Motor sport

Smoke and Heat October 2022

Although I only had a small role as team press officer during the Lotus 72’s black and gold glory days, I was front row seat to some of the not always appropriate events that took place behind the scenes of John Player Team. Lotus, as told below. Notice to lawyers: only a few of the alleged criminals are still with us.

I was recruited into the job at the start of 1972 by Peter Warr, who had very ably managed the Lotus team for Colin Chapman since 1969, and whom I had befriended during my two seasons as F1 correspondent for the weekly Motoring News. Warr didn’t have to press me very hard: at the time my MN salary was £1,000 a year at slum level (increased by £200 from the job I briefly held as assistant editor of its monthly sister publication, Motor Sport) – and Warr was offering £3,000.

Lotus’ racing business (F1, F2, F3 and sportscars) had been sponsored by the Player’s Gold Leaf brand since 1968, initially to the tune of £85,000. For 1972, the cars will wear the funereal colors of Imperial Tobacco’s new John Player Special marque. Undoubtedly, a useful budget increase reflected the attempt to eradicate Lotus’ hard-earned identity.

To liaise with players and produce promotional material, Warr had used the services of two friends, Noel Stanbury and Barry Foley. Both men had been keen competitors in the thriving Clubman racing class, for front-engined Lotus 7-type sports cars.

Foley, a graphic designer, had designed the JPS logo and livery for the F1 cars. He was much better known, however, for drawing the famous Catchpole comic strip which entertained Autosport readers every week for 24 years.

Stanbury-Foley moved into premises in Stratford, east London. I don’t remember being given a specific outline of my duties, perhaps because I was the very first of a new generation of press officers, uniforms and all.

Although I had to accompany the team to almost all of its races and help the press, the latter function did not always sit well with Warr or the naturally wary Chapman. While willing to brainstorm for the media on last week’s race, their fierce competitiveness left them frustrated and frustrated about what the press really wanted to know, which was the improvements they had in mind for the week’s showdown. next with Tyrrell and Ferrari.

Nevertheless, the S&F gentlemen were determined to exploit the potential of their client’s sponsorship. An important step in the ‘bonding’ they had envisioned was for the Lotus name to be dropped altogether in favor of ‘John Player Special’. At a planning meeting, I was told my assignment was to patrol the newsroom, watching reporters as they worked at their typewriter keyboards and demanding that the word “Lotus” be erased in favor of “John Player Special”.

I protested in vain that most F1 journalists were friends whom I respected, and that this amounted to unethical editorial intrusion. Although the case dragged on for some time, it was eventually settled by Chapman himself, who continued to refer to his cars as Lotus when speaking to the press. Sometimes he hesitated and used the “correct” nomenclature, but never convincingly.

“The landfill was closed, so we had to be resourceful to free our fuel”

“Affection” isn’t a word you’ll often see attached to Chapman. In my first season reporting on F1, I was close to Jochen Rindt, whose respect for his crew chief dwindled dramatically as the 1970 season progressed, even after winning four GPs in a row. I was in the Lotus pit at Monza when Jochen was killed the day before the Italian GP, ​​and I was aware of the doubts that hung (and still loom) over Chapman’s insistence on running the wingless Lotus 72. .

Now there was the controversial issue of my personal transportation. The sponsorship agreement required Players to pay my salary and expenses, and Lotus to provide a Lotus Elan. Warr blocked me for weeks. Then he informed me that an Elan Plus 2 had been selected for me, but would be delayed, “because we have to clean the scratches from the president on the roof”. Chapman had given him a ‘test’ when he knocked him down in a Norfolk ditch.

When rebuilt it was a nice car, but unreliable. Its weak point was the rubber donuts on the driveshaft. One failed me en route to the British GP. I managed to get towed to a Lotus dealership in central London, but despite the black and gold livery, the service manager refused to book me. As he pointed out, the workshop was filled with immobile Elans, all of them in need of unobtainable replacement donuts. Warr bought me a pair, but I had to collect them myself. In Norfolk. By train.

I had other adventures with the Elan. Most terrifying was when Emerson Fittipaldi, desperate to get home to Switzerland from Silverstone, commandeered my car for the race to Heathrow. Halfway through, at full speed on the M1, a huge bang signaled that a rear Dunlop had delaminated. ‘Don’t worry,’ Emerson shouted through the din, his foot still down, ‘one of them did the same thing to my Elan. It’ll be OK.”

No Lotus branding on Dave Walker’s 1972 United States GP suit as journalist Jabby Crombac takes notes

Photo Grand Prize

Then there was the occasion in 1973 when I was ferrying our two drivers to the opening of a Texaco petrol station in London and we were pulled over by a cop for making an unauthorized right turn. Fortunately, he had to be an F1 fan. You should have seen his face when he looked into the cockpit and recognized world champion Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. We got away with this one.

Lotus was notorious for bending the rules, and the most egregious example that got me involved was at the 1972 French GP, staged at the scenic Clermont-Ferrand road circuit. It had been decided that we would host a dinner on Friday for the UK media to generate some excitement for the team’s second driver, Australian Dave Walker, whose F3 skills had not shown up at all. comfortably transferred to F1.

I reserved a small dining room in a starred restaurant in the center of Clermont and sent out invitations. To add gravity to the occasion, Geoffrey Kent, John Player’s leading man and a former RAF officer, would also be present. It would be a major test of my skills as a publicist. I wanted nothing to go wrong, but…

Our fuel sponsor, Texaco, made a racing brew that was shipped as usual from America. For the Clermont-Ferrand race, it had been agreed that the fuel would be delivered to a fuel dump on an industrial area outside the city. However, shortly after our cars stopped working for the day, I received instructions from Warr, who knew I spoke French, to go with two mechanics to get the fuel. As the landfill was closed for the weekend, we had to use our ingenuity to release our gasoline.

When I protested to Warr that I had to organize the Walker dinner, he insisted that my first priority was the team and that I would be back in a few hours anyway. Needless to say I was not. Access to the landfill had required wire cutters and numerous scuffles in the dirt, so that I arrived two hours late at my own party in a disheveled state, which displeased the self-respecting Mr Kent himself.

Mike Doodson

Doodson today

And what about Dave Walker? Coincidentally, I bumped into him at least 10 years ago while visiting another racing driver friend on Australia’s Gold Coast. We found him on the marina where he had a boat rental business, immediately recognizing himself despite the signs of a serious car accident.

Stanbury-Foley did not survive a scandal in late 1973 when a Player executive – with whom they were involved in a vacation ownership scheme in Portugal – was summarily fired, for reasons the company never revealed. Noel Stanbury later became a sponsor finder for Ken Tyrrell

After 18 months of intermittent service, the black and gold Elan Plus 2 broke down on the M40, suddenly and mysteriously, in the dead of winter, forcing me to abandon it.

In early 1974, I successfully applied for a sports editor position at Motor magazine, where I resumed my globetrotting career for almost 10 years before going freelance. For many of those years, my life was shared by a woman I had met when she too worked in the Stratford office. Among the many things I have to thank her for is her insistence that I quit smoking.

This month will be 50 years since I put out my last cigarette.