Coventry Climax engine which propelled it along at a fair old rate of knots. Such was its speed that it drew comment from one John L’Amie, who Brian had known vaguely at school. The pair had met up while Brian was on a trip up the West Coast, and the result of the meeting was that John L’Amie ordered a similar car, which was built up by the intrepid pair soon after.
Originally, Brian had no intention of becoming a racing driver, although he had, of course, taken a young man’s interest in the goings on at Kirkistown, but, after a bit of persuasion from John L’Amie, the pair entered the first ever race meeting at Long Kesh, towards the end of the year, not winning anything, but finding the whole thing rather enjoyable.
This prompted the pair to “have a go” more thoroughly in 1962, and by the end of that year, the “Turner Twins” had amassed quite a collection of silverware and establish themselves as a couple of the quickest sports car men around.
1963 was the same, with the Turner’s going quicker and quicker, but towards the end of the year, with “proper” sports racers of the Lotus 23 and Crosslé type becoming popular, it was becoming obvious that something a bit quicker would be needed to stay on the hunt in 1964. So it was that the Crosslé came along.
It happened, in fact, after a lunch with Charles Eyre-Maunsell who was thinking along similar lines, and immediately after coffee, he and Brian repaired to the Crosslé establishment in Hollywood and ordered two of these newfangled sports racers from a rather overwhelmed John Crosslé, one imagines.
In 1964, with the coming of the sports racer craze in this country, there were several schools of thought as far as powering the monsters was concerned. Some people, John L’Amie, among them, opted for Coventry Climax power, others for Ford, while oddball Nelson managed to squeeze a Daimler 2½ Litre V-8 into his. Whilst the weight was a penalty, it enjoyed great reliability, the engine being left completely standard.
This was a moderately successful car which rumbled through the 1964 speed season, picking up awards here and there, but always a little bit behind the Twin Cam Ford powered machinery, so, for the following year, Brian decided to fit a collection of Weber carb’s to the top of the big Daimler.
This was not a very wise move, however, for the task of fitting Webers to a big V8 is not one to be taken lightly, and they take rather a lot of setting up. The most noticeable result of this modification being a five, six or seven cylinder V8 at nearly every outing.
1966 was the year of the BMW, and not to be outdone by anybody, Brian bought one of these very potent 2 Litre motors to screw into the Crosslé, while John L’Amie went one better, and replaced his car, which had been fitted with a 4.2 Ford V8 the previous season, with a brand-new Crosslé, also BMW propelled.
In Brian’s case, the result should’ve been a potent motor car, but the dreaded Nelson jinx struck again, and, although fast, mechanical troubles intervened at every possible opportunity, and Brian was so fed up with motor racing by the end of the season, that the car lay undisturbed all through 1967, until finally being sold to Michael Martin at the end of the year.
Up until this time, our hero had been farming, but at the end of 1967 he embarked on another venture, joining with John L’Amie and others to form Irish Yarn Industries to produce knitting yarns. A factory was built at the rear of the Nelson farm, and Brian became a real live businessman, a change he hasn’t regretted.
Around this time, John L’Amie had purchased an ex-John Surtees Lola from Englishman Robert Lamplough, and the racing bug started nibbling at Brian once again, so much so that a search was started for a sister car to John’s. One was found, and rejected, and eventually a nearly new Lola T60 was unearthed at the Midland Racing Partnership headquarters at Wolverhampton, and with a little assistance from his mother, who is a source of great encouragement in his reading ventures, this was bought and carted it off to the boat to bring it home.
Of course, it wasn’t all that easy, since the foot and mouth epidemic had just got underway and no cars were being transported across at that time. Eventually, Brian got the Lola home in February (it was bought in November) and work commenced to get it race-worthy in time for the opening Kirkistown meeting in March.
A new Vegantune, Twin Cam Ford engine was ordered for it, and a new gearbox, but the engine didn’t actually arrive in Hillsborough until the Friday before the race. Much midnight oil had to be burned in order to get the car to the grid. As if that wasn’t enough, John L’Amie had blown up the engine of his Lola a couple of days earlier, and he had bought a replacement engine, which also didn’t arrive until the Friday evening.
ALL NIGHT SESSION
The thought of doing two overnight engine changes would have been enough to put any other equipe off, but undaunted, Brian, John and Ian Drysdale, together with George Burton, who is a regular participant in midnight oil-burning sessions, set to, and both cars were on the grid on Saturday. As it turned out, John had a great dice with Tommy Reid’s Brabham in the race, while our Brian had some minor bothers and went spasmodically. Much had been learned however, and the Brooklands Racing Partnership was well prepared for the season ahead.
As it was, the two Lolas were never far from the front of the field last year (1968), and Brian had his share of wins, together with two shared lap records – Mondello Park with John Pollock, John Smith, and Roy Pike, and Kirkistown, with Tommy Reid.
As far as the future is concerned, Brian is going to keep the Lola for another while, and it is now looking better than ever, with a new body and a general cleanup, and he may well get the occasional drive in John L’Amie’s Ford Escort when its transformation from rally car to racer is complete.
Brian has no Formula One-type ambitions, preferring to race for the fun of it, and enjoy post-race celebrations as much as the races themselves, often more! He reckons his most satisfying race was at Kirkistown last September, when he equalled the lap record during a tremendous dice with John Pollock’s Crosslé. His favourite circuit is Oulton Park, a circuit so different from anything in this country by virtue of its very gradients and very fast bends, that is difficult to compare it with local tracks. Bishopscourt is his favourite near home, and he also finds Dunboyne stimulating. (Who doesn’t?)
Last year, Brian and John had a couple of outings at English meetings, scoring a few successes and generally shaking a few people up, but at one, Mallory Park, John managed to roll has Lola, without personal injury. Watching this, Brian describes it as his biggest motor racing fright. He had always been a remarkably shunt-free driver, and only got down to the serious business of smiting solid objects last year, collecting straw bales (Kirkistown), earth bank (Mondello) and grandstand (Phoenix Park). Remarkably, on none of these occasions was the car badly damaged.
Having cut his motorsport and teeth on rallies, Brian only really feels like trying his hand in that direction when the Circuit of Ireland Rally rolls around, and rally fever is at its highest. For the past few years he has followed the event, doing service crew for John L’Amie, but admits to having thought seriously about having a bash with his road-going Triumph 2000 this year. Perhaps he will weaken one day.
Brian Nelson has had an interesting career in motorsport so far, and it looks like being another good season this year (1969), as soon as he gets a couple of problems with the Lola licked, which, with Ian Drysdale around, shouldn’t take too long.
Brooklands Racing Partnership (Brooklands is the name of the Nelson residence) will be on the circuits in force again this year, and Brian will be in the middle of the action, that’s for sure.