… John Cowan, 1940 – 2020 …
Sadly, John Cowan passed away last week. Not a name that will be familiar to many of you but a sad loss to Scottish motor sport, particularly to rallying. He may not have been known personally to many of you, but his was a weel kent face. He was immediately recognisable in Rally HQs around the country with his lustrous black hairstyle which often looked as though he had arrived at speed on the back of a motor cycle, having forgotten to put on his helmet.
Nor does his name adorn many sporting or championship trophies. John Cowan was one of those who worked tirelessly in the background helping to create the sport that we all cherish and enjoy today.
A Civil Engineer by profession and a lifelong member of 55 Car Club by choice, he was part of the team which introduced the concept of using forest roads as rally stages with the club’s Hackle Rally being one of the first events in the UK to use a section of Forestry Commission road as a Special Stage in the early 1960s.
In fact, 55CC were already using a stretch of ‘forestry gravel road’ behind Blair Castle for their own event when the 1960 RAC Rally inserted a 1.8 mile stretch of Forestry Commission gravel road as a timed test in their route for the first time. That was in Argyll, and its success led to the introduction of 200 miles of FC roads for their event the following year in 1961.
By that time, 55CC were already incorporating more FC road tests in their own Hackle Rally as other clubs and organisers followed suit.
Throughout that period, John was involved in the marshalling and organising of a whole range of competitions within the club culminating in him becoming club President.
This expertise and meticulous attention to detail was recognised further afield and he was invited to join the Royal Scottish Automobile Club’s team for their annual Scottish Rally to help with the Perthshire route. By 1976 he was Sector Marshal on ‘the Scottish’ with responsibility for sections of the route each day which were longer than a full National Rally these days! That role expanded over the years and in 1979 he was made Deputy Clerk of the Course for Scotland’s premier International event, a post which he held till 1998. Subsequently he served as Rally Manager and Chairman of the organising committee for a few years.
In 1995 he was awarded the ‘Pentti Airikkala Trophy’ for his efforts. Presented annually by the RSAC this award recognises the efforts and achievements of those who work behind the scenes, often thanklessly and anonymously.
Perhaps surprisingly, and unlike motor racing Clerks of the Course, those in rallying did not need to be qualified or licensed, merely appointed by the organising team, on the basis of ability and experience. As the sport grew in popularity and the rules and regulations grew in complexity, the RAC Motor Sports Association (as it then was) recognised the need to formalise this senior post within the sport.
This was a move welcomed by John who worked with the RAC MSA, then the MSA, and who became a Club Steward and MSA appointed Steward on events, passing on his advice and guidance to a new generation of organisers. Throughout that time he was also involved in ESACC, the East of Scotland Association of Car Clubs, which was eventually amalgamated with AWSMSC (Assoc. of West of Scotland Motor Sport Clubs) to form the current Scottish Association, SAMSC.
Whilst you won’t see his name recorded in newsprint columns or on many trophy plaques, it was commonplace in car club committee minutes, Association notes and MSA paperwork. One of the silent minority perhaps, but one whose influence was felt nation-wide. For sure the sport will miss him, but none more so than his wife Eileen, sons Keith and Kenneth and daughter Nicola, and their wider family and friends. Our heartfelt condolences to them all.