I was born with a competitive spirit, my father represented Great Britain at Speedway, my mother and two of my aunts rode Speedway bikes, too. I suppose Speedway should have been my sport, on the contrary, I preferred four wheels and made my mark in kart racing. I don’t wish to sound conceited, but I excelled at it. I was even asked to handicap myself and start a lap down or a lap and a half down, it was fun and I still won anyway. It was the handicap challenge that excited me and taught me a lot about car control and racecraft, fundamentally it was a true learning curve for later life in motor racing.
I met up with a man named Johnny Walker, he made the first full suspension kart. This thinking was completely outside the box as karts rely on torsional stiffness, the fact that they flex is where the speed comes from. He was keen to start a new formula of racing with miniature racing cars fitted with 250-cc engines, he called it Formula Four. He invited me to drive the “works” (Johnny Walker Racing) car. I agreed, but my enthusiasm was soon quelled as the car didn’t perform too well. I decided to replace the engine with one purchased from Speedway legend, Barry Briggs. I fitted the new engine with a Norton gearbox and it improved, sadly the Formula was one of motor racing’s stillborn ideas and, at that time, the series didn’t get off the ground. I had definitely caught the racing bug and needed to continue along whatever avenue was open to me. Thumbing through the motor racing magazines I found a Cooper 272 for sale in the ads; it all sounded very good, “race prepared by Downton Engineering,” “not raced since…” all the usual lines to hook you. I went and had a look at it and bought the car for £250. I thought this is good, no money needed for this—that was until I took a very close look at the chassis. To my surprise, annoyance and anguish, I noticed a twist in it. We had a single-car garage, which I used as a workshop—I was keen to mechanic my own car, and the beams of the roof were used to “jack up” the chassis. Under the strain, these beams were really pushed to the limit as the chassis had to be lifted over four inches the opposite way to make it straight, but I eventually got the car together, ready to race. It had a Downton Engineering engine in it, but it had significant problems, although Downton eventually replaced with a new one.
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