As a team manager my experience of driving racing cars is limited, although at the start of my motor racing career I did have a go at rallying and circuit racing. It was soon apparent I wasn’t going to be too successful at either discipline. To cement my decision to give up on the driving idea I went with a local guy to Goodwood, he had a Lotus 7. I watched as he drove around the circuit getting faster and faster. Reality soon made me understand that there was no way I could drive as fast as the guy on the track. Who was the lad? Derek Bell. Yes, I would’ve liked to race, but you have to know your limitations. However, the motor racing bug had bitten and I looked at other ways of being involved in the sport. My brother-in-law was a journalist for the local Bognor Regis newspaper, he hated racing, but was regularly issued with press passes for meetings at Goodwood. I’d get the time sheets and give him sufficient information to write a few lines on each event. He reported on many of the local events, including following the early career of Derek Bell. I got friendly and involved with Derek, helping out where I could, and before I realized it, I became his official team manager. So, my career in motor racing took off and progressed from there. I initially worked with many local drivers other than Derek, such as John Watson, Peter Gethin and David Purley.
It was with David Purley that I entered the dizzy heights of Grand Prix motor racing—the so called “pinnacle” of our sport. Together we had climbed the ladder through the various formulas to get eventually into F1. Our first foray was short-lived with the March 731 and Token cars in 1973 and 1974. David was a former soldier in the Parachute Regiment. Ironically, he wasn’t too interested in motor racing, just the adrenalin rush from driving fast in competition, but he hated testing. We made another concerted attempt at the top in 1977. David’s father owned LEC Refrigeration and got Mike Pilbeam to design the LEC CRP1-Ford. Our car was built on a minimal budget and, even for the period, with limited manpower. The car had a solid start in the non-championship “Race of Champions” at Brands Hatch, starting 17th and finishing 6th—no mean feat. We were living in the days when we had to pre-qualify for Grand Prix races. We failed on our debut in Spain, but managed to get on the grid in Belgium, Sweden and France for the 1977 season. Many will remember the 1977 Belgian GP. The race was marred by the death of Roger Williamson. David’s brave, but vain attempt to pull Roger from his blazing wreck of a car have been well documented.
Just three races later, in prequalifying for the British GP at Silverstone, David hit the banking at Becketts. His throttle had stuck open and he decelerated from just over 100 mph to 0 mph in about two feet and survived a crash with a force of nearly 180Gs. In the lap prior to the accident, David had had a problem with a small fire near the fuel hose. He had stopped and the marshals had extinguished the fire with powder. He came into the pits to be checked. Unbeknown to us, when fuel and powder extinguishant mix it sets really hard. Although we had cleaned everything there was a residue near the throttle linkage, which had mixed with fuel. From the short distance between the pit lane exit and Becketts it had set hard. David would have been on near to full throttle prior to the accident, the mixture of fuel and extinguisher powder set and David was just a passenger with little he could do to scrub the speed off. The chassis deformed on impact to about 18 inches. His was a long road to recovery, having sustained 17 fractures on each leg. It could have been an awful lot worse though. About 19 months after the accident, we built a second chassis and tested it privately at Goodwood. David hated testing, as I’ve previously said. He got into the car and after a handful of laps he was doing a 64-second lap, then after about four more laps he got down to 62.4 seconds and immediately stopped, he said, “I’ve gone quicker in this car than I did the other—this is boring!” We entered the British F1 Aurora Championship, I think the first race was toward the end of the season at Brands Hatch, in August 1979. The car was really dated by then, others had the new ground-effect cars. The LEC-Ford holds bittersweet memories, but what a great car it was given our meager resources.