13 Dec: Obituary – Reay MacKay

… Reay MacKay, 1974 – 2020 …

A bad year just got worse. Reay MacKay passed away on Friday, he was just 46 years old. One of the most popular characters on the Scottish rallying scene, Reay was actually quite quiet and yet very sociable. He didn’t need an excuse to stop and chat, he just did, whether he knew folk or not, with many people passing pleasurable time in his company.

Looks can be deceptive, he did keep rumbustious company at times but whereas the excessive consumption of drink may have overwhelmed some members of a party, Reay usually managed to retain a little more decorum and sensibility and yet he enjoyed their company every bit as much as they enjoyed his.

Anyone who went to the pre-rally (!) and after-rally parties at the Stravaigers Lodge sponsored Fort Augustus Rally Time Trials will know that only too well. Reay was an excellent host at the family run Lodge, caravan and camping site in the centre of Fort Augustus and ensured that he had obtained a late licence for the Bar prior to the arrival of the rally entourage.

He sold the business over a year ago and bought a small farm where he recently spent a lot of time in the middle of nowhere on the back of a tractor or a digger and sending pictures of his sheep on his smartphone to family and friends.

As recently as last Sunday he was breakfasting with Andy Horne and discussing his latest 18 month medication plan as told to him on his most recent of twice weekly hospital visits. What was not part that ‘plan’ was an intention to visit to the Arctic Rally next month – Covid permitting!

He had been diagnosed with cancer just over two years ago but the treatment, although harsh at times, appeared to have gone well. His passing on Friday came as something of an unexpected shock. Even at his lowest ebb, there was little complaint, he would just busy himself about the farm when he was able.

Although he had many interests, both business and pleasure, rallying was his main escape. When not competing he would be travelling to events around the country and often to Scandinavia to spectate and usually with a group of friends.

It was through competition that he became more widely known and although he rarely contested a full championship season of events, his results spoke for themselves. The talent was undoubtedly there to have made more of an impact, but he went rallying for the enjoyment and the competition, not for the titles and trophies.

He had many co-drivers over the years but struck up strong partnerships with two, firstly with Robert MacDonald, but when Robert became a Dad other priorities took over, and latterly with Keir Beaton although many others have enjoyed his company in a rally car on many events.

He started rallying in 1994 but his progress up the results sheet was sporadic as business always came first and rallying was for fun. In 2009, he and Robert powered his newly acquired MG Metro 6R4 to victory on a very snowy Snowman Rally. After the rally he said: “Conditions were very tricky – we just had to keep it tidy and stay in the ruts, but it’s brilliant to have won our first forest rally, and our home event.”

The following year he won the National Rally event within the International Rally Scotland and followed that up with victory on the Kingdom Stages in a Subaru Impreza.

Hoping to repeat his ‘home’ victory on the 2010 Snowman, the best he could manage was 7th overall. It wasn’t snow which was the problem that year, it was ice, acres of the stuff. Survival alone was a victory on treacherously slippy stages which were covered with thick ice. Even so he was back for more on the 2011 Snowman, this time with a Subaru Impreza but he didn’t even make it to the first stage. The Subaru was spotted parked up in a layby: “It’s got a spark and it’s got fuel pressure,” he explained to the Motoring News reporter, ”but it just won’t run!”

There were no tantrums or swear words, just stoic acceptance that a sport which can deliver such huge highs can also generate such dispiriting lows. That was typical of the man.  No histrionics or huffs, just a wan smile and already looking forward to the next adventure.

Over the years he was always considered a  top ten contender and a regular top six runner, but all too often plagued with mechanical failures which marred what might have been a more impressive results record.

Of course, that wasn’t the reason he was there. It was always about the fun, hence he participated, and sponsored, Highland Car Club’s Time Trials at Fort Augustus and took part in the Rally Hebrides event too, but perhaps his greatest adventure was on the 2018 Vetomies Rally in Finland where he and Keir finished 17th o/a in a locally hired BMW 325i.

The Vetomies Rally, is a National event run within the main three day WRC Rally Finland. The national runners contested one stage on the Friday evening and then five on the Saturday running between the double runs of the WRC stages.

Their event started with the recce, where they had to write their own Pace Notes – a first for Reay! Then they went and watched the Shakedown stage. That proved to be a real eye-opener. Watching the WRC stars on the snow on TV is one thing, standing at the side of the road when the WRC monsters hurtle past is quite another. Suitably inspired off they went.

Not only did they survive, they finished top 2WD and 17th o/a from an entry of 88 crews. The modestly powered rear wheel drive BMW may have been rather different from his more usual mounts, but that didn’t stop Reay having a real go, while resisting the magnetic attraction of the tree lined snowbanks – as so many others failed to do!

His final rally visit was earlier this year at the Snowman Rally, just before Covid blighted the nation, and no-one would have guessed what Reay had been through. He was just a spectator, there for the craic, amongst friends. A genuine enthusiast and a gentle man in the truest sense of the words. Or as Keir said: “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.”

The good folk of Fort Augustus will miss him too. He was involved in numerous local businesses including the Monster Fish & Chip Company and was a true ambassador for his home town – once described as the unofficial ‘Mayor of Fort Augustus’ he’ll be a hard act to follow.

It’s just so sudden and so sad, our sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to his partner Jenny, the three children Stuart, Cameron and Isla, his brother Lorn, and their families, friends and acquaintances.