SPEAK EN­TERS A NEW RACING CHAP­TER

Neil Ran­don talks to re­tir­ing short oval le­gend and mul­ti­ple ti­tle col­lec­tor

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Rob Speak Retires - Pho­tos: Colin Casser­ley

Rob Speak fin­ished his BRISCA F1 stock car ca­reer in much the same way he started it – by plant­ing his arch-ri­val Frankie Wain­man Jr into the Armco on the very first bend.

The 44-year-old had been wait­ing for the right mo­ment to avenge a Wain­man Jr hit that had cat­a­pulted him into the Cow­den­beath wall, knock­ing him un­con­scious, dur­ing the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship back in June.

And that mo­ment came dur­ing the fea­ture race of the night at the fi­nal meet­ing of the year at Coven­try in Novem­ber. As he and pole­sit­ter Wain­man Jr ac­cel­er­ated out of turn four for the start of the race, Speak took his chance.

Wain­man Jr led into the first cor­ner but didn’t come out the other end, cour­tesy of the front bumper of Speak. Wain­man was out of the race on the spot, while Speak con­tin­ued on his way, fin­ish­ing sec­ond to Dan John­son. “It was my part­ing gift,” Speak says. “I owed him one.”

At the end of the night, how­ever, Speak went over to the Wain­man Jr trans­porter and shook his ri­val’s hand. “You have to re­mem­ber at the end of the day it’s only stock car racing,” Speak ex­plains.

The hand­shake sig­nalled the end of a mem­o­rable era for two of the all-time greats of BRISCA F1. Their ri­valry had spanned more than 30 years.

Speak started racing in Min­is­tox in 1985, when he was 12. Be­tween them Speak and Wain­man Jr dom­i­nated the sport, dur­ing which time Speak won the Na­tional Points and Bri­tish ti­tles. “It was me and Frankie who won ev­ery­thing,” Speak says. “If we didn’t win, it was be­cause we’d taken each other out of the race.”

When he reached his 16th birth­day, Speak opted to race in BRISCA F2s and be­came the most suc­cess­ful driver in the his­tory of the sport. As a 17-year-old he was the youngest driver to win a World Cham­pi­onship – he would go on to add an­other seven to his CV – and he added 11 con­sec­u­tive Na­tional Points Cham­pi­onships to his tally.

In just one sea­son Speak won 147 races – a total that’s un­likely ever to be equalled in the fu­ture.

He needed a new chal­lenge and it came cour­tesy of an of­fer to drive Jamie David­son’s car in 1999. At the time the car was re­puted to be the most ex­pen­sive and pow­er­ful F1 stock car ever built – its Chevy V8 power unit, how­ever, was thought to have too much horse­power for the short ovals.

But with the help of Terry Ge­orge, who had en­gi­neered many of Speak’s F2 cars, Speak har­nessed the brute to the con­fines of the quar­ter-mile Tar­mac tracks, and the sport’s big guns were forced to raise their games.

The pe­riod be­tween 1999 and 2001 is re­garded as a golden age of BRISCA F1. Dur­ing that time, while John Lund was win­ning a sev­enth World ti­tle, it was Wain­man Jr and Andy Smith who were the most po­tent forces in the sport, par­tic­u­larly on Tar­mac. But Speak brought with him an ag­gres­sive driv­ing style that had not been seen in decades. He was ut­terly ruth­less.

“That pe­riod of racing be­tween 1999 and 2001 is my high­light – it was un­be­liev­able,” Speak says. “Me, Frank and An­drew used to knock seven bells out of each other – there wasn’t re­ally any­one else who mat­tered back then. Stock car racing did not get any bet­ter than that.”

Speak won the World Cham­pi­onship at Hed­nes­ford in 2001, ahead of Wain­man Jr and Smith, to be­come only the sec­ond driver in his­tory to win both F1 and F2 World ti­tles.

“Win­ning the World Fi­nal was fan­tas­tic, but the race that stands out for me was a meet­ing fi­nal at Swaffham in 1999. The three of us were all ab­so­lutely fly­ing around that track. I ended up putting Frank into a parked car, but I was think­ing ‘Smithy’s com­ing, Smithy’s com­ing’ and sure enough a cou­ple of laps later An­drew put me into the same parked car I put Wain­man in!”

Then near the end of the 2001 sea­son Speak was ap­proached to race in the fledg­ling ASCAR se­ries.

Ini­tially, he thought the re­quest to drive in the US Au­to­mo­tive Chevro­let owned by Ste­wart Bas­sett was a bit of a wind-up.

“I was stood in my scrap yard cut­ting a car up when the phone rang and it was War­ren Tay­lor,” Speak says. Tay­lor, a for­mer driver and pro­moter, sold stock car and ASCAR mer­chan­dise. “Now, if you’ve known War­ren as long as I have you know more of­ten than not he’s full of s**t!

“War­ren said: ‘What are you do­ing to­mor­row? Come to Rock­ing­ham and race an ASCAR.’ I thought this is an­other stupid idea of his. He said, ‘no, no, hon­estly, there’s a bloke down here who has got a car. Come down, they’ll sort your li­cence out, just bring your hel­met and your over­alls and race’.”

Speak ar­rived at the Rock­ing­ham cir­cuit the next morn­ing ex­pect­ing it to be a waste of time. But he met with Tay­lor and was in­tro­duced to Bas­sett.

“Ste­wart was a crack­ing fella,” says Speak. “A proper gen­tle­man. He went through the pro­ce­dure for the day and put a head­set in­side my hel­met and sud­denly I re­alised this was re­ally hap­pen­ing. It was all a bit sur­real.”

For his MSA test, Speak was driven around the Rock­ing­ham oval by for­mer BRISCA F2 ri­val John Mickel, who had been racing in ASCAR from the se­ries’ in­cep­tion.

Around the first bend as the pair drove off, Mickel switched his mi­cro­phone off. Speak won­dered what was go­ing on.

“John then turned to me and said: ‘how can I teach you how to drive?’ So we took turns do­ing a few laps round the track, and then I ended up racing.”

Speak fin­ished fourth at his first ever ASCAR meet­ing, and spent three years in the se­ries, which in­cluded a vic­tory at Rock­ing­ham in June 2003.

Af­ter tak­ing time out from motorsport to fo­cus on his busi­ness, Speak made a much-an­tic­i­pated re­turn to BRISCA F2 in 2009 and de­vel­oped an in­tense ri­valry with Scot­land’s Gor­don Moodie, who had taken over the man­tle as the sport’s num­ber one driver in Speak’s ab­sence. Al­though he won the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship dur­ing that time, Speak’s main aim was pre­vent­ing Moodie win­ning the World Cham­pi­onship – he suc­ceeded.

Speak re­turned to BRISCA F1 in 2012, re­sult­ing in a full-time drive for car owner David­son, who had both a shale and Tar­mac car built for him. It proved a worth­while in­vest­ment as Speak went on to win his first Na­tional Points Cham­pi­onship in 2014, and a year later his sec­ond World ti­tle at King’s Lynn, 14 years af­ter his first.

Speak suf­fered from ‘Gold Roof syn­drome’ dur­ing the early part of the 2016 sea­son – when en­gine prob­lems and tyre blow-outs hin­dered his progress at many events. “I couldn’t win a raf­fle,” he ad­mits.

But dur­ing the sec­ond half of the year his luck changed, and af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the World Fi­nal to Wain­man Jr at Coven­try in Septem­ber, Speak suc­cess­fully re­gained the sil­ver roof, by win­ning the 10-round Na­tional Points Shootout in Oc­to­ber. It was a fit­ting fi­nale to a re­mark­able ca­reer.

The sup­port from David­son has been a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor be­hind Speak’s suc­cess in BRISCA F1. David­son’s be­lief in Speak re­mained un­flinch­ing for nearly 20 years, mak­ing their part­ner­ship one of the most suc­cess­ful in the his­tory of the sport.

“I won three ma­jor ti­tles in three con­sec­u­tive years in Jamie’s cars,” Speak says. “I owe him a lot.”

But ul­ti­mately, it is the sport of stock car racing that owes Rob Speak a huge debt of grat­i­tude. It is un­likely there will be a stock car driver quite like him again. ■

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ASCAR drive was un­ex­pected

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