Remember the date – October 20, 2018. That is the day John Lund, the eight-time world champion, who has not been seen on the track since the last meeting at Coventry Stadium in November 2016 where he finished fifth in the Grand National behind Paul Hines, makes his reappearance behind the wheel of a BriSCA F1 stock car.
The announcement that John had booked in to race at the National Points Championship Shootout round at King’s Lynn this weekend has had an almost spiritual effect on BriSCA F1 fans.
Social media has been jammed packed full of Lund tweets and posts. And they are all brimming with excitement of his return to action.
John Lund driving an F1 stock car again has brought the feel-good factor back to BriSCA F1. All is good with the world. Fans have been waiting for this moment for nearly two years, and for some it is the fillip they have desperately needed. It has given them a reason to go racing again.
Lund’s absence from the short ovals coincided with the demise of Coventry Stadium. The combination left many with a tangible sense of loss. The debacle that resulted in the stadium being stripped not only of its fixtures and fittings but, maybe more importantly, of its dignity after decades of unrivaled entertainment on the first Saturday of each month from April to November, left many fans angry and deflated. Some have never returned to the sport.
While stadiums inevitably come and go, Coventry Stadium was where the heart and soul of the sport existed and no other track has, of yet, been able to transplant that atmosphere of anticipation and dedication each month.
But now John Lund, the stock car Messiah, is returning to the track – with his old-school-style open-face crash helmet and goggles – and some fans have, as a result, rediscovered their passion for the sport. Coventry may be gone forever, but John Lund is back!
It is apt that it is King’s Lynn where he makes his comeback. His last final win was at the Adrian Flux Arena in 2010 and his last World Final appearance was at the track in 2015, where the cheers he received as he made his entrance on to the track for the parade had to be heard to be believed.
John Lund began his stock car career 42 years ago. Just pause for a moment and take that in. It was on 28 March, 1976 at Rochdale, and he won his first race at six months later at Nelson.
Curiously, while Lund has won every major title in the sport many times over, it took him 11 years to win his first one, the British Championship. And, as so often happens in BriSCA F1, once he won one, more would follow. Later that season he won his first World Final at Belle Vue and he would go on to take the National Points Championship that year as well.
John Lund in action at Crewe in 1988
He has had his rivalries during his career. During the 1990s it was Frankie Wainman Jnr who would be his main adversary, as well as Peter Falding.
But one of his most famous on-track battles would be with Richard Pratt. I wrote about it in my first book The Sound and the Fury:
In the late eighties he had numerous skirmishes with Richard Pratt. Pratt was another who liked to act as a spoiler. At one Northampton meeting in 1988, Pratt hit Lund so hard, Lund’s car went through the wires like an egg slicer. On that occasion, revenge was metted out in the Grand National. Lund took the flag for the win just as Pratt was in front of him, a lap down. In a split second Lund swooped on Pratt before the next bend and buried him into a pack of parked cars. He couldn’t have timed it better.
“We always had a good crack afterwards with Pratty,” Lund says.
Lund’s car after Richard Pratt fired him into the wires at Northampton in 1988
“Unfortunately, if you are trying to win a race or going for a good place, it’s very difficult to defend yourself against someone who is determined to get you. For someone who has no interest in winning it’s easy, you just keep you foot on a bit longer. There’s not a lot you can do.”
What I didn’t mention in that section of the book was how Lund, despite the damage created by the hit, walked back up the track to where Pratt was parked waiting for the restart and shook his hand. Lund has always been pure class. That is him in a nutshell. He never beared a grudge, he just made sure he got even when the opportunity arose.
Some of the current crop of drivers could learn a thing or two from his attitude.
And so this Saturday is all about celebrating the return of the king of BriSCA F1. It may be expecting too much to imagine Lund taking a chequered flag around on a victory lap on Saturday night, but one thing is certain, as the 64-year-old drives on to the track to take part in his heat, he will receive the most enthusiastic, emotional and loudest ovation to be heard at any stock car track for many years.
Neil Randon 2018 Photos: Colin Casserley and Neil Randon
I thought I would give an insight into the story behind Shock and Roar, as well as the trials and tribulations getting it prepared and ready for people to buy.
It was 18 years ago that I published The Sound and the Fury and I now realise why it has taken me so long to write another one!
From concept to finished product, it’s a long, long road to get a book published, particularly when you do it all yourself.
Creating a book is a lengthy business, and being what seems a lifetime since the last one, there was also more at stake the second time around. It was the difficult second album, so to speak.
While it’s been enjoyable for the most part, trying to fit work on the book in between earning a living inevitably takes its toll.
Like The Sound and the Fury, I designed and published this book as well as writing it. As time went on the layout had to be adapted quite a lot to keep up with events as they happened. It turned out to be a very eventful season in 2017, often off the track as well as on it.
And last year, in particular, was a very busy one for me work-wise, with the day job at the Daily Star and Daily Express, as well as plenty of BSCDA press work to fit in. By the end of the process I was relieved to actually get the book finished.
Although a freelancer, I work more for other organisations than for myself. My main job is as a horse racing journalist and assistant editor for the Daily Star and Daily Express newspapers, where today’s stories are tomorrow’s old news.
After 24 hours they are completely forgotten. With a book, however, what ends up being written is a permanent record. And when it is your own publication, there is more pressure attached to it.
It is important to me to create a book that gives readers real value for money. So in Shock and Roar it meant plenty of photos as well as words. And I wanted the book to be full-colour but it had to be cost-effective. A difficult balance.
Being a one-man band with just a few able assistants, ie. my wife, Annie and one of my mates and work colleagues, Danny Hall, it takes a massive amount of time checking everything – facts, dates, spelling errors. Even then one or two will inevitably slip the net. I also wanted to write a tabloid-style catch line with every photo caption, to try and give meaning and a personality to each photo. All of this takes an age.
Another time-consuming area is research. Unfortunately, my recall of events is not as crystal clear as it once was (I’m getting old) and so it takes time to check and re-check key dates. Even with the best will in the world, drivers themselves make mistakes and get their facts wrong, so you can’t take everything said in an interview as gospel.
So, the book evolved and deadlines I gave myself came and went until I forced myself to stick to one.
It had to be ready to go to the printers by April 25, so that I could sell my first copies at the UK Open Championship weekend at Skegness on May 12-13. Sounds enough time, but it was touch and go…
So, why write a book now?
Possibly because I have been more involved in the sport again after a number of years on the sidelines.
Between about 2004 and 2014 I probably only went to a handful of meetings a year and then only socialised with a small group of drivers who I knew well. When I was approached by the BSCDA to work as a media consultant at the end of 2016, I re-established myself into the fabric of the sport.
I timed my comeback, inadvertently, just when the sport was going through tumult with the closure of Coventry and all the on-track battles that turned into bitter rivalries. So much went on in 2017 it was hard to keep up with it all. But for a tabloid newspaper journalist, the stories developing throughout the year and into the winter months were pure gold.
And so by June of last year, I felt there was going to be enough topical and controversial stuff to create a book that people would want to read about.
I began to put together a list of drivers I wanted to include. There were a number of obvious ones, but it got to the stage where I couldn’t fit them all in, and so I had to make some very hard decisions.
There will be some readers who will be disappointed a number of leading drivers are not featured, but their time will come. The story is not over.
Once I made my choices, the next step was going to be visiting the drivers. Like in The Sound and the Fury, I wanted to interview them at their work or home environment to give an added dimension to their story.
Living in Surrey meant a lot of hours on the road. None more so than spending a day with Mick Sworder.
With Mick, it meant going out in his truck. I drove to his yard for 6.00am and I spent a very long day driving up to Retford and then down passed Maidstone and then back to Mick’s yard, before heading back south again in my car. I got home at 10.00pm that night.
Then there were others who were simply hard to pin down for a free afternoon. Dan Johnson was the most difficult, just because he is busy working on sites most of the week. As time went on, the weather deteriorated and I was forced to wait until it improved into this year. He was the last driver I visited in March, just before the season began.
But Dan and all the others drivers I went to see have been absolutely fantastic. Every one was welcoming and very helpful. Brilliant, in fact. Many were quite candid with their comments – some, as you can probably imagine, were too candid! But it was important they were able to express their views and that much of what they said went down in print. I certainly didn’t want this book to end up as a PR puff for each driver.
That’s why, for example, I tried to inject a bit of zest to the BSCDA media work I have done for the past year or so. In my view, it is vital that the public believe what they are reading and are captivated when reading it.
Rob Speak’s interview about being a promoter six months into the job on bscdaonline.com last year was a case in point. I think he was a little disarmed by what was written when I published it, but he shouldn’t have worried. The fans loved it.
I reckon the other promoters could, in general terms, benefit from that mindset.
If the book had been heading in the direction of PR propaganda I would have binned it, or at least not featured that driver in the book. I worked on the PR side of the media for the ASCAR racing series for three years, but as a tabloid news journalist I had to accept the majority of individuals and companies want to paint as perfect a picture of themselves as they can. The trouble is most people don’t believe the hype. They can see straight through it. And the end result is invariably as boring as…
PR can be good and bad – it depends on how you use it and how it’s pitched. Most PR press releases are bland and utterly forgettable. I never tend to read more than a paragraph before I know whether to bother reading any further.
In my view, an interview where a driver or promoter can express their opinions has more PR value than simply giving a positive spin on everything all the time. The skill is being able to to steer the conversation on to topics of interest but at the same time not be too controversial or negative.
Anyway, that’s enough about the pros and cons of PR. Let’s get back to the book.
Shock and Roar is a purely journalistic project, where the drivers lives and their personalities came to the fore, the good and the bad. I wanted to show the real human beings behind the wheel – it was imperative to include their flaws (we all have them), as well as their great victories – and try to capture who they really are, what they think of each other and those involved in the sport.
I had a short-list of drivers I wanted to include which grew to about 15. There came a point I knew the amount of pages taken up was getting too much production cost-wise, so I reluctantly had to drop it down finally to 11.
As the year rolled by the stories surrounding at least five of the drivers became more intense and so while travelling all over the country to interview many of them, their stories continued to change. There has never been a year quite like 2017 for discord and so much of the core of Shock and Roar focuses on that.
I didn’t, however, want it all to be in that vein. Compared to The Sound and the Fury, Shock and Roar is more intense and I needed to find some light-hearted moments to change the atmosphere in the book here and there.
There are fewer funny stories in Shock and Roar, that’s for sure, but times have changed. Drivers take themselves far more seriously nowadays, and rarely express self-reflection. But that is the same in any sport. I don’t think I have ever heard a driver raise their hands and say they were wrong about an incident they were clearly the instigator of! They always find justification for their actions.
The book, I hope, has a number of layers to it, with some enlightening moments. I decided to book-end it with Frankie Wainman Jnr at the beginning and Stuart Smith Jnr at the end. Both are from families who have been stalwarts of the sport and created much of the glue that has held the sport together for the past 50 years.
The inner core of the book surrounds the drivers who are never likely to sit around a table for drinks at a party together. Here is where the friction lay. I had to be careful not to go too headlong into some of the comments made, especially those stated as fact but could not be confirmed.
But for all of that, it was an enthralling journey and I hope you feel the same way when you read it, too.
Neil Randon 2018 Photos by Chris Clarke
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter — Izaak Walton