The #8 Daz Owen Interview
(with assistance from mechanic/sidekick Stu Kearsley!)
RH; We are all set for an interview with one of the personalities of Classic Hot Rod racing, Mr Darren Owen, ably assisted by Mr Stu Kearsley, Daz’s mechanic, general sidekick, and self proclaimed one and only friend(!!) of Mr Owen!
Name: Darren Owen
Home Town : Hednesford. Lived here all my life.
Occupation : Metal Recycler. Self made career. Influences to get into this line of work as obviously been down to coming to the racing. Banger racing educated me! Learning about parts, how they come apart, the demand for replacements. Before this I’ve done mechanicing, transport recovery, Now it’s easier and more profitable to take cars apart than it is to fix them!
Racing Career :
DO ; From the age of 12 I’ve been coming to my home track, my favourite track, here at Hednesford and right from the very start I was completely spell bound by the place. The noise, the sounds, the smell, the crash and the smash of the Bangers. Just loved it from the very beginning. Had to come to every meeting. Got myself a paper round so I could afford to get in. I started to race at 18.There was an abandoned car, a Datsun 120Y Estate, on the local cafe car park. The people who owned the cafe said to me that I could have the car. So turn up here in this 1200cc Datsun and took it out on my first ever Banger race, competing against Ford Granadas and Austin Westminsters. I got smashed to bits and was frightened to death! It scared me that much that I very nearly packed in there and then! I thought to myself, “That’s me done!” But then my mates egged me on. “Daz, I’ve got my hands on a Ford Cortina Estate….go on, do the next meeting, it’s a right laugh!” And do you know, that second meeting was a crackin’ meeting and it set me up to carry on. Just loved it more and more after that. And to think I very nearly packed it all in after my very first go!
RH : So how long did your Banger Racing career last?
SK : You raced from 1989 through to 2008 didn’t you?
DO ; Yep, that’s roight! (sic). Did it all those years. I packed up because I was getting older.
SK: Aye, you have got old!!
DO : Being smacked about does hurt, but when you’re young, your full of adrenalin and you don’t notice. Also it’s so time consuming! It can take every night of the week to build up a Banger ready for the next meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bangers and I always will but you get older, you have a business and family and they have to come first.
RH : So you decided on a change of formula…..
DO : Yeah, well, I love me old Fords, and I came along to watch at the National Weekend here at Hednesford a few years ago, and I was these Classic Hot Rods that were just getting started back then. I said to myself ‘I like the look of them…..’ So I went up to Mike Oliver, a mate of mine who was racing the Classics and asked him if I could by his Escort. He was non-committal initially…
RH : He didn’t think you were going to banger it did he??! (laughter)
DO: So I said ‘when you’ve had enough of it let me know.’ You see I’d known Mike for years as we used to both race Lightning Rods in the mid nineties – which I did alongside competing in Bangers. One season I concentrated on Lightning Rods I did pretty well and got top three places in the World and National races….
RH : So you finally got your first Classic from Mr Oliver in 2009……
DO ; S’roight!
RH : And Mr Kearsley here was there to see your passing from Bangers in the refined world of Classic Hot Rod racing.
DO : Oh god aye….known Stu now in the mid nineties when he a slim mad banger fan who wrote brilliantly for a Banger fanzine called Northern Steam. Started doing a few features on us and we got on really well. Been on the raz with Stu up in Blackpool and he comes down here. It’s been a roight laugh. The social scene is all part of what I love about racing. The people are great.
SK : And now I’m his only mechanic! I stuck with him when he moved into Rods when the others gave up. I’m well supplied with cake though and it keeps me happy!
RH : So returning to the story of your move to the CHRs.
DO : As I said I loved my old Ford Escorts. A Mk2 Escort was my road going car for years when I was younger. But as far a racing one was concerned, it was just dream time. When I was a kid I loved watching them here as National Hot Rods but when I started racing it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would end up racing one. As time has gone one, and my business has got better I can finally afford to race one. Classic racing came on the scene almost like especially for me! They are not cheap though. I’ve been very lucky with my business. I started out self employed. Now I have ten people working for me.
RH : Racing CHRs for four years now. How’s it gone?
DO : I bought the car off Mike Oliver. It was a rotten orange Mk1 Escort! But it was a really fast car. That opening year was a real good season. The car was Toovey powered. All my engines are built by John Toovey. Fast and reliable. We got a season and a half out of that original Mk1 then we built the Mk2 that we have now. We originally built the car as a Peter Grimer replica. Have had the car now for two and a half seasons. It’s got a few battle scars now. Essentially it needs re-panneling.
RH : So what goes into building and preparing a Classic Hot Rod?
DO : We built this car here from scratch and since we built it I’ve learnt a lot since. It’s a good car but if we built it now I would build it a lot lighter. There is more metal in it than there really needs to be. I built it like a banger to a certain extent. Integral roll cage, three link rear suspension, no leafs, coil shockers all round. It comes in at 763kgs – too heavy!. The minimum weight is 700. When I build my next car it will be lighter.
RH : What would you remove to make things lighter?
DO : Weight wise, the driver!! (LAUGHTER!!)
SK : Yeah, just as well I’m not the driver!
DO : Just a bit less roll cage I suppose and floor support that was originally put in in case of a shunt. It’s all in the gauge of metal you use and how you weld it up. The use of an aluminium bell housing. Ali gearboxes and differentials though are banned because they are so expensive.
SK : The National Hot Rod boys even drill the middle out of bolts to save weight!
DO : It’s down to how much you want to win. To me, I want to do well, but there comes a point were in pursuit gaining that last tenth of a second it can start to take over your life.
RH : The line of work you are in Daz has been a important contribution in maintaining the momentum of the Classic Hot Rod scene hasn’t it?
DO : It’s down to being right place right time. People come into the yard. They see the race car and I get wind of where old escorts might still be around. When I get the opportunity I buy them. Currently I have around ten Escort shells at work. I break up the cars for spares, so when Paul Bowring had that smash at Wimbledon in Feb and wrote off the front of the car, I was able to supply him with a new front end. This day and age, I can buy a rough 4 door Escort for a grand. By breaking up and selling I might double my money. Escorts do break up well. Front end £400. Back end the same. Roof, doors, then the crucial running gear, particularly the rear axles and diffs…. it all adds up. As far as racing in concerned, because I supply parts to the lads at the track, whether they race rods, bangers or stockcars, it pays for my racing.
SK : You’ve had some outlay this year though….
DO : Yeah, new engine and gearbox, new diff, four new shockers, new wheel bearings. Hope to be back on the pace this year.
RH And I see you made some alterations in the office.
DO : yeah, s’roight. New seat and steering wheel position to replicate that of my National Hot Rod. You see I was never comfortable in the Escort. I could never get the seat far enough back because I originally had to ruddy great 24 volt batteries behind the seat banger style. Now I’ve changed that for a slim line light racing battery, I can move the seat back and the steering is at right angles NASCAR style! A lot more comfortable.
RH : What do you think of the momentum that’s carrying the formula now?
DO : Oh it’s bloody brilliant! There’s a real good vibe to it now and really you’ve got to thank the likes of Lee Wood for building the replica Barry Lee car. That got a lot of people interested and talking about Classic Hot Rods. And also, Tim Foxlow has come into the formula. Ex Super Rod Star and aside from his professional looking car his input into the social media side of things has been terrific. In doing so he’s encouraged others to return too like Stu Donald. And with these guys back it’s raised the level of competition. That’s why I’ve had to refresh my car to get back on the pace! The social side is great. The drivers are a good bunch and we have a laugh. It’s a good day out – a family day out. Folk are a lot friendlier than when I turn up here with my National. The National boys are all here in their ultra smart transporters and gazebos and I turn up with my SLK thrown on the back of my wagon. I think they look down their nose at me a bit! (Laughter!)
RH : Why does a Banger Peasant like you race a National then?
DO : Simply because I want to race a Hot Rod car as often as possible at my most local and most favourite track here at Hednesford. I’m not bothered with the National circus, I’ll just race it here four times a year. It does me. I got a 206 initially, then that was sold along with some classics I was buying and selling and I managed to get the SLK for a good price. I love racing the National. It’s that fast it’s frightening. It’s like taking off in a jet fighter it’s that fast! I’m just racing it local for fun though. I’m not bothered about joining the circus and polishing my wheels every night. Also, to be at the top in Nationals it has to be your whole life and you’ve got to be physically and mentally fit to be absolutely ‘on it.’ ….and I’m not! I love racing my National, it’s like being in a high powered go kart, and it feels very different to drive than the Escort because in the National there is no body roll.. But my heart is in the Classics. I love driving the Escort because I love them. It’s what I had when I was younger, so when I drive it I feel young again!
RH : And what do you love about being part of Daz Owen’s race team Stu?
SK : Part of it? I AM IT! What do I love? Being late, going to the Cafe and eating Cake!! (Laughter!)
RH : (Laughter!) Cheers lads!