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Swaffham Raceway - Monday 1 March 2004
Pictures and reporting by Smiffyman (Dave Smith). Tel 07885 281327

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Back to the future by Dave Smith (Smiffyman)

Every now and then, an opportunity comes along to be part of something a bit special, and for me March the 1st turned out to be one of those days. On a bright, sunny and crisp Monday morning, I found myself not sitting on the usual stuffy, over-crowded (and late) commuter train into London, but stepping across frozen puddles in the pits at Swaffham Raceway. The reason? Well, back in January at the NEC Malcolm ‘Fozzy’ Foskett and myself were having a conversation with a certain Mr Lee and Mr Polley about their retro rods, and at some point during the conversation, the subject of a press/test day arose. That evening messrs Lee and Polley went on to play to a packed indoor arena, and all those short oval fans that were there, were treated to a dozen or so laps of Hot Rod magic.

At the end of their ‘demonstration’ races George and Barry had the whole crowd applauding, some on their feet, while others like me were wiping away a tear or two. It was a long time since these two guys had raced against each other, certainly in those cars, and with the help of Malcolm Forbes, David Haird and a host of willing sponsors they managed to turn the clock back.

The reason I found myself wrapping up against the chilly Suffolk morning wind was that we were bringing the two old gladiators together once again. My part in the affair was to digitally record the automotive ballet that was to unfold on the snow dusted track.

When we arrived in the pits with the huge DA Haird & Co. coach containing the Mk1 Escort carrying the legendary 351 racing number, we were greeted by a chirpy George dressed in bright red overalls. He was unloading the other famous plum coloured machine bearing the equally iconic number 306. Helping to slide the car off the trailer was another oval racing legend, Dave Chisholm, ex F1 and F2 world champion from the halcyon days. It turns out George and Dave are now near neighbours and he had come along to join in the goings on.

The track staff, Clive and Beetle, who had given up their time to open the stadium, were going about their business sweeping the track and generally acting as our hosts for the day. (Thanks guys for the bacon rolls and tea). With the surface now free of some of the previous days banger residue, George fired up the purple Anglia and slowly rolled out onto the track for some warm up laps.

After a few tours he returned to the pits for a spanner check and a warming cup of coffee and the aforementioned bacon roll. ‘Fozzy’ then proceeded to gather as much info as his pad and pen could get down, and as I snapped away in the background, the cold air was rent by howls of laughter coming from around the 306 car, sitting in the sunshine perched on its great black shiny slicks. It was like watching an old school chums reunion, George and Chissy swapping stories and anecdotes while ‘young’ scribe Foskett wrote as fast as he could.

At some point during all this, a green 4x4 drove up and as the electric window glided down, the familiar face of the General Lee stuck his head out, minus the customary cigarette – as unlikely as it might seem, Barry gave up a year or so ago.

Punctuated by language which threatened to turn the already blue sky a deeper shade of azure, Barry declared he was late as usual, but explained he had just flown in from holiday. We had been half expecting him to swoop in by helicopter, something he had been famous for back in the glory days, but at least our party was now complete.
Young Chris Haird had already rolled out the pristine 351 machine, which was sitting burbling away at the back of the bus, awaiting its pilot. After several minutes of banter, Leapy dressed himself in his ‘bacofoil’ suit (as George called it) and strapped himself into the Corbeau seat. George had already suited up in his more familiar cream race suit and was circling the track awaiting his old adversary.

Once out together the two of them performed a perfect duet, slowly winding the cars up and getting ever closer together around the tarmac oval. To me it seemed that each driver possessed some sort of a sixth sense and knew exactly where they were at any given point on the track. Both cars were sliding over and under each other with consummate ease, sometimes with less than a fag paper between them, but never once touching.

After a fair few laps, they both emerged with grins like Cheshire cats, and headed to the warmth of the Haird coach. As time progressed, many old stories, most of them unprintable, were trotted out, and it was as if the clock had been turned back 30 years. It was Fozzy’s job to capture these pearls of wisdom, some of which will appear in another article, the one where he gives us his opinion of the two cars, which he cheerfully accepted an invitation to drive.

Barry and George entertained the crowds for years, and will continue to do so for some time as the Retro rods and their pilots will be appearing at various venues throughout the rest of 2004. The first outing will be at Matchams Park Raceway on Good Friday. Set a date in your diary, roll up for a trip down memory lane and come and see a pair of true professionals at work, you won’t be disappointed. For myself, the photos I took will probably last beyond the life of the cars, and me, and stand as a reminder of one of the best days out I’ve had for a long time.

Thanks to David and Chris Haird who prepared Barry’s car, George and Dave Chisholm, Clive and Beetle for all their hard work on the day, Malcolm Forbes for the devising the original concept, all the sponsors for their donated funds and parts, and Spedeworth for allowing us the free use of the track for the day.

Dave Smith (Smiffyman)

PS: Dave reminds us that these two legends will be playing again at Ringwood on Good Friday and as he puts it, "Anyone who misses that meeting will be missing another piece of short oval history!"

PPS: Look out for more Retro Rod features on Rolling Start - starting with the Mark 1 and Mark 2 Escorts.  There's already a stack of pictures from  Keith Duke ready for this. Additional contributions welcome!

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