Having lost last years overall Championship by a single point, it looked as though Dominic had the series wrapped up this year when he lined up for the last race of the season in pole position, and with a six point advantage. Of course, in motor racing nothing is assured until the chequered flag is waved, and a blown head gasket by his third tour of Mallory Park on the 12th October spelled disaster. He limped on, but in doing so cracked both the head and cylinder block of the highly tuned A series engine in his distinctive Kawasaki Green Mk1 Sprite, eventually finishing well down the order, and crucially two points behind new Champion, William Smallridge. Character building perhaps, disappointing, definitely. I met recently with the very likeable and always smiling family man, at his Midland Classic Restorations premises in Ombersley near Droitwich, to discuss this and how he got into racing Spridgets originally.
First though I comment that the Mallory race of 16 laps, due to the thirteen minute plus one lap rule, seemed quite long; laughing he replies, "Not as long as for me, three would have been handy! Sure it was disappointing on Sunday afternoon, but there's no point worrying over it, it’s been such a great season, huge fun, and I'll be back next year keener than ever - can't wait!"
So, I ask, how did it all start and with that grin never far away he explains; "My interest in motor sport I suppose started when Formula One was Formula One! You know when Grand Prix motor racing was just that, when it wasn't politically correct and drivers didn't care what they said or who they said it to, blokes like James Hunt, Niki Lauda, and Mansell. That's where it all comes from, I'd watch racing whenever and wherever I could, and followed it avidly through magazines like Autosport, but the passion was truly fuelled once introduced to the Midget Championship by Dave and Martin Price. This was when they were running their In Gear magazine, Dave's car was up for sale and it went from there. I'd always looked on wondering what if, but once I'd tried it, well there was no going back. Believe me its really addictive and great fun".
An apprenticeship with British Motor Heritage in the eighties when they were at Studley Castle, equipped Dominic with the right experience for preparing cars both for racing and the road. "That's right, I spent five years with them, and gained a very good grounding in the restoration business, which is similar to race prepping, it was a niche market then and very different to the rest of the motor trade. I did a lot of travelling with them going to many shows, plus taking show cars to race meetings. It was good fun. Unfortunately like many they ran into a hard time in the early nineties, and I was one of those who was 'let go'. Of course they have changed completely now, but it was due to this that I started on my own, so it did me some good, doubt I could work for anyone else now. While there I met a lot of good people like Dave Bishop who is a great guy and still there of course doing a terrific job, and John Yea, who we see every year when racing.
So, once the owner of the Dave Price car, was it just a matter of getting a licence and going racing? "Well no, not quite. It was Dave's old class C car, which once examined exposed how tired it was with all the usual Midget corrosion problems, we striped it right back to a bare shell and went from there, by the time I'd finished it was virtually a new car, well worth it though. I won class C a couple of years later in this car, it always being both competitive and reliable right from the start. It was a rapid learning curve though, but I think I cottoned on pretty quickly, soon realising its not BHP that's important, far more good handling and time in the seat. We did quite a bit of testing, mostly at Mallory Park because its fairly local, and it paid off, with a lot of back to back testing to see where we were improving things. By the time we moved into class B it was a very quick car.
We're jumping the gun just a bit here though for I mention his first race, by all accounts something of an initiation by fire, "Yeah that's one way of putting it! That first race was at Rockingham, probably not the best place to start your racing career, a rolling start on an oval, with brick walls, was", with the smile spreading, "a bit daunting to say the least. And what an eye opener, for on that circuit, no longer used of course, these little cars really flew, I just hung on, finally finished sixth in class which I reckon was pretty good. There was a large number of class C cars that day, and I was far from last".
"I can tell you that first race went by in a blur, but what really stood out was just how friendly everyone was, how all other guys came over, introduced themselves and helped me find my way. After all at your first race you don't know where to sign on, where scrutineering is, or a dozen other things. I remember Gareth Penn jumping in the car and showing me what it was all about, but like every other new driver I sat on the grid wondering just what the hell I was doing there, but then, nothing ventured.....
"I quickly realised that everyone was racing fairly, didn't feel threatened or concerned that someone would give me a shove if that was the only way by. I think there are many of us who race to a budget and a big off would put pay to many a drivers season, so although everyone is trying to win, and they really are, believe me, they are doing so with each others health and wealth in mind. I don't think there are any in our championship who have poor driving qualities, obviously there are occasional mishaps, but that's racing. Of course I'm in a better position than most in this respect for I only have to do a bit of overtime and can have the car fixed, but few of the others guy's can do that". To illustrate the camaraderie within the series, Dominic was entered in the 750 Motor Club's Burkett 6 Hour Relay race which was to take place just over a week following our chat, and half a dozen other drivers, knowing Dominic's engine was in pieces, offered to lend him their engines for the race. I think its fair to say that few other championships have such a loyalty within them. Dominic had decided however not to take part but to go along as part of the organising team, "its a great event and gives you a lot of time in the car, very nearly an hour, but of course you have to bear in mind you are part of the team and drive to orders. I did it about four years ago, then as now with a team of Midget drivers, it was really good fun. This year I'll help from the sidelines".
We then turn to particular races when Dominic's eyes light up at the mention of this years Donnington Park round. "What a race! Pete Collinson and I were neck and neck from lights to flag, swapping places probably three or four times a lap, Pete is very competitive and quick, a great guy to race with as you can trust him, I think we both knew there wasn't going to be any problems, so could sit it out and see who would hit the brakes last. He has come a long way this year, in fact both John and Pete have, but of all the races I have driven this was the best, even if I did come second. Even now I have a smile when I think of it, side by side through the Cranner Curves at who knows what, a hundred plus, fantastic stuff. I suppose Pete Collinson has shown the most rapid improvement coming from the back of the grid to leading and winning the class, so coming second to such a great guy is no bad thing, and anyway I'll nail him next year!"
Although he likes Donnington, Dominic's favourite circuit is Cadwell. "I've been there about ten times now but really cant say I've learnt it, not only the curves and corners, mostly off camber, but the gradients too, its a real drivers circuit, I love the place and to win a race there would be, I think, quite an achievement. Oulton is pretty good also and as I've said Donnington, which I feel should the Grand Prix go there will be spoilt for everyone, particularly the spectators, but I can't see that happening can you?"
With the drivers meeting due imminently I ask, with my new found access to insider information, if there are any particular problems that are likely to aired? "Well I think there are few drivers not too happy with the tyres, feeling they wear too quickly, but they're in the minority, and there are some who would like to see a move to a different gearbox, which I don't go along with as it would change the whole concept of racing old cars. Look, this would open the door to all sorts of things including sequential, and who wants that? It could easily put people off coming into the Championship, which is very strong at the moment, but with the current economic turmoil, may need that strength to see it through. However its Larry's championship and I seriously doubt he would allow such a radical change. There's one thing I would like to see improved though, and that is the appearance of the cars. I sometimes walk around the paddock and seeing some of the cars covered in gaffer tape and zip ties think there should be some minimum standards on the presentation front. My current car is at the end of its second season now and so no longer like it was when first race ready, but I think its still pretty presentable. I know they're race cars, so their not going to look pristine, but still it would be nice to see a grid of reasonably well turned out cars. Many people think before they see us race, 'oh its only a Midget', and the poorer the cars look just adds to that lowly opinion, but once they see us racing and see just how fast these cars are it changes their perception and really opens people's eyes, so well turned out cars would simply enhance that and make us look more professional. Well that's what I think".
"You know these little cars - parts bin specials if you like - have proven over time just how well they were designed and made, for the speed we are getting out of basically the same car with the same uprights designed for three and half inch wide wheels, and an unassuming four cylinder engine, is absolutely amazing. On test days we scare the hell out of some people in their Ferrari this, or Porsche that! Admittedly we have strengthened some areas, but its still the same basic shell". Indeed Dominic is absolutely right, the Spridget, arguably due to this racing series, has developed into far more than just another old historic sports car, and in A and B forms into pucker fully adjustable racing cars that will match many potentially far quicker cars, but which in reality are no match for a well driven Spridget designed more than fifty years ago.
Obviously, with the recent changes that have taken place at Midland Classic Restorations, seeing Peter and Chris May moving their Lye operation to join MCR at Ombersley, I ask, why and how this come about and what implications, if any, does it hold for the future? "Knowing Peter through racing I'd heard that brother Chris was considering retiring and that Peter would therefore like some smaller premises, I made the awkward phone call to see if he'd be interested in coming here, glad I did too, as we both viewed it as sensibly tie up. There have been a few things to sort out as you'd expect but all in all it's been really good. The two companies run entirely separately, and with Peter May Engineering being such a well respected name in the motor sport business and MCR's reputation for expert restorations and race preparation, we think both benefit. If we were to join in some way we feel one or both names could suffer, so have adopted the view that with two different businesses, with established names, we gain twice the coverage. And its becoming obvious already that this is happening for MCR is getting more race, sprint and hill climb car preparation work as a result of Peter's involvement, and conversely Peter gets engine, chassis, suspension and brake modification work as a result of MCR's restoration involement, so its working really well. Plus you know with so many really good local specialist companies within a twenty mile radius, anything we need making up, engineering wise or metal work, we can get. We are ideally placed."
I'd noticed a Meschersmit bubble car in the car park outside when I had arrived and within the workshops among the Midgets and MGB's an Austin A35 and an MG M-type, so naturally asked was there anything they didn't work on? With laughter "Not had a double decker bus in yet, but no we'll pretty much work on anything. We did a Mercedes SL early in the year and we look after a couple of Model T Fords, we see a huge variety which keeps me and the two guy's interested". One of the guy's being Ian Turner, who is the father of Midget Challenge driver Mark Turner, so another racing connection. "Yeah its a small world and its nice working with people you know, I don't see us getting any bigger though, I spend enough time doing paperwork as it is, and its the hands on work that I enjoy, so we'll keep it that way - manageable".
Truly in his element, Dominic confesses that if he could have competed in any car or period from the past it would have been the sixties, marvelling at the way things were less formal then, with little media interest, and British cars especially BMC cars, doing so well. "For the first time you didn't have to be extraordinarily wealthy to be able to take part, cars like the Mini Cooper, MG Midget and MGB seeing to that. To be able to drive to a meeting, race, and drive home again, must have been perfect. This is the era of cars we look after and work on of course and its those times, I think, which were probably the best if you wanted to compete. We'll never go back to anything like that, but we try to compete in a similar way. One of our customers, John Fry, has a Midget he's owned for forty odd years, took it to South Africa with him, brought it back having competed in it at places like Kyalami. Still hill climbs and races it and still drives it to and from meetings. I think he's very brave and obviously quite committed to do that, but it sums up the period from which he comes, and what sports cars are meant for. Just think of all the pleasure he's had from that little inexpensive motor car. Fantastic, simply fantastic.
As we wind things up and walk back out into the October sunshine I thank Dominic for his time and patience when I notice again the diminutive Meschersmit and ask, what's it like to drive? Unable to suppress the laughter he replies; "Try it if you like?", with a glance towards the continuos stream of huge lorries thundering by on the notorious A449 just a few yards away. "You'd by a braver man than me though!" Thanks Dom, but I think I'll pass.