Di and Stuart Spires at work cooking up lunch for the team during their days with Benetton.
Photo: Spires Collection
For me, motor racing became like a drug—the more I attended Grand Prix events in the UK and Europe the more I wanted to get onto the “inside.” At first, I’d go motor racing with my brother, later I met Stuart, my husband. We’d travel to Zandvoort, Zolder, Spa and other European circuits in a VW van we converted into a caravanette. It was at Zolder, in May 1976, where the first seed of our ultimate career was set. While in the paddock we noticed a couple working outside the Lotus motor home. They were simply barbequing food for mechanics, drivers and other team members. I guess it was the start of Formula One “hospitality.” Neither Stuart nor I had any experience in hospitality, cooking or any other of the attributes required for the job, but we had the enthusiasm to find out and learn. After an initial abortive start we advertised our “hospitality services” in Autosport. To our amazement, Peter Warr, who was then team manager at Walter Wolf Racing, offered us an interview. The job attracted a £175 per race wage, this would go some way to compensate us as we would have to give up our existing jobs, me as a Civil Servant and Stuart as a factory worker. After an agonizing wait, we were told we hadn’t been successful and another couple had been employed. This wasn’t the news we wanted and we both felt very deflated. Fortunately, we had made some impression upon Peter Warr as we found he had recommended us to John Surtees who was looking for a couple to do the hospitality for him. It was Peter Briggs, the Team Surtees team manager, who phoned us and offered us an interview for the job. The downside to this was the wage, it was not the £175 offered by Walter Wolf, but £35—how could we live on £35 between us? After the interview, Peter called again and offered us the job. Stuart asked for time to consider the offer. We asked for a little more money and were offered £45 as long as Stuart did some tire work, pit work, and lap timing—some may think us crazy, but we accepted and our Grand Prix career was underway.
Our first Grand Prix season was 1978. Our initial exercise was to find the Team Surtees motor home that had been parked at Silverstone since the last race of the 1977 season. To our utter dismay, reality soon hit us; the motor home was in a disgusting state both inside and out. Outside wasn’t too difficult to cope with, but the dirty washing up was still in the sink from the previous year and mice had over-run the vehicle. It was just something else—was this our dream job, or the start of a nightmare? Team Surtees wasn’t the wealthiest of teams, and we had what could be said as a “restricted budget” to perform our duties, none of which included refurbishment of the motor home, either decoratively or mechanically. Our personalities were challenged too, the team uniform and motor home were emblazoned with the word “Durex,” our sponsor’s name, and while initially embarrassing we were the first port of call should a driver or other member of the pit lane find themselves “on a promise.” As our season would pan out, the vehicle often broke down and John Surtees wasn’t always the easiest person to get on with. However, we made allowances, as he was often in pain from an accident he’d suffered a few years earlier, we greatly admired him for his World Championship success on two wheels and four, the only man who will probably ever achieve that feat.
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