Basil Craske - The Master Craftsman
By Anne Sayell from Competition Car magazine, no 16

The name Basil Craske is synonymous with Grand Prix Midget racing. At 44 years-old he has been racing Midgets for 19 seasons and during that time he has won the World Championship three times, the European Championship twice and the National Points Championship no less than nine times.

In 1989 he has won the British, Southern, World and European Champion ships, with the Cliff Davis and Graham Hill Memorial Trophies thrown in for good measure. For further good measure he won the National Points Championship for the fourth consecutive year, but even after all this he remains modest and, as his wife Vicki pointed out, he is often unaware of the trophies at stake.

Basil can be described as the "one they love to hate" - all formulae have them. Indeed many newcomers complain that he wins too often, yet few can put up any real challenge. I've watched Basil at work this season more than any other and I prefer to describe him as a master craftsman of the sport he so clearly loves. When Basil uncharacteristically agreed to an interview I was delighted and am pleased to share the results with 'Competition Car' readers.

I believe you started as a mechanic for the Black Lawnmower. Who was he and how did you meet?

The Black Lawnmower was a car built by John Houghton, using a Mini Cooper engine and front wheel drive. He sat upright at the front which earned him the nickname. In reality it was very competitive, winning three races on its first outing. I became involved when Colin Byrne bought the car, less engine, and he came into my place of work and asked me to build him an engine. I built him a high revving Coopers steel engine, it was very competitive and I 'mechanicked' for him for two years.

Where did your first car come from, what was it and what did It cost?

I built my own car of no particular design with front-wheel drive and a 1071 Cooper 'S' engine like the one I built for Colin Byrne. I first raced it at White City in 1970. The back axle was made from a scaffold pole with hubs welded on each end. The cost was approximately £100. (editor's note - Basil is only listed as a Spedeworth driver from 1971)

What cars have you had since?

Around 1972 I bought a Fireball rear engine Midget using my Cooper S engine and I ran this for a couple of seasons. Then Cliff Cullingford offered to build me a new car, but it took three years. Cliff had built Mick Bonners' Scorpion and wanted to experiment with a VW because of the low roll centre. By this time, of course, regs had uprated the engines to 1300cc. I finally took possession in 1976 and came fifth in the National Points Championship.

Why do you think so few have used VW engines since, despite your success with It?

People assume it is both complicated and expensive. In the early years rumours were rife about how I had a full-time mechanic to work on it between meetings, which of course were untrue. In fact it has taken several years to sort out the problems with it. Oil surge problems seemed insurmountable; I used to nurse the engine for the first two races of a meeting checking oil gauges etc, but would go flat out in the final. Inevitably it would blow during that race.

How has Midget racing changed over the 19 years and have you personally always found it easy to afford?

The chassis and basic designs have improved 300% over the years, from crude machines to very scientific ones. The engines have been uprated with a good deal of common sense and of course the cars have moved from road to race tyres. The atmosphere has not changed; its always been one of sheer aggression on the track and great camaraderie in the pits. No, I've not always found it easy to afford. Sometimes I have a tremendous struggle to buy parts. When the VW was being built I used to work on the side repairing cars into the early hours to pay for the parts needed.

1989 has been an exceptional year for you, has it been your most enjoyable?

1980 was a very enjoyable year when I won everything except the European Championship. There were a lot of cars that year, with 34 cars in the World Final. I won all three races that day, from the back of the grid. To win the World Championship was especially pleasing, as they'd attempted to ban me prior to the race over a complaint about my nerf bars. However, the British drivers stood by tile and the ban was lifted.

1979 was an interesting year, especially when my engine was stripped at Lydden Hill after the rival club from Europe, using 1600cc engines, suggested I was cheating. The car was found to be just 1287cc!

Do you still get the same thrill out of winning a race or does it need to be a major championship to hold appeal for you?

I suppose the World and European Championships must count for more as everyone's adrenaline is up; the European drivers have to win at all cost and to beat them with their attitude is interesting. To do it with a 1300cc engine against a 1600cc one is especially interesting.

You broke your back racing at Swaffham in 1978, was that your worst moment in Midget racing?

I suppose,it must be really, but it didn't register that I was badly hurt until they told me in hospital. I had six slipped discs, a crushed disc and chipped vertebrae. I was in hospital four days and then discharged myself and went back to work the following day - we needed the money. The car was not badly damaged, it was die jolt as I landed that did the damage to my back. (Basil fails to mention that there were doubts as to his future mobility by the medical profession, but he was back racing three weeks later at Bovingdon wearing a corset!)

Have you ever considered any other form of motorsport. Formula Ford for example?

By the time you can afford that you are too old, aren't you? There's no real attraction for me. Formula Fords are slower and less exciting. So much depends on 'daddy' having lots of money, there is no close contact on the track and you are lucky if you are spoken to in the pits.

You have run a 1600cc engine at International meetings this season. Does that mean you feel the Club should uprate engines to 1600cc on a permanent basis?

No, having experienced a 1600cc engine and the power that they produce, even though mine is still in experimental form and there is another 20/30 bhp available, the effect on the chassis and the handling of the car and the strain on the suspension particularly exiting bends with so much power is downright dangerous. There is no common sense factor to recommend it. The spectacle is no different but you lose a lot of sense of the feel of the car. The type of tracks and type of sport we have (racing on oval tracks made of concrete shale or tarmac which are not in the best of condition) does not give us safe conditions for 1600cc engines.

This is not a criticism of the promoters as they have several formulae using the tracks and insufficient funds to provide us with billiard table surfaces; but when you try to exit a bend and clear a pothole at the same time with 150/250 bhp you've got a problem! I also believe 1600cc engines would lead to the need for gear changing during a race; cornering is very different with so much power and your concentration must be 100% every time and I found it easy to lose control of the car.

The continental drivers have used 1600cc cars for 10 or more years and they are not fools. They all use gear changing, which would lead to more expensive gearboxes and engines. 1600cc engines would make a lot of cars obsolete - I don't call that sport.

Why do you think Midget racing has not shared the same popularity as Hot Rod racing even though the two formulas started around the same time?

A total lack of promotion really, by the track promoters. In the early days, when we were affiliated to Spedeworth, we felt like a Cinderella formula, albeit, undoubtedly the fastest formula, driving very frail cars and therefore taking the greatest risks. I frankly think Hot Rod glory is bought glory - the amount of money invested in Hot Rods is a disgrace, with talk of £15000 a car, when they are no quicker than a simple Midget. Certain promoters like to say they have got £20 and £30,000 cars whizzing round, but often the race is a procession, irrespective of the cost of the cars. They drain the promoters' finances and other formulas are left behind in the start and prize money stakes. The only consolation is that we know what not to do ourselves.

Do you have any special memories from the 19 years? Memories of good drivers that have come and gone over the years, I suppose. My great arch-rival has to be Mick Bonner. I suppose I miss him, since he retired; it put a big hole in my racing. It could take 15 years to talk over the fights we had. I've some super memories of hectic races with Mick.

For sheer ability you've got people like Malcolm Goodman, Keith Fransella, Frankie Boyles and Rod Tanswell, all who decided, perhaps, they were too old to continue. They are just a few of the incredible drivers out there.

You are reported to be helping Harry Sayell to build an Identical Midget to your own, some people find this surprising, what reasons do you have for this?

I don't need reasons. Harry decided he wants a change. I ran a VW. End of answer!

Finally, it is rumoured that you are planning to retire from Midget racing. Is there any truth in this?

Yes, one of these days. This year I'm finding it hard by the end of the season, so the only way now is down. Every race is a pressure race because of my track record. I'm a target, picked out as the man to beat. This can be wearing after all these years. During the European Championship this year I experienced, for the first time, feeling absolutely shattered at the half way mark; if I was 10 years younger I may have been fitter. (Again Basil failed to point out he has in fact suffered from glandular fever on and off all season, something that might have lead to lesser mortals not racing at all).

 


1989


1980 World Championship


Fireball mk2, 1972