News that BriSCA F1 stock car driver Tim Warwick had passed away on Saturday, May 15, 2021 sent shockwaves through the sport and an outpouring of grief and tributes for one of the most popular drivers to have ever graced the short ovals. NEIL RANDON pays his own tribute to a man he first met as a teenager.
April 17, 1976 was a day that will be etched in my memory forever.
I was staying in Northampton at Tony and Ann Millican’s house – Tony was a friend of my family and he had invited me for a long Easter weekend of F1 stock car racing. The plan was to go to Long Eaton on Good Friday, followed by Nelson on Saturday and Northampton on Easter Sunday, where my parents would join us and I would return to home with them.
For a 15-year-old F1 stock car fan living in the south east, I had yearned to go to places like Long Eaton and Nelson, the Lancashire track that for me was the holy grail. A magical, almost mystical, arena where the meeting reports in all the stock car magazines captured my imagination. The atmosphere and the racing were always electrifying from what I had read and all the great northern stars, who I rarely got to see, competed there.
And now I had the opportunity, through the generosity of my hosts to live the dream. After the Long Eaton solus meeting, Tony and I were to get a lift to Nelson from a friend of Tony’s who was also a stock car racing fanatic, a young lad who lived in Bedford who was more than happy to drive us up to Lancashire and back.
Early on Saturday afternoon, the doorbell rang and our lift arrived. I went out and shook his hand. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Tim.”
Tim Warwick was 19 years old, had long hair like me and drove a Mk1 Ford Cortina resplendent in stock car stickers. It took about half a second to realise we would get on famously. On the drive up to Nelson he was engaging company and very amusing. I was a teenager who soaked up every story about F1 stock car racing and Tim, who travelled far and wide to watch his favourite sport, recalled tales of stock car meetings he had witnessed, including drivers like Gordon Smith, a personal favourite, who occasionally got involved in spectacular crashes. As Tim said at the time: “No doubt Gordon kept his foot to the floor, even when he was mid-air.”
I was captivated. Tim, Tony and I had a great time that day – and the meeting turned out to be one of the best I have ever been to.
Little did I know that 45 years later I would write a book that tried to capture this extraordinary period of the sport during the 1970s and 80s – BriSCA F1’s golden era – and that meeting on Easter Saturday at Nelson would be included in it. If you have watched some of the audio visuals I produced to promote Heavy Metal, you will hear my tape recording from that actual meeting.
Northampton, May 20, 1995. By now Tim Warwick had switched from F1 stock car fan to F1 stock car driver. It was the European Championship weekend and I had hired Ian Higgins’ Live The Dream F1 stock car and was competing in my first (and only) F1 stock car event.
It was a baptism of fire to say the least, but having crashed out in my heat, I very nearly – by accident rather than design – qualified for the final via the consolation but for a flat rear tyre late on. Andy Smith won the race from Peter Falding.
While parked by the fence waiting to be towed off, a car pulled up alongside and the driver called out to me. It was Tim. We were in the same race together. “How are you doing!” he said. “Did you enjoy that?” I told him it had been a bit of a white-knuckle ride. It was great to see him. We had a good chat before my tractor arrived.
Our paths never really crossed that much over the years since then, but I always felt a bond, however distant.
And I know he arranged for Heavy Metal to be sent to Theo Sparrow, the son of Bernard, who is featured in the book due to the role he played in convincing the Daily Mirror to sponsor both the Grand Prix series and the World Final from 1979 onwards. Bernard and Tim would travel together to watch stock cars during those years.
Knowing that he had organised for the book to be sent to his late friend’s son gave me a sense of pride.
But when I saw Sam Wainman’s name flash up having sent me a private Facebook message on Saturday evening, I knew something was wrong. Sam doesn’t text me out of the blue for any flippant reason. When she told me about how Tim had died after an accident working on his stock car, presumably while preparing it for this week’s opening meeting of the season at King’s Lynn, I was shocked.
Sam, and the rest of the Wainman family were utterly heartbroken to hear the news. “Not a dry eye in the house, here,” she said. “He was a legend.”
Indeed, he was.
His career stats will list nine race victories, the first in a White and Yellow top-only race at Northampton on November 1, 1993, and the last at Stoke on September 28, 2013 in the consolation event, when he held off a last-bend attack from Mat Newson to take the flag. The crowd that day erupted with their approval when he crossed the line. It was the most popular win of the meeting. To many it made their night.
He was also part of a husband-and-wife stock car team, with his life-partner Chrissy sharing the car in the early-1990s (who could ever forget that spectacular rollover she had at Skegness on World semi-final day in 1991? It happened right in front of me at the end of the back straight).
What gave Tim Warwick such legendary status, however, was not because of championships and races won, because over a career that spanned more than 40 years, Tim didn’t win a major title or win many races – but that wasn’t the point.
Tim’s stock car racing legacy rose way above race-career statistics. It was the sheer pleasure he gave to thousands of fans over the years through his enthusiasm, sheer grit and determination. And off the track he was kind, funny, generous with his time and approachable. Everyone loved him.
And while he never owned a car that had the potential to be a world-beater, stock car fans also loved the fact his car paid homage to the bygone age of the 1970s with its white-walled tyres.
Tim, like his car, was unique.
He also never shirked away from what is sometimes a thankless task helping to promote F1 stock car racing and would often volunteer his car as part of a display at an event, whether it was stock car-related or not.
And when Wimbledon closed its doors for the last time in March 2017, Tim was one of the 11 drivers who made the effort to give the old stadium the send-off it deserved. It was another great night.
Here was a man who was not only part of the very fabric, the bedrock, of our wonderful sport, but on a personal level played an intrinsic and influential role in my stock car life.
Tim Warwick – the people’s champion – has now tragically left us at the age of 65, and my heart goes out to his family and closest friends.
He is a man I will never, ever forget.
RIP my old friend – and thank you. x
NEIL RANDON 2021