Oval Racing’s Best Kept Secret by Scott J Keith

This article was originally published in Short Circuit Magazine in 2005

“Pop Quiz:  What do Jim Clark and Barry Stephen have in common?”

Answer:  Both drivers are F1 race winners, and made their racing debuts at the old Crimond Aerodrome…strange, but true!  Remarkable as it may seem, the northeast of Scotland has played an unlikely yet huge part in the history of British motorsport, with July marking the 35th anniversary of oval racing’s most northerly venue, Crimond Raceway.
The Track
After the atrocities of the Second World War, Crimond Aerodrome joined the growing band of now disused airfields enjoying a new lease of life as a motor racing circuit in the 1950’s.  Measuring 2 miles with 9 corners, the track became a regular fixture in the Aberdeen & District Motor Club calendar for both two and four wheel racing, and even merited numerous invasions from the legendary Le-Mans winning Ecurie Ecosse sports car team from the Borders.  June 16th 1956 was a landmark day for both Crimond and motorsport as a whole…for it was the day a young Borders farmer by the name of Jim Clark took part in his first-ever motor race.  Driving a hopelessly slow DKW Sonderklass saloon – owned by good friend and regular travelling companion Ian Scott-Watson – Jim was totally outclassed in a field of Lotus and MG sports cars and, unsurprisingly, finished last.  Little did the watching north-east spectators know, they had just witnessed the debut of a future F1 Grand Prix World Champion…whilst the more eagle-eyed timekeepers noted Clark’s considerably faster lap times than car owner Scott-Watson as nothing more than deliberate sandbagging by Ian, and henceforth handicapped him out of contention in his own class!
Come the 60’s, the track surface was beginning to deteriorate badly, with racing limited to club sprints and motorcycle events on a shorter layout, before it’s eventual demise in the latter part of the decade.  Fortunately, the aerodrome’s time on the dole was short lived, as a group of oval racing enthusiasts went on the hunt for a new venue to replace their track at Longside Airfield, and came to an eventual agreement with Crimond landowner Norman Cowie in 1970.  The first oval layout was forced into retirement thanks to a minor disagreement, but racing soon returned to a new oval alongside the disused aircraft hanger, before the Crimond Stock Car Racing Club finally settled on a third layout in the early 1970’s, on part of an old runway right on the doorstep of the Cowie household.
Since then, the raceway itself has undergone many improvements, just as the surrounding landscape has changed thanks to housing, radio masts and even the construction of a huge grain store on the site of the old second oval.  From the installations of a pit gate, two grandstands, traffic lights, catering units, a first aid hut, a trackshop, videoman and starter’s rostrums to coating the bends with tarmac and banking up both the inner and outer tyrewalls, the Crimond committee have certainly invested wisely over the years to improve enjoyment and safety for the drivers, officials and also the spectators.  2005 very much saw Crimond finally embrace the 21st century, with Hector the hamster and his trusty wheel being sent into retirement as the track welcomed electrical power from the National Grid!  However, there’s no denying that Crimond’s unique character bounces out from that magnetic tyrewall.  Whilst a number of other tracks have used half-buried earthmover tyres around their perimeter, Crimond’s tyrewall lies perpendicular to the track and loves nothing more than to suck in any victim who dares stray from the racing line!
The Racing…
On track, the racing has experienced just as substantial an evolution, with the original format of Superstox (now F2’s), Standards (now Saloons) and ladies races being joined in the 80’s by Hot Saloons, Ministox and Road Going Saloons and then in the 90’s by Bangers and Economy Hot Rods (now Outlaws).
The Superstox class suffered spiralling costs in the early 90’s, thanks mainly to the continued use of Hot Rod slicks with a range of tuned Vauxhall, Pinto and Rover V8 power units (including Ewan McIntosh’s unique construction which saw him sit alongside his Rover engine and thus have to escape via a roof hatch!)  By that time, many of the top drivers were already utilising a Higman chassis, which helped speed up the imminent adoption of the BriSCA rulebook over the winter of ’93.  After two full seasons with the new regulations, the track became BriSCA affiliated in 1996 and continues to welcome the GMP team three times a year, which includes a World Qualifier meeting – for which Rob Speak made an appearance in 1999, and was given a welcome normally saved for a National Hero!
Meanwhile, the early 80’s saw the Standard class – which were essentially ironed-up Bangers, racing in both directions – begin to feature more and more armoured cars, resulting in the graduation to the track’s own Saloonstox spec and eventually – along with the Ministox – a clockwise racing direction later in the decade.  However, GMP and Spedeworth drivers invited to the ’87 Open Scottish Championship were less than amused to learn the committee were intending to run the Saloons in both directions for the day!  Despite a near extinction of the class in the mid 90’s, the Saloons are beginning to rediscover their old magic and although running on Yokohama tyres and outwith ORCi rules, join the F2’s in welcoming regular visitors from the Racewall.
Whilst the F2’s and Saloons may have lost some of their individuality from the mainstream equivalents, Crimond’s unique identity has not only been maintained thanks to the tarmac/concrete surface and daunting tyrewall, but also by the home brewed racing classes.  Since it’s conception, the non-contact Hot Saloons have run anti-clockwise and provide extremely competitive racing at a fraction of the budget, except for the aforementioned 80’s Open Scottish meetings when they were permitted to race alongside the Saloons!  And for the past few seasons, the Bangers have sustained their entertainment value by being able to schedule their fixture list to include Unlimited, 1400cc and Metro meetings, whilst doing their best to avoid “Bangers racing” by forbidding engine swaps and running races in both directions.  The Road Going Saloon class regularly grids 10 or more road legal machines, and serves up more than its fair share of heart-stopping and the sometimes inevitable panel beating moments!  Perhaps most notable was the introduction of the Economy Hot Rods in the 90’s, which many people rate to be the true birth of the 2Litre Hot Rod class before it’s evolution into Outlaws.
Not only have the new classes boosted the meeting format to 25 races, it has also given the club the opportunity to expand two of it’s biggest fixtures into Speedweekends.  Both the Munster Trophies and the prestigious Open Scottish Championships are now fought over a Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon of racing, bringing back some of the atmosphere sampled when many of Crimond’s Superstox and Saloon stars made an annual weekend invasion to Newtongrange and Armadale, as part of an exchange trip which saw a southern invasion for the Open Scottish titles.  Short Circuit’s very own “Club Corner” reported on one of Crimond’s finest hours, when current club chairman Bill Barrack came close to a huge upset by leading the ’87 Saloon Scottish until Keith Jarman overhauled him for the title with only 2 laps to go.  But with Bill finishing runner-up and fellow northern invader John Ironside registering a fourth, it was a good excuse for the many sore heads at another successful Armadale meeting the day after!  Many memories have been rekindled in recent seasons thanks to a now annual non-ORCi Saloon meeting at Knockhill, which has already resurrected a lot of the tactical Crimond vs GMP racing!
The Drivers…
That successful first invasion in ’87 laid the foundations with which numerous northern lights have utilised to dazzle the spectators on the national scene.  Graham Kelly exploded onto the F2 scene in ’91 and became the ’92 season sensation after splashing his way to an excellent 4th place in the World Final at Skegness.  A few years later, younger brother Stuart joined him on the Racewall scene and promptly set the track alight just as Graham had, until one damage-filled night too many led to the brother’s opting for a vastly reduced BriSCA participation, and instead a return to full-time racing at Crimond.  Things didn’t stay quiet for long as Elgin brothers Barry and Brian Stephen shook the grandstands with their committed racing style and brave challenge to the dominance of Rob Speak.  After coming close to success in both the Scottish and British Championships, Barry has now turned his attentions to the Big League, becoming BriSCA F1’s furthest northern-based competitor.
Crimond’s young sensations continue to shine in the new Millenium, with former Ministox World Champion James Strath firmly establishing himself amongst the top Saloon stars whilst proving he isn’t afraid to use the bumper with force!  On the F2 scene, Robbie Dawson cruised to the ’02 Champion of Champions on his Racewall debut, and took an impressive win in the ’05 Ben Fund race, cementing his rightful place amongst the UK’s top 20.  The most recent hot prospect to roll down the A90 has been “Fraserburgh Flyer” Ally Strachan, who amassed an amazing 13 race wins in the first Saloon grading period of ’05, and has since taken over 20 more wins at Crimond from the back!
Whilst the above list of star names have all graduated through the ranks from the Ministox, a lot of Scotland’s recent successes in the Hot Rods were promoted through the grades at Crimond.  Colin Gammack’s impressive CV not only lists his current duty as Start Marshall, but also his ’94 Scottish and ‘97 World Cup successes at Cowdenbeath, which helped contribute to 5 successive appearances in the National Hot Rod World Final and a best result of 9th in 1997.  Perhaps surpassing all of the above was the mammoth effort exercised by James Jamieson Jnr on his way to a brilliant 3rd place in the 2004 National Hot Rod World Final, racking up the miles from his Aberdeenshire base during his chase for Qualifying Series points.
The Officials…
Behind every Stock Car meeting you’ll find a hardy band of volunteers, and none more so than at the exposed old Aerodrome at Crimond, where it’s never uncommon to experience all 4 seasons in one day!  Former Saloonatic Bill “Barracuda” Barrack has been the chairman for many years and is ably assisted by vice chairman George Carle – a man who has been with the club since the very start.  As many drivers prepare to load up their cars on a Sunday morning, both George and Bill can be found at the track setting the wheels in motion for another afternoon of Stock Car action, whilst club secretary and Banger star Jim Riddell starts his merry journey from Cornhill, just as he has done since the inaugural years of Crimond.  In the pit office, the two Mary’s – Riddell and Minty – along with treasurer Morag Pirie, do a brilliant job in welcoming drivers from all across Scotland, making sure everyone signs-in on time and processing any paperwork during and after the meeting itself.  Being a dab-hand with numbers always helps in the chief lapscorer’s job, and Crimond have one of the finest in Sandy Forbes.  When he’s not trying to pick out miniscule numbers on Hot Saloon fins, Sandy can be found (and heard!) picking out and calling the numbers in one of the local northeast Bingo halls, and is widely renowned as being one of Scotland’s best!  25 races is a long afternoon of commentating, so Crimond have employed the services of Cowdenbeath duo “Mr Starter” Graham Alexander and “Madman” Steve McDiarmid to keep the spectators informed when they’re not having a nosy in Robert McDonald’s trackshop!  Of course, there are too many more enthusiastic individuals to mention in this feature, but rest assured they all play a vital role on race day that is all too often unwillingly overlooked by the occasional irate fan or driver who always seem to know better!
The Secret…
As well as offering unbeatable value for money – a family of four can part with fifteen of their Scottish poonds and rob the club blind by watching 25 races in just over 4 hours – and along with the hard work and sheer dedication of those numerous committee members, one thing has remained inspirationally consistent throughout the years…and that is the unbelievable tolerance and co-operation of the Cowie family.  For one Sunday every fortnight their farmland is transformed, as hundreds of sheep and cows are shepherded away from their grazing area so that over 100 more animals can take to the track, a caber toss away from their living room wall.  Without the immense generosity and understanding of the late Norman Cowie and his family, Stock Car Racing in the north-east may never have existed to this day…and it is to the Cowie family that the club and it’s fans owe a great debt.  Here’s to a dram at Crimond’s tribute to Jim Clark in 2006, and the 40th anniversary in 2010!

  • Last Updated: 17/07/2021 14:39
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