The founding of the Welsh Racing Drivers Association
The WRDA was formed in late 1981. The late 70s and early 80s were a bleak time for Welsh racing. At the time there were only 2 venues for on track action, Llandow circuit and Pontypool Park Hillclimb. Without being unfair to both venues, even by the standards of the day, they could best be described as prosaic. However both held a fascination in the eyes of the public and there is a fund of funny stories associated with them both. In 1977 Tom Pryce, a driver who inspired many with his exploits in Formula One racing, died in the South African Grand Prix, and shortly afterwards Llandow lost its track license. Ponytpool lasted until 1980, and then sadly that too closed.
This seemed to be the death knell for Welsh racing, all the National Clubs had departed back to their bases in England, and the only regional centre had closed.
When reviewing the past 25 years you should consider the early days BW (before the WRDA). There was Llandow, & Pontypool. Llandow was a place so awful that Alvin Powell tried to improve it by attacking it with his Mini. The Mini lost! Also on one occasion a driver had to be evacuated to hospital with 3rd degree burns to his vital parts, inflicted while balancing over an overfull chemical toilet! Not nice.
Also at Pontypool the Hillclimb event had to be suspended to allow the Pontypool Front Row to do their training run. Well who wants to argue with Three 20 stone front row forwards!
So basically Welsh racing was a music-hall joke. Even sadder was the fact that one of Wales greatest drivers Tom Pryce, never had a track in Wales worthy of his name, in his own life-time. Instead the only time he was able to compete in Wales was on an Eypnt Rally in a Lancia Stratos. Unfortunately he was like a fish out of water and crashed on the first stage.
(If you want more on Tom see the link at the end of this article and the new book from Haynes, The Lost Generation)
Basically, as Alvin can testify, the general attitude at the time was based on the 2 Rs, Rallying and Rugby. Something needed to be done, and the rest is history. I myself feel fortunate that when I went around trying to drum up support for the WRDA, people like Alvin Powell, Ken Davies, Tim Davies, and others, they agreed to sign up and support the project.
Pembrey: we play a crucial part.
Founder member and current secretary Robert Allender recalls the origins of the WRDA. "I was convinced that a new initiative was needed and I approached other drivers of the day with a view to setting up a new club, which would work towards finding new venues in Wales. Luckily I found that there were many drivers and marshals who felt the same and we banded together to form the WRDA in September 1981. The first task was to drum up support for the concept that as England, Scotland & Ireland all had race-tracks, there should be at least one Welsh venue. I approached the Sports Council for Wales and spoke to Roger Eady who agreed to help. Later that year Roger contacted us as Llanelli Borough Council had purchased the then derelict Pembrey airfield. The airfield had been used as a chicken farm by Ross Chickens, but had been abandoned and derelict chicken sheds littered the site. We were invited to approach Llanelli Borough Council and put forward a case for establishing a racing circuit on the site. Fortunately we were able to convince them, and the rest is history."
Young Welsh drivers make International progress. In the meantime the focus of the WRDA was to report on the activities of our members, such as Tim Davies and Phil Kempe. Tim won a contest run by the Western Mail newspaper, who were looking to find a driver to follow Tom Pryce into Formula 1. Phil had his grounding at Brands Hatch where he worked as an instructor, going on to win the Dunlop Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600 Championship, before a brief foray into Formula 3 racing. In the meantime Tim had moved to Formula Ford 2000 and driving a Reynard SF2000 became British Champion in 1983 winning Reynards first Championship, and coming 3rd in the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year contest.
In 1985 both Davies and Kempe entered the Formula 3 arena, but whilst Kempe struggled with the initally unresponsive Ralt RT30; Davies was flying with the Reynard 853. However despite leading several races over the next 12 months, Tim was never able to break his duck. After a brief foray into Formula 3000 Tim was forced to call it a day, in a case of potential unfulfilled. Ironically amongst the drivers he beat in his career both Maurrico Gugleman and Andy Wallace have gone on to grace the International stage notably at the Le Mans 24hr race and the Indy 500. In the meantime we have helped chart the progress of Welsh drivers such as Julian Westwood from Caerphilly and Gareth Rees from Cardiff. Julian went on the win the British Formula 3000 championship, The Vauxhall Vectra Championship and come second in the European Renault spider Championship, and raced in the Danish Touring Car Championship in 2001. In his career, Gareth won the prestigious Marlboro Masters Formula 3 race, was part of the McLaren Mercedes test team and also raced in the International Formula 3000 championship, before working on Eurosport as a commentator.
The Welsh Sports & Saloon Car Championship.
Once Pembrey was properly established as a venue we began organising a racing championship, basically we decided to combined both sports & saloon cars into the championship because some of our members had saloons and other had sports cars. In the early years there were 3 classes. Class A for Modified Cars over 2 litres, Class B for Production Cars and Class C cars for Modified cars up to 1600 c.c.
Formula One cars. We also arranged for a series of single seater races commonly known as the Welsh Open Trophy for single seater cars. In that guise we were able to give the spectators a chance to see Formula One cars racing at Pembrey. The last race was held in 1998. Then as part of the Celtic Festival meeting, Ron Cummings provided enthusiasts with their only chance so far to see a modern V10 Formula One Car in action in the Celtic Super Prix.
Welsh racing on TV. During this period we were also fortunate to get the BBC down to Pembrey to televise the action. The Celtic Motorsport Festival meeting was shown as a half hour special on prime time BBC2 Wales TV, and so far it was the last occasion that racing at Pembrey has been televisied by the local media.
James McLaren of BBC Wales New Media has developed a history site on Pembrey and another on Tom Pryce http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southwest/sites/pembrey_circuit/Pembrey history mini site
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northeast/guides/halloffame/sport/tom_pryce.shtml Excellent Tom Pryce tribute site!