Interview with #24 Roger Wright.
Rob Hughes talks to veteran Hot Rod racer Cheshire’s 24 Roger Wright about his long career in short oval racing and his contribution to the Classic Hot Rod scene today.
RH; So it’s a long career that you’ve had racing Roger, tell us about your racing history.
RW: Well it’s certainly going back a long way! 35 years I reckon. It was my wife that suggested that I have a look at banger racing at Chesterton way back then. When we met I was involved in ‘proper’ motor racing at Oulton Park. I was a marshal, and well, like all officials, I was really just a frustrated driver. I’d done carts on the club circuits, but not race cars. Newly married, my wife knew that I wanted to race but I certainly couldn’t afford doing it on the big tracks, so we went along to this place Chesterton to have a look….
RW: Well the bangers all looked well and good, but then out the pits and zipping onto the tracks came these Hot Rod Minis, some Anglias and Escorts, but as soon as I saw these Minis, well, I was hooked! They looked like the circuit racers I as familiar with but on a budget that was within my grasp. This was the Midland Hot Rod Club that raced at Chesterton and Crewe.
RH: And so started a long association with racing Hot Rods….
RW: Have never missed a season since. Have always raced something. Midland Hot Rod Club on the shale with a Mini, a Mini Stock Rod at Hednesford and Buxton…..but I got banned from racing Minis by my wife after an accident at Buxton in the Mini Stock Rod where I rolled, my hand went out the window and my thumb got severed being caught between the roof of the car and the tarmac! My hand took a while to repair but in returning to racing I kept my promise to the missus not to race Minis and got myself a MkV Cortina and went Lightening Rod racing instead. Kept my hand in (no pun intended!) with the Midland Hot Rod Club as well and there was one occasion in the late eighties when I was racing at the National Championship at Hednesford and the Champion of Champions race at Crewe on the same day. Tarmac in the afternoon and Shale at night! Have also raced Stock Rods with Incarace and I did them right up to the creation of the Classic Hot Rod formula in 2005.
RH: So, obvious question really, but what was the appeal of getting involved with the new Classic scene?
RW: Loved the demos that George Polley and Barry Lee did in 2004 which seemed to come on the back of the start of the Heritage scene in Stock Cars. So when Gary Witcombe suggested a revival of the National Hot Rods of the heady years of the 1970’s I was straight in there. Classic Hot Rods were to me like….going home. It was like I was waiting to these cars after all these years racing. I was that keen that I set about building a car even before the rules for the class were finalised.
RH: And what engine did you put in it then?
RW: A Pinto. When the class was first introduced it was strict demonstration racing only and the few cars were all Crossflow. I managed to get the drivers to agree to allow the Pinto to be allowed. The reasons were simple, I had originally gone to Burtons for the parts to build a Crossflow and it was more than six grand. In contrast I knew Pintos well. I had used them in my MHRC car at Crewe and that. Have always raced Pinto. Knew them like the back of my hand and I could build my own quite happily. I put one together for that car for less than two grand.
RH: So knowledge and finance…….
RW: Exactly. When the engines were first introduced into CHRs we had then 36mm chokes on the carbs. Raced tuned I could get near 200BHP from the engine. Loved it! I enjoy getting as much out of my engine that I can. Gives me satisfaction to race it. Of course, they are de tuned now with the 32mm chokes that are now in the rules to make the power closer to the Crossflows. It brings the brake horse power down to 170BHP. Strangulated compared with what I had before but once you get the timing of the engine right combined with the right gearing its still good. I run the power through a Quaiffe racing 2 speed box and diff. Running the engine round the big tracks like Hednesford, I pull about 7600 revs. This is quite a bit lower than some run. A Crossflow with scream at over 9000!! But I use the torque of the bigger engine. It suits me and the engine lasts longer.
RH: It seems to me that the engine rules seem about right. The choice between Crossflow and Pinto is a personal one taking into account engine taste, driving style and the size of your wallet! But out on track there’s not much in it between the two…..just a lot of banter between the drivers.
RW: Yeah, I do miss the extra power. The 32mm chokes don’t really suit the Pinto. It can pop ‘n’ bang with the engine being retarded to compensate but…yeah…it’s still good.
RH: So tell us about your Classic Hot Rod MkI Escort that you built and still race.
RW: The car was found in a field! It was covered with a tarpaulin and pallets. It had stood there that long that the weeds were growing over it. I found the car on hear say. Bought it for £250….and amazingly, the body was sound. To prep a bodyshell to become a Classic Hot Rod, well…it takes time. A lot of man hours! The roll cage is integral to the car. Have never been a fan of fitted roll cages. Yes, they’re light but I want something better than that to protect me in racing. Last season, Daz Owen went into the back of me here at Hednesford. There was a lot of external damage. But the car protected me and I was able to repair it so it can race again. I’ve built the car for me and my requirements. Only in doing so, I’ve compromised strength for weight. The car comes in at 820kgs. The minimum weight limit is 700Kgs, so I’m quite a bit over! After that accident the car has been rebuilt. I sourced the rear end of the car from a dealer in Essex who imports Escort bits from Australia, coz they are still reasonably available out there. The rear lined up perfectly with the chassis rails. Jigged up and guided in, the body was welded into place….and here it is ready for 2013. It’s had a complete overhaul of its set up. New suspension all round, so we’ll see how it goes.
RH: Looks well Roger. Great paintwork and signwork courtesy of Chapman signs. All ready for this season’s racing. What do you think of the Classic Hot Rod scene today?
RW: It’s probably been the best time for the class so far. This season holds so much promise. The increased popularity of the class does present one or two issues though. When we first started it was like a family. Everyone knew each other well and out on track, you knew what another driver would do. You could read them. Now, new faces, some unknown quantities. It makes a race harder to read. I do think that if we get 20 plus cars we need to run two thirds heats. If we get a thirty car meet it should be split heats. We can’t afford to allow the track to get too busy otherwise these valuable cars will start to get a lot of unnecessary damage.
RH: Totally agree Roger. If there is one thing that race formats will help in maintaining – it’s the right attitude to racing these cars. Room for racing and respect between drivers. Respect is the one word that keeps recurring as a theme when I speak to Classic Hot Rod drivers. As long as drivers keep talking to each other, communication and banter in the pits etc, so maintaining the right attitude to racing these lovely cars, then so much the better. Everyone is here to win, but to enjoy it too. These cars have to be taken home in one piece at the end of the day so respect between drivers is crucial.
RW: All my racing career I’ve been non-contact. Bumpering don’t suit me. I’ve always preferred to out race someone cleanly. I think the skill to win cleanly in Hot Rod racing is one of the finest skills a race car driver can have. Your car has to be right and your timing when going for gaps has to be spot on.
RH: Favourite tracks?
RW: The big ones. Love the home of Hot Rod racing most of all – Hednesford. I also like Birmingham and Northampton. And I love racing anybody in a competitive race. Don’t mind if it’s for first or for sixth. As long as it’s a good close race.
RH; Roger, it’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Good luck for 2013.