26 Jun: Mull – 30 years ago

The organisers of the 2020 Beatson’s Mull Rally have stated that a final decision on whether this year’s event will run or not will be taken by the team and the island on the 24th of July. By that time the picture will be clearer on lockdown/isolation rules.

Although it has been encouraging to note that such a relaxation is now underway, we daren’t get ahead of ourselves. The folk who organise the rally have two major considerations, not just one. They not only need the goodwill and support of competitors, officials and spectators but they also need the permission of the islanders.

So far, the Isle of Mull is a Covid19 free zone so it is quite understandable that some folk are nervous about opening up their island to such an influx from all corners of the UK. For sure the island needs the income after a barren and difficult year but that has to be weighed against the risk to public health. A difficult decision looms – either way!

Anyway, I just thought it would be timely to reprint a Column which was written for Rally Sport Mag 30 years ago this year. This was written immediately after the running of the first Closed Road Rally on ‘mainland’ Britain. And yes, I know the Isle of Man is an island too, but IOM have their own ‘Parliament’ and laws whereas Mull is regulated by Westminster and also now Edinburgh.

History records that this momentous event was won by Andy Knight and Mike Corner in a rather special 1600cc ‘lightweight’ Vauxhall Nova which had been loaned to them by Kendal based Atkinsons Motor Sport. Neil MacKinnon was leading till his Escort’s engine failed with second placed Knight taking over and crossing the finish line some 6 minutes clear of Ron Beecroft in his 2.3 Escort. History was made.

Anyway, here’s the Column and as usual no changes have been made to the text. It reflects what happened and what was said at the time so if you are too young to recall some of the names then lift the phone and call one of the auld gits or club members and ask for information. They’ll appreciate the call given these strange times in which we currently live …

The Column …

” It’s not only footballers who cry. At the prizegiving following the 21st Gemini Tour of Mull Rally I distinctly saw tears. They were perched precariously on the edges of Brian Molyneux’s red rimmed eyes as it slowly dawned on him that he and the rest of his cohorts in 2300 Club had achieved a minor motor sporting miracle – the first ever closed public road stage rally on the `mainland’ of Britain.

The rally set another record too. At an hour and forty minutes it was one of the longest post-event prizegivings in motor sport. The only folk who minded were those who were unable to squeeze into the already jam-packed Aros Hall in Tobermory High Street. Brian Molyneux was first to speak and he publicly thanked all those who helped, from loyal club members to local councillors, from regional authorities to the Houses of Parliament and there were words of praise too for the RAC MSA, the RSAC and long time supporters Shell.

There was silence in the hall for that emotional speech as the crowd realised they had just taken part in a little bit of motor sporting history. Then it was Taff’s turn. The Welsh accent embellished his words as he sang the praises of one man, and it was this that tingled the tear ducts. After Brian had heaped praise on all those who had helped to make the event possible, Taff put the record straight, but for the tenacity and vision of one man, the whole project would never have happened. Brian Molyneux was 95% responsible for this unique event. A fact confirmed by Argyll & Bute Member of Parliament Mrs Ray Michie who steered the necessary Bill through Parliament.

The tears still hadn’t quite fallen but Eddie O’Donnell put the matter beyond doubt when he made a presentation to Brian on behalf of the people of Mull. Two specially commissioned framed photographs were presented, one showing Tobermory Bay and the other depicting what Brian has often described as the most glorious sight ever, Glengorm Castle at sunset. That was it, handkerchief time!

The rally itself differed only slightly from past selective events. The route followed the traditional pattern of Friday night and Saturday night sections with a Saturday afternoon daylight run through the forests. It was however, shorter than usual with only around 70 miles of stages on each overnight run compared with over a hundred miles of selectives. This was a sensible move in light of the necessity for a problem-free inaugural event and entries had been restricted to 100 cars for similar reasons.

There were a few hiccups regarding the different Marshalling, Timing and route marking requirements but this was to be expected on their first attempt at a `proper’ special stage rally. There was however, no shortage of manpower, and one marvels at the dedication of the Marshals who flock to the island annually, at their own expense. After years of experience, safety and communications offer little problem although the `Raynet’ amateur radio group have to set up four hill-top relay stations to cover the whole island. It might come as a surprise to those who have never been to Mull, but this 350 square mile lump of grass and rockery off the west coast of Scotland is far from flat!

The road closure procedure worked pretty well too. It had to really, with three different Police traffic authorities represented on the island, increasing the normal Police presence from 5 to 14 officers. Two cars ran ahead of the rally, the first carried visiting dignitaries but it was the second traffic car which officially closed the route. After the rally had passed, the organisers had an `opening’ car with illuminated roof-top sign bringing up the rear. Most spectators were pretty responsible and respected the road closure orders, but there was one minor panic when a drunk driver crashed through a `road closed’ sign on Friday night at Dervaig. The Police then howled off in pursuit and quickly caught up with him to find that he was a likely customer for the wee green balloon. I can however deny the rumour that the Police had to send over to the mainland on Saturday morning for more disc pads for their Rover SD1!

The island of Mull is perhaps the only place in Britain at the moment that could host a closed public road rally. If anyone thinks this motor sporting precedent is about to herald a whole new way of rallying, then forget it. The costs and the paperwork would defy many organisers. Equally important, there has to be, not just the public will, but the active support of the local inhabitants. And that is where Mull scores. In this strictly controlled environment the vast majority of the 2,000 inhabitants are all for it. And then there’s the atmosphere. Can you imagine any other event in the world which holds pre-event Scrutineering INSIDE the local distillery? “

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21 Jun: The Rally Bulletin Service

Before the Internet

Although many younger rally competitors and fans enjoy looking back at films and photographs of rallies past, featuring such historic delights as Minis, Chevettes, Sunbeams, Corollas and Escorts, they don’t know much about the working background of the sport before mobile phones and laptop computers.

Indeed, 40 and more years back, most rally fans headed for home after an enjoyable day’s spectating not really knowing who actually won the rally they had been watching. That included many competitors on that self same event who also went home not knowing how well or how poorly they had done. They had to wait for the Final Results to pop through their letter box anything up to 7 days later – or they could listen into BBC Radio Scotland for the sports results programme at 6 o’clock (back when the BBC actually reported on rallying!) for the top ten and a 30 second roundup!

That was because the recently introduced very expensive computerised results services were really only used on International events like the Lombard RAC and RSAC Scottish, and even then, they were simply more complex calculating machines. In fact it wasn’t until Martin Liddle (Tynemouth Computer Services), known in some circles as ‘Sparky the Electronic Wizard’ came up with a self built computer encased in a plywood box in the early 1980s that the sport entered a ‘new’ age. This electronic contraption was transported to and from National and Clubman events right across the  country and ultimately led to the fazing out of manual results on most events.

Think about it, before computers, a Results Team had to calculate the individual stage times for entries of 100 cars, or more, contesting anything up to 10 or maybe 12 stages. Not just that, but Arrival Times and Passage Control times had to be checked and any Road Penalties calculated. This was often a long and laborious process. A process which could be complicated and extended if any crew lodged a Query or Protest, which required more manual checking.

No wonder fans and competitors left before Final Results were announced. It could be some hours after the last car that they might be declared Final. Having said that, many results team excelled themselves in their turnaround times. Most had their own systems with the best declaring results provisional just minutes after the last car in some cases. Thinking back, what they achieved with pen and paper in a day’s sport was quite incredible.

By the same token, the issue of field results and competitor information during an event became an industrial art form in its own right. Rally HQ would call up manned telephone boxes and give the Marshals and Officials leaderboards and times ahead of the rally arriving at that point. The Marshals would note down the top ten or twenty times and chalk them up on blackboards for crews to note as they stopped to present their Time Cards.

In fact, Passage Controls had to be sited near these public phone boxes which were used in turn by Marshals, Officials, Results Team members and Information Crew volunteers who all had to share the facility!

Spectators in the know would often spot these Controls and stop for an update and then pass it on. But it took an enterprising couple from Northern Ireland to come up with the best invention since thermos flasks. Some major events were already offering a field results system whereby times were printed off at remote locations on route and handed out to competitors, but what Brian and Liz Patterson did was take that a stage further with their ‘RallyNews’ bulletins.

Not only did they issue Provisional leaderboards, but Brian would add snippets of interesting news and gossip regarding the competition’s progress. Taking that a stage further, they carried a small generator in the boot of their Volvo estate and a duplicator printer. This was a machine with an ink filled drum around which was wrapped a stencil. Using a manual ribbon-less typewriter balanced on her knees in the front seat of the car Liz ‘cut’ the stencils which were then taken to the duplicator in the boot, wrapped around the drum and hundreds of copies of their Results Bulletins were run-off within minutes.

These were then distributed to the Field Results Teams and delegated Information Officers, while supplies were given to volunteer Bulletin distribution crews whose job it was to distribute them free of charge to a wider audience. They were dished out in spectator and service areas, and given to Marshals to hand out as competitors and spectators passed by. It was quite a labour intensive operation  but great fun for all those involved.

It was a tremendous service. What made it so special was that Brian was often ahead of the official results teams. As he interviewed drivers for nuggets of information he asked the co-drivers what their times were and was able to compile a very provisional, but unofficial, top six or ten so that the Bulletins could be run off and sent out ahead of the field. The ‘RallyNews’ service was soon in demand right across the British and Irish Isles. Their system was copied by quite a few others, but never bettered. Folk who thought they could do better quickly found out just how much planning and effort was required before the event and the sheer graft during it to make the system work.

The photos show the team at work on the 1981 Lombard RAC Rally with Liz typing up Brian’s dictation notes in the front seat before manning (womanning?) the duplicator printer. It’s perhaps also worthy of note that it was considered dangerous to approach Liz while she was typing, such were the tight deadlines to which the team were working. The unknowing would be quickly repelled by one of Liz’s favourite sayings: “Dae ye waant a moothfae o’ dandruff?” which was uttered in a bold but confident attempt at a Scottish accent!

This temporary base of operations (in the photographs) was just outside the rather quaint Moorcock Inn at Langdale End in the huge Dalby Forest complex. This location was chosen simply because it had a red telephone box near the stage exit and close to the pub.

It was indeed a very busy phone box that night being used in rotation by Results crews in constant communication with Rally HQ and with Information crews feeding the Press Office with the results of their own news gathering exploits. These hand-picked volunteer Information Crews were ’employed’ by the Rally HQ Press Office and leapfrogged each other to get to stage finishes, snatch a word with the drivers, and then report back via a phone line to Rally HQ. This information was used by the Press team back at base issuing Reports and Releases on the rally progress to national and local newspapers throughout the British Isles.

Regarding the Moorcock, I say ‘quaint’ but that’s a polite term. Served up by the elderly proprietrix, Ada Martindale, there was more raw penicillin in the cheese sandwiches than the medicinal stock room at Boots, either that or the ‘furry blue’ speckled bread had come out in sympathy with the blue cheese! The trouble was, one Information crew was so hungry that after a quick scrape of the stale bread with a blunt knife, the sandwiches were eaten.

Looking back it’s remarkable just how much was achieved given the basic mechanical technology and limited resources at the time. Those who are used to instant communication via the mobile phone or Internet these days will find it difficult to comprehend the logistical hurdles, planning the use of the public phone service box network and the huge numbers of volunteers which were required to make this work. For instance, although the Ordnance Survey maps highlighted the location of these telephone boxes, they had to be checked out before a rally to ensure they were in fact operational!

Mind you it wasn’t just public phone boxes that were used, private phones in houses and service stations, public halls and business offices along the route were often pressed into service with the willing support of enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts. Many’s the time we saw a Marshal standing outside a private house with the phone line snaking across the garden and through a window to be connected with Rally HQ. And all this had to be planned, recce’d and agreed before a wheel had turned in anger.

This was indeed a much valued service back in the day, and one that was copied by a certain notorious character on the similar, but smaller scale, ‘MullMurmurs’ Bulletin service on the Isle of Mull for many years.

Aye, them were’t days.

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18 Jun: Lookback to SRC 1980

The 1980 Border Counties Rally, as published in the SRC Newsletter … Comments about the Esso Border Counties ranged from the good to the bad, and from the nice to the ugly. In fact, I’ve never heard such diverse opinions about the same event. For example, one English crew took […] Read more »

08 Jun: The Origins of Rallying

How it all came about … You may think that rallying wasn’t invented until the car came along, but you’d be wrong. Long before there were cars, there were wheels. Just ask the Romans. But even before we had the wheels, we had to get the navigation bit sorted out […] Read more »

04 Jun: M-Sport Power for BTCC

M-SPORT TO SUPPLY NEW BTCC ENGINE M-Sport has been awarded a five-year contract by TOCA – Series Organiser of the British Touring Car Championship – to supply the next ‘TOCA BTCC engine’ from 2022 onwards. Seeing off stiff competition from a number of interested parties, the Cumbrian firm were amongst […] Read more »

02 Jun: Rallying’s future?

Time to Think – and to Plan Given the fact that rallying has been suspended for the foreseeable future, it gives us all to time to sit back and ponder what that future might look like. If this article can generate some GENUINE debate and practical suggestions then I might […] Read more »