PIT & PADDOCK
For Hampton Downs regulars, or occasional visitors, one of the wonderful constants is Barbara Manning in the office. Short of stature but huge in personality, she never misses a trick — or, seemingly, a race meeting. Her late husband, Geoff, was another enormous personality who was never short of stories. I recall him telling me, “If you want the good stories Michael, talk to the mechanics.” It is advice I’ve never forgotten, and is why I just love soaking up the reminisces of guys like Cary Taylor, Jimmy Stone, Bruce Harre and Bruce Wilson. They witnessed motor racing in a hands-on way that not even journalists or spectators could have experienced. This leads me to Max Rutherford, who has turned all his memories into the highly enjoyable self-published Paddocktopodium. Max left New Plymouth for the UK in the early ’60s, went to Brabham, and then worked his way from Formula 3 spanner-man to joint chief mechanic on the Matra that Jackie Stewart won the first of his three world championships in. [See our review of Paddockto Podium elsewhere in this issue.]
The mechanic that I’ve got to know the best, however, is Wal Willmott. Now domiciled in Southland following years of living in Australia after leaving Mclaren in mid-1968, Wal definitely warrants a book. He joined Christchurch-based historic Formula Ford drivers Keith Cowan and Peter ‘Baldric’ Grant on the road trip to race at Taupo, and then the first weekend of the Howden Ganley Festival. By the time I arrived at Taupo, his travelling companions had already had several days of stories prompting Baldric to pronounce, “He’s got to write a book!”
The stories continued — most are hilarious and, like Paddock topodium, they tell us what life was like on the road, the characters, the antics, and just what they went through. Between Taupo and Hampton Downs, Wal stayed with us and busied himself on my old Crossle Formula Ford. His magic touch worked a treat because the car never missed a beat — but its driver still has to pinch himself to think that Bruce Mclaren’s first mechanic is bleeding the brakes and changing the pads.
In this, Michael’s new ‘diary’ column, he gives his traditional Motorsport Flashback feature a whole new spin