Saturday 30 March 1968, Wimbledon

Race one: 1st 2 Barry Plummer, 2nd Denis Jenkinson, 3rd 10 Graham Pearce, 4th 7 John Davies (?)

Race two: 1st 10 Graham Pearce, 2nd 1 Rod Tanswell

Race three: 1st 10 Graham Pearce, 2nd 2 Barry Plummer, 3rd 1 Rod Tanswell

Colour pictures from Motor magazine, b/w image by Fred Buss

(text from Motor Magazine) Free publicity being a useful promotional weapon, the plan of letting a few journalists loose in some borrowed Dastles - the only purpose built midget around - seemed a good one. It fell a bit flat on the night, though, as only one of the four cars laid on for us was ready when the meeting (mainly for hot-rod saloons) started, and only three private entrants turned up, including the two rapid specials. Later on, the midget field increased very briefly to six runners - briefly, because the reckless Press soon reduced it to four again. But more of that later. For a short-oval racer, the Dastle is a remarkably sophisticated little car, designed and built by Geoff Rumble (ex Chequered Flag and Gemini Junior). Its space frame chassis, reinforced by sheet steel bulkheads and a protective undertray, is suspended by wishbones and coil springs at both ends. Power comes from a front-mounted 1,200cc Ford engine and gearbox which drives the back wheels through a shortened 105E propshaft, chassis-mounted differential and Birfield jointed drive shafts. The steering is by Mini rack-and-pinion. You sit unfashionably upright in the glass-fibre body, protected by a roll-over bar behind your head and - praise be - a full harness to keep you in. A kit of parts costs only 350 which must make it the cheapest single seater you can buy outside the kart tracks.

We were contemplating with considerable foreboding the wet and slimy oval when a breathless PR man rushed into our glass box and demanded two volunteers - me and Mike Scarlett of Autocar - to join the four midgets already revving up on the start line for the next race. I was stuffed by many persuasive hands like so much sage and onion into the cockpit that "Jenks" (not a large man) had fitted quite snugly and then thrown, like a carcass to the lions, in the arena with nothing more than a cursory "leave it in third" as instructions for survival. Someone had wrenched the safety straps so tight that my eyes were popping and blood circulation seemed to stop at waist level.

The RAC would have been horrified at the duration of our practice session in a strange car- about 300 yards from paddock to grid, most of which were occupied by discovering where the controls were. The menacing lever you straddle turned out to be for the gears; the clutch and throttle were more or less where you'd expect to find them but a frenzied search for the brake wasn't resolved until after clouting another Dastle minding its own business on the start line.

A man in a white coat asked who I was, reported to the disc jockey chappie who relayed the message "R-o-g-e-r B-e-l-l of M-o-t-o-r M-a-g-a-z-i-n-e...". Perhaps it's as well that the acoustics weren't too good on the track either. Mike Scarlett pulled up alongside looking even glummer because his throttle had jammed at 3,000 r.p.m. An electric light bulb popped in a shower of glass just down the track and the man in the white coat approached again to warn that the circuit was like greased ice. Just as I thought about appealing against the light (which was brilliant), the bright orange S-type course car, immaculately pre-pared like most other things at Wimbledon stadium, eased us away to a rolling start. As we passed the start line again the Dastle ahead faltered, leaving me - I know not how - in second spot behind one of the perpendicular specials. As I feared, anything more positive than a telepathic message to the engine for more torque sent us sideways like a spinning puck and sparked off some furious wheel twirling to unwind again. As Jenks had warned, the steering was much too low geared so you couldn't flick from lock to lock without lifting your hands from the wheel. Even worse, there just wasn't sufficient lock to hold anything more than a friendly tailwag so that over-indulgence in the interests of spectator appeal resulted in a gentle, helpless spin into the infield sleepers. Despite two of these degrading excursions no one had stolen second place by what seemed to be about half distance (you lose count after the first lap) and the leader, tempted not by heroic acts, was still within striking distance. The honour and prestige of the Temple Press hot shots, whose record against rival scribes is unrivalled; seemed to be at stake. Change the tactics, I thought. Instead of tip-toeing into the corners on a trailing throttle and sliding out, try throwing it in under power, Mini style. The throw was impeccably aimed - straight at a massive upright supporting the retainer fence. The unfortunate Dastle struck it a mighty blow and the suspension buckled under the impact; meanwhile, the lower cable under which the car had been compressed was wiping the bonnet clean of its carbu-retters, manifold, and any other protrusions, stopping just short of my neck. Another white-coated track marshal jostled up, asking in a tone that suggested he was afraid of the answer, if I was all right. I was.

Given the choice, I'd sooner do all future seat belt tests in more controlled conditions but this impromptu one was to me pretty conclusive. Which is more than can be said of our midget demonstration- especially as any chance of cribbing from the opposition's notes was dashed when the sticking throttle finally threw Mike Scarlett into the next post.

An ignominious night. But that was all some weeks ago. Since then the midget movement has progressed a lot. The steering of the splendid little Dastles has been modified and the ranks of runners - lured not only by competitive racing but appearance money too - has considerably multiplied, while a lot of interested parties sit on the fence observing hard. As we saw at a later Wimbledon meeting there is now some real din and dicing on the midget tracks again. Doodlebugs are back.

 


Line up for race one


Jenkinson leads race one


Jenks in race one


Graham Pearce grids for race two


Line up for race two


Roger Bell on the grid (race two)


Roger Bell's crash in race two


Line up for race three