First published in MOTORWEEK on June 14 1969
Report and Pictures by Richard St. John Young
AUTOCROSS OFF TO A GOOD START
On Wednesday last, the Dungannon Motor Club started the Autocross ball rolling with a very slickly organised event at Cookstown, over what must have been one of the best courses yet seen in Ulster.
The circuit, with a lap length of 0.56 miles, was more or less the side of a hill, and proved to be a real teaser for the drivers, in addition to being very entertaining for spectators, who had an excellent view of the most interesting parts of the course.
For the event, which constitutes Round One of the Autocross Championship, the Dungannon lads had received substantial sponsorship from SHELL, and each of the 55 competitors (there was an entry of 68, out of 104 applications, but various bothers kept several people out) took home a gallon of SHELL oil, while every one of the 4000 very keen spectators got a pint of SHELL oil as well as their admission ticket at the gate. This sponsorship also meant that the club could afford to give substantial cash prizes in the classes, just to make the thing worthwhile.
The weather in Cookstown last Wednesday night was fabulous, and following practice, which dragged on slightly due to a few (important) latecomers being scrutineered, the first cars, Dessie McCartney’s “Scoop” and Robert McBurney’s Beach Buggy took to the field. Perhaps it would be as well to mention at this point that the cars were starting in pairs, and this, and the close dicing that followed, made for an excellent spectacle.
The first run gave a good indication of what was to follow, with Dessie McCartney drawing slightly away from the “Buggy” which seemed to be granting on the bumps, to record a time of 2 minutes 22.4 seconds. McBurney had a monumental spin on the downhill section of the course on his final lap, smiting markers and retiring immediately. It seems that the “Buggy” didn’t think much of the bumps, and suffered a fractured chassis.
Also out at the same time, although starting a bit behind the two specials, were the Cooper Ss of Ronnie White and McCartney. White used his 12 inch front wheels to good very good advantage, to pull ahead of Ireland’s hairiest lorry driver for the first couple of laps, only to anger the diff severely towards the end of his run, which put him out for the rest of the evening.
This idea of letting the quick men out early is certainly a good one, and far better from the spectator’s point of view than the old method of running cars to classes.
Robert McBurney brought out his other entry, the familiar Porschewagen, for the next one, complete with 13 inch wheels, but was well beaten by John McAlorum who was driving the ex-McCartney “Bucket” with unaccustomed restraint, although in a different class from the “Beetle”.
Ken Carson went very well in his very “twee” looking ex-works Ford-powered MG Midget, hotly pursued by another McBurney, Gordon this time in his very hairy Escort TC.
Hill Scott caused much in the way of gasps and squeals from the onlookers at the top corner, with his incredibly sideways and occasionally backwards antics with his Escort TC, but it didn’t help him go very quickly and his time was slower than the most standard Mini present, the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” Mini van of David Coombs.
John Jones, another “two car man” brought out his bright orange Mini box next, and running on 12 inch wheels, this 1293cc device ran away from everybody to record a time of 2 minutes 18.8 seconds. This would be the fastest time of the first runs, and a full 3 seconds clear of second place man John McAlorum, who just pipped Dessie McCartney, and would you believe, John Jones again driving his 999cc car this time, tied with Dessie for third place. This put John Jones in the rather unique position of leading both classes he was entered in. Will Farren, Bert Reid, and Mervyn Johnston all put in good runs in Mini, Imp and Elf respectively, all running in the 1000cc class, as were the Imps of Ernie Oliver and Peter McConnell who, although not out together, were very close on time.
Ronnie Mullen, in yet another 1000cc orange Mini, similar to the Jones cars, seemed to be suffering from car trouble, but Ken Irwin, driving a 1275cc Mini Cooper went rather better and got himself into the top 12 with a time of 2 minutes 26.6 seconds.
A great Mini battle was had between Ron Neely and Victor Lecky, who managed to pass each other in the oddest places in their 850cc Minis. Lecky’s time incidentally was quicker than that of Joe Pat O’Kane’s Lotus Cortina which was out at the same time, which must prove something I suppose.
Further back there was plenty to interest the crowd, in particular the antics of Messrs. Bell and Linton driving Triumph GT6 and Cortina GT respectively, who diced hard until the Cortina quit the field at the bottom hairpin. The Murray brothers in their highly modified Volkswagens, gave a great show, recording identical times for the first run to round things off nicely.
BUCKET AND SCOOP
For the second runs, the various retirements among the first few meant that the two McCartney-built specials, the “Bucket” and the “Scoop” (you should see the rubbish it picks up in the course of a run!!) were on the line together. They gave everybody a real treat with a very determined John McAlorum giving “DMcC” a very close run, even getting ahead at one time, although he clobbered something somewhere during the run and his time was dis-allowed.
Ronnie McCartney went rather better on his second throw, and knocked a full second off his previous time to record FTD so far with 2 minutes 17.6 seconds (Dessie’s fastest had been 2 minutes 19.0 seconds). They hadn’t reckoned on John Jones however, and he pulled out all the stops on his second run to get a 2 minutes 16.4 seconds. An unapproachable time which was to earn him the premier award on the day.
In fact, all the top twenty or so improved their first run times, and even John Jones’ small engined car found another half a second, although it didn’t really do him much good as you are only allowed to win one award in this ‘ere autocross! His two class wins had to give way to the FTD award.
Otherwise it was very much the same story as before, with lots of hard and hairy motoring, although the course was beginning to rut quite badly at the bottom hairpin, and this stopped several of the slower runners from improving on their previous times. Mr Bell in his GT6 had another really good go at one of Mr Ford’s products, passing it at the top bend, while Ted Hobson, who was acting as starter so as not to be “cowboying” around fields too close to home, was nearly sent flying by one of the “cut-and-shut” VWs of the Murray brothers.
The Dungannon Motor Club have every reason to be proud of their Cookstown event, the weather couldn’t have been better, the crowds were large, the motoring exciting, and the organisation first class.
Let’s hope the other Championship rounds are of similar standard. When it was all over, several of the quickest men came out again to have a throw round, but there were no awards for this, except perhaps a feeling of personal achievement for the driver, for having found his way round the field in the gathering dusk.
It was one of the best examples of a sponsored meeting we have seen for a long time, with SHELL decals on the competing cars, and just about everybody in the enclosures clutching his or her little tin of Shell Oil. That’s the way to do it.
Fastest Time of the Day:
John Jones (1293 Cooper S) 2-16.4
- Will Farren (999 Cooper S) 2-23.8
- Bert Reid (998 Rallye Imp) 2-28.4
- Mervyn Johnston (999 Riley Elf) 2-29.4
- Ronnie McCartney (1293 Cooper S) 2-17.6
- Andy Irwin (1098 Mini) 2-26.0
- Ken Irwin (1275 Cooper S) 2-26.6
- Robert McBurney (1600 Porschewagen) 2-25.6
- K. Carson (1498 MG Midget Ford) 2-26.6
- Gordon McBurney (1558 Escort TC) 2-28.2
- Dessie McCrtney (1293 Mini Scoop) 2-19.0
- John McAlorum (1293 Mini Bucket) 2-22.2