THE VAN MAN ARRIVES
Interview by Plum Tyndall first published in Wheels magazine in May 1974
Once in a while an almost complete unknown will burst into the scene and this is one of the most fascinating aspects of Motor Sport. If natural talent is present in a driver, given the breaks it is very difficult to stifle progress, which very often can make you see some of the established ‘gods’ in a very different light.
Who can forget the 1969 Circuit of Ireland when a Cork man appeared from the bottom end of a sizeable entry in sixth place overall after the Sunday run? This required an instant re-seeding by the organisers, and sent Press men scattering in all directions to try and discover who Billy Coleman was.
There was a definite attitude of disbelief on the same gentlemen‘s faces as the provisional results of the recent Lombard & Ulster Tour of the Sperrins were posted. After all the whole event had been put together in three weeks and allowances had to be made for the odd organisational slip. It was more likely therefore that No. 44 had been placed in the top ten by error rather than performance.
A dive through the programme revealed No. 44 to be a certain Fred Crawford and Liam Kelly, and all anyone could remember was that Liam had been the Fordsport champion a couple of years previously, that was until somebody mentioned ‘Anglia Van’. Mental action replays immediately recalled a lean young chap in a dark red Anglia twin cam van who on his rare appearances at rally sprints had usually annihilated the more conventional machinery in his class.
The van usually disappeared as quickly as it appeared on these occasions so Fred Crawford, until the Tour of the Sperrins was truly a dark horse power. All the more incredible therefore to analyse his achievements.
On his second ever stage rally he finished fourth overall, and gained equal fastest time with David Agnew, the reigning Ulster Rally Champion, on the Gortnamoyagh Stage. His only previous stage event had been the Dun-Om-En two years ago in the Anglia van. Why then is this man so quick on a loose surface?
Fred: “I don’t know. I just seen to like driving on it. I didn’t take any risks, but I missed the power of the van. The twin cam engine in the van was 20 bhp more than the 1600 BDA in the Escort. My only previous experience in the loose was the Dun-Om-En and there I had to ease off as the van was falling to bits. I found the Escort much easier to drive. It is interesting to note that on the three stages that were the same on both rallies we were over a minute quicker in the Escort”.
Wheels: What were your ambitions at the start of the Sperrins?
Fred: “We had only the ambition to finish. Of course it would have been nice to finish in the first twenty, but we were unknowns. The commentator at the start just said “Car No. 44. F. Crawford and L. Kelly”. It wasn’t until two stages from the end that we were told we were in the top ten”.
Wheels: Had you read and studied rallying before putting it into practice?
Fred: “I like to read and watch a lot of rallying, but then I go my own way. I think the car has a tremendous amount to do with it. I think car, I live with it, I know it so well, I don’t let anyone else touch it. I must do all the work myself. Even if I had big sponsorship I would still like to do the work myself”.
“I believe in really getting to know my car, for example I don’t need to take it to work, yet I do. I think it helps to drive it every day. Everything is home built even the suspension. The front struts are made up from van springs! I bought a shell with flared arches and a standard BDA unit and I have built the whole thing from there. I reckon it has cost me about £1,400, excluding time”
Wheels: You were joint quickest on the Gortnamoyagh Stage with David Agnew. This was the stage where Adrian Boyd rolled. Did you have any difficulty with the same corner?
Fred: “It was the one place in the rally that I got a premonition. There were a lot of people standing on the right hand side. and I knew they were not there for no reason”
Wheels: Your only previous events have really been rally sprints, did you not get tired?
Fred: “No, I was worried about this before the start as I had felt tired on the Dun-Om-En in the van, but the Escort is a lot easier to drive. Aﬁer all, we only did eight stages”.
Wheels: You have suddenly made a name for yourself overnight, do you think it is going to be hard to sustain this reputation?
Fred: “Not really, although I feel I have more or less reached the peak in my home-built world. The Escort felt slow on the Sperrins; she needs more power. My cousin, Esler Crawford of photography fame, is sponsoring us for the Benson & Hedges Circuit and this is a big step. I am only interested in rallying, other forms of the sport don’t interest me so much”.
Fred Crawford, despite his inexperience, is a conﬁdent, almost cocky, young 25 year old, obviously with a big future in rallying. He and Liam Kelly are also opportunists, and I should know. They walked off and left me with the bill!