It has been five months since the coronavirus outbreak closed down Britain, but the BriSCA F1s return this Saturday, after an announcement was made by the BMB, via BriSCA F1 social media groups, at the end of July.
There will be 11 ticket-only fixtures beginning at King’s Lynn, for a series called The Chase. An NHS Charity fundraising initiative has been set up and the winner of the series will be rewarded with a rainbow-coloured roof.
But alongside the good news was the shock announcement that Spedeworth would not feature among the list of dates.
Not only that, but the promotion will also withdraw from the 2021 season.
The result is that while there has been talk of a return of Bradford’s Odsal Stadium, with the demise of Belle Vue, there are currently just four regular tracks to cover the 2021 season.
In the BMB statement, Spedeworth boss Deane Wood said: “I need a break from it to stand back, take stock and will take a decision as to the longer-term future later in 2021. It’s not a ‘fall out’ with other promoters, we will be still working together, it’s to do with the culture, levels of respect and relationships.
“We are a multi-formula promoter which operates very differently to BriSCA and different cultures. Our decision is to focus on what we want to do and see where F1 may fit for 2022.”
Wood’s comments were significant, but why has this happened?
In an exclusive interview, Deane Wood spoke to NEIL RANDON to explain some of the reasons behind his decision.
Deane Wood rang. He wanted to express his views, he said. “But I don’t want a slanging match. I’ll make it that, you know me. That’s why I have left it a while.” To picture the current situation, some historical background is required.
Ever since Les Eaton founded Spedeworth, its relationship with BriSCA has been a fractious one.
In 1961 Eaton was running Tongham Stadium in Aldershot and Eastbourne’s Arlington Stadium. He was a young and enthusiastic southern promoter and he applied for a licence from the British Stock Car Racing Board of Control – later to become BriSCA – but the application was refused.
Why that was has never been made totally clear, but the drivers who raced for Eaton also had their licences withdrawn.
Undeterred, during the following two decades Eaton expanded his business to become the most powerful promoter in short oval racing, with Wimbledon’s Plough Lane and Ipswich’s Foxhall Stadium the jewels within his burgeoning empire.
Eaton’s promotion was a completely different animal to BriSCA’s. Geographically, Spedeworth’s venues were located in the south east and in East Anglia. It ran different formula and the structure of the promoting body was based around one man.
BriSCA, on the other hand, was a conglomeration of promoters, and running alongside the association was the BSCDA, the driver’s body, who came into existence before BriSCA.
The BSCDA was created to protect drivers’ interests within a sport that was fast becoming the blue riband of short oval racing. A trust fund was set up and start money introduced. Over time car specifications and car bookings would also be incorporated within the BSCDA’s remit.
After the initial split, it took 35 years before Eaton’s son Roy, then Spedeworth’s boss, agreed a deal with BriSCA to run F1s. The first meeting was at Wimbledon in 1996.
Then in 2004 Wood – who had competed at Spedeworth tracks in everything from Bangers and Saloon stock cars to National Hot Rods, having begun his working life selling scrap metal before discovering that exporting cars could be a very profitable business – bought the company and four years later also purchased Incarace from Philip Bond.
At a stroke Wood now ran more venues than the rest of the BriSCA promoters put together and was promoting events for both Spedeworth and BriSCA.
In the same fashion Eaton ran his stock car business, Wood runs his, too.
Having spent a small fortune purchasing two promotions and with the formulas within Spedeworth run by Spedeworth, Wood has had ultimate control over how his stock car formulas are managed.
But not so BriSCA F1.
At Spedeworth Wood, 59, runs a tight ship. At the turn of the millennium, for example, National Hot Rods began to implode through spiralling costs.
“Before even my major time in the sport, National Hot Rods went down on their arse – there were six or seven cars a meeting,” says Wood. “It was too expensive, just the same now as the BriSCA F1s, but there were no rules.
“I raced at a National Hot Rod weekend and Steve Thompson, who later had a go in a Formula One and is still a good friend of mine, put 12 tyres on his car during that weekend – 12 brand new tyres.
“I’m not saying he wasn’t going to use them again afterwards, but who can afford 12 tyres and 12 wheels?
“So, when I came in and started running it, I said “No, we’re cutting this back”. Roy Eaton, just before he packed up, had cut it to two tyres a meeting, and when I came in and took over the whole lot, I cut it to one new tyre a meeting. And it started transforming the sport.”
Wood is the ringmaster for National Hot Rods. “I’ve got one guy running it in Ireland,” he says. “But I make 90 per cent of the calls.
“What I do, if I’m thinking of doing something I plant seeds now for the following year. So, I will say to someone who has got the biggest mouth in the pits “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m thinking of doing this!
“What do you think? Don’t tell anyone will you?
“And you know, within a week, you are getting all your feedback. And sometimes you will get feedback and it’s negative, but they haven’t given me a reason why it’s negative – it’s usually only because it doesn’t suit them – or there will be other times you will hear something and you will think “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that – lucky I didn’t do it. They’re right”.”
But it is with BriSCA F1 and the BSCDA in particular, where he struggles to make the impact he would like. Within BriSCA he has sometimes felt like a round peg in a square hole.
As he states in the BMB statement, BriSCA F1 and Spedeworth are culturally different.
“I had a long chat with Rob Speak the other day and he said “The trouble is Deane, Spedeworth has always been one man runs it, one man makes the rules, one man’s in charge. Take it or leave it. That’s how you’ve been brought up”. He said “I’ve been brought up with BriSCA F1s, which is run by committee”.
“In my view, you can’t have the tail wagging the dog,” Wood says.
“Whether you like it or not, if you go with one person, you’re just dealing with one person. You end up knowing that person, whether you like them or dislike them, you know where you stand, you know what the rules are.
“You can’t promote something you have no control of. I’ve told the BSCDA for the last two years not to keep changing rules. Sort a rule that takes grip out of the back of the car. Then they can have the best engine in the world, a £40-50,000 engine, but if its wheels are spinning it won’t go anywhere.
“You won’t have to ban anyone for using that sort of engine, because that driver will end up taking it out himself because they’ll think a £15,000 engine is less powerful but doesn’t wheelspin.
“But as promoters we have no say. I wanted the new World Champion to go out in the last race at Ipswich. It should be a big thing. It should be the last car to pull out on to the track with a freshly painted gold roof.
“With a big fanfare – “and here is your new world champion!”
“To me, that’s promoting.”
Wood, despite his reservations, recognises BriSCA F1 is the biggest draw in short-oval racing.
“F1s have something big here that one day could get big sponsorship, which National Bangers never will,” says Wood. “F1s have a chance of getting that.
“We should be doing a deal with someone to get a big sponsor. Say someone gets a big sponsor interested. A percentage would go to the deal maker and the promoter and 50% would go back into the pot.
“All my marshalls would be in the sponsors overalls, signage would be put up, sponsors would have a VIP area, like I’ve done at Ipswich, where you give them food and drink. I’ve now done something similar at Northampton over the balcony.
“I learnt that off of NASCAR when they came over to see me. They said “Where would I put Coca Cola at Northampton, Deane? Over there with the old woman standing on the grass in her wellington boots and a dog?”
“Companies sponsor events because of their egos. They want to show off in front of their mates – but they’re not going to show off here, are they, for this European Championship.
“But what annoys me more is when you are paying someone to race at your track who then speaks down at you. It’s like me speaking to you like a piece of dirt, and then asking you to do me a favour.
“If some of them learnt some manners we could all get on.
“I don’t care about how much money it takes to run the F1s. If I’m earning, I don’t care how much money I give them.”
But that is not the only issue. There is also Texel and a long-standing disagreement he has had concerning drivers choosing to race in Holland rather than supporting his events.
“I was talking about pulling out last year,” says Wood. “I have been talking about it for two years.
“Steve (Rees) convinced me to stay. I was just about to go out to South Africa. He said we would get fixture list sorted out and when I came back we could all sit down round the table for a meeting about it.
“And I’m still waiting for the meeting.
“One of the things that still gets me is that I still haven’t had answers for Texel – and I know everyone will say, here we go, that’s rearing its head again.
“But when Texel first came up there were three drivers going to Holland, on the same weekend as the European Championship. And I said, “That’s not right? If there’s a championship here – not just because it’s the European – they should be racing here”.
“But because one or two of the drivers never did Tarmac, as Northampton was still Tarmac at the time – I was told I was only losing one driver, so was it really worth causing a big stir over it.
“So I said, no – but it’s the principle. One goes to three, goes to six… But I was told it wouldn’t happen.
“I was told if it clashed the next year, they wouldn’t go. I think the following year, about 11 or 12 went. So, how would you feel?
“It is the European Championship situation over the last couple of years that is the straw that has broken the camel’s back – people telling me what I am going to do and what I’m not going to do.
“About 80 per cent of the blokes don’t care, they just want to go out and race, but with others its either their way or no way.”
“So I made my decision in December that I was out. I said to Steve (Rees) that I’d had enough. We had a long chat and in the end I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, let me have time out.”
“I said I will take the rest of this year out and next year out. The way I explained it was, if you were going to separate from your wife, you don’t divorce her the next day, do you? You have a separation and in the end you get divorced or you get back together.
“So if we have a separation, either I will change my mind and say, you know what? I really miss the F1s or F1s say perhaps I wasn’t so bad and we make up. Or we have our separation.
“I said if I have to run the European and World Masters, I will, because they are championships, they are a big part of the sport, but I don’t want to run domestic meetings.
“If they say I can’t run those two meetings, no one will run them. But I haven’t had an answer on that either.”
BriSCA F2s is a different story. There were rumours abound that Wood would not run F2s either, but that appears far from the case, especially after their opening meeting at Northampton two weeks ago.
“The F2s are very good on shale,” says Wood. “Last Saturday them and the saloons were as good as or better than the Bangers. They were that good – and I’m a Banger person as far as the business.”
And now, of course, there are the repercussions from COVID-19.
“It isn’t just since lockdown in March. It has not just affected promoters for six months, it has affected them since October,” explains Wood, “We shut down at the end of October, beginning of November, so you go through the winter paying rent and all your staff and they’re hardly doing any work, because you can’t cut grass, you can’t paint. What can you do in the winter?
“And just as you are about to open you have to close down again. We couldn’t completely shut the office. We put some on the furlough scheme, but you can’t put all your staff on furlough, because the stadiums would all end up like jungles.
“Imagine shutting a stadium down for four months, especially with the way the weather has been with rain and then the sun?”
But despite the loss of income from lockdown, Wood is prepared to follow through his self-imposed separation from BriSCA F1.
“I will adapt and change,” he says.
As he gets older, Wood is more able to be self-reflective and to admit to his own fallibilities.
“One thing I have learnt, is never close doors behind you,” says Wood. “I’m one of the worst for having a row with people, but 99 per cent of them I end up being good friends with.
“You should never shut doors, because you never know when you might need to open them again.
“That’s why I have left this as long as I have to say anything. Long-term my business is to get it right, get it back together. All you need sometimes is an apology. It can go a long way.”
Time will tell whether both Wood and the sport of BriSCA F1 regret or embrace his decision.
Neil Randon 2020
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon and Colin Casserley