The evolution of Midgets by Rod Tanswell from the book ‘Living With Spede’
The Winter of 1967-68 proved to be a busy one for all concerned. The specification was strengthened further in the light of what we had learned. Geoff Rumble of Dastle Manufacturing Co. was busy working out minor mods to the prototype Dastle raced the year before and later to be known as the Mk 3 Dastle. Having received the odd order from a few drivers, among them Pete Smith, he was full of enthusiasm.
Spedeworth were also pressing on with Midgets going into the fixture lists for the first time. To the drivers this was a great step forward. At last they were going to actually race rather than put on demonstrations as they had done in 1967.
To strengthen the field Les Eaton approached Geoff Rumble with a view to buying two of the new Dastles and duly placed an order. With very little time to spare the cars were built in time for one of the first meetings of the season at Wimbledon.
I was invited by Les Eaton to drive one of these little bombs cars along with Dell Stickings, another Superstox driver (much to my wife’s disgust I accepted the offer. I think she could see me disappearing down under the fence somewhere). On phoning Geoff on the Friday afternoon we were told that there was no hope of getting the cars finished unless a few fingers were pulled out.
Without delay I put tools in boot and set off in the direction of Geoff’s workshop which in those days was in Leatherhead alongside “Calbrook Cars” - you will remember Graham Helps (now doing nicely in South Africa). I got stuck in with Geoff and his mechanic to be joined later by Pete and John Smith who joined the team to get the thing moving. By working through the night and right through Saturday we managed to get it going minus tail fin, nosecone and various other items. We got the Midget to Wimbledon in time along with the others, namely Geoff Rumble, Pete Smith and Dell and a couple of others so Midgets got off to a shaky start and not exactly a ball of fire. We were all beset by teething troubles that night which was to be expected under the circumstances.
During April 1968 we had another meeting at Wimbledon which was more of a success than earlier on that year. Several more drivers had Midgets, among them in those early days were John Davies, Graham Pearce and Barry Plummer of Superstox fame. That night was disaster night for Barry. He was driving one of the old type midgets as raced the previous year with his Super engine firmly planted in the front. Unfortunately the car was not very stable even on the straight and somehow or other Barry just touched the fence. The end result was engine and gearbox left in the middle of the track where it had been thrown along with the radiator and front axle which finally came to rest some yards away. Barry left looking very dazed in the remains of the car. The race was stopped and Barry escorted to the St John Ambulance Brigade made a painful exit. I think we all who were there that night racing understood for the first time that midgets were not expensive toys but rather cars that which should be treated with the utmost respect.
Although Barry did drive a Midget after that episode he did not have quite the same enthusiasm again and went back to Superstox.
The Midgets also made their debut in East Anglia about this time and I quote an article by star commentator John Earrey from the May edition of the journal:
“Our first sample of the Midgets at Ipswich did enough to prove that the sport could catch on, although it will be a season or two presumably before they can be billed on their own. I raved over the fabulous car turned out by Nev Whittaker – a great car. It was a winner from the start. He and Dell Stickings look like the early stars of the formula.”
John must have had his crystal ball out when he wrote that article for here we are in 1972 and still as yet not had our first full meeting for Midgets, although I think the day is just around the corner.
On one of our few Midget meetings staged at Brands Hatch on 16th June 1968 our first Midget roll over happened. John Davies narrowly escaped death when a front suspension unit collapsed while he was taking Clearways. This caused him to go right over end over end then sideways a couple of times. I was following at the time and to me I just could not imagine how anyone could survive that awful tumble. However the race was slowed and on the next lap we saw him being helped from the wreckage of the Midget, a very welcome sight to us who were still racing. Incidentally the whole episode is on one of Spedeworth’s many films. If anyone gets the chance to see it then do so, it will open your eyes.
John Houghton (M8) came onto the scene first of all with a Dastle Mk3. If you remember it was called the “Black Caramba”, painted black and very smart. Many of us remember John at Brands when we were there at one of the meetings held there for Midgets, sitting in his Dastle with the rear wheels jacked up running the engine in gear warming the diff unit. We couldn’t help but smile, he looked so perky sitting in the car listening to the engine with his yachting cap at an angle and serious face complete with pipe. We didn’t smile quite so much when he bought out the now legendary “Black Lawnmower”. John had an idea in the back of his mind of the perfect Midget, of very simple design. He told me about this one afternoon at Aldershot. I in actual fact had a hand in helping John in the early stages of the design and building of the Lawnmower. It was then transported up to his home in Rotherham and finished off.
At Ipswich on 27th July he brought the car along to give it a run round and was so pleased with it that he decided to stay and race the car along with the other Midgets booked in for the day. He took us all by complete surprise by winning all three races that afternoon, making quite fools of the rest of us.
Another driver who made his mark with Midgets about the time was of course Mick Miller (M22). Of all drivers past and present Mick was quite a character. He wasn’t afraid to mix it with the other drivers in or out of a race. As far as the spectators were concerned they either clapped or booed Mick and the more they did it, the more he loved every minute of it. A fellow by the name of Peter Baldwin sponsored the car that Mick drove, a very dedicated Midget man in his day. A pity he went out of the sport really as he certainly had faith in the car and Mick’s ability to drive it. Unfortunately we were to see Mick retire from the sport eventually, a great shame as I consider he could have been one of the all time great drivers in the Midget formula. Other drivers who made their mark at around this time were Rick Stevens (M6) and Graham Pearce (M10). Both in fact are no longer connected with the sport, unfortunately, and both as a matter of interest were the subject of turnovers in Midgets. Perhaps this was the reason for their retirement. Rick did in fact go into Formula Ford racing for a while.
Another new face that came on the scene in 1968 and is a familiar name to Midget supporters now was Frank Boyles. He appeared first at an Ipswich meeting along with the forerunner of the Fireball you see racing today. A driver who has come a long way since those early days.
Dell Stickings was still racing both Superstox and Midgets and was pushing me hard for top of the points. Dell had perfected his own style of Midget driving which was an “out of the way I am coming through” type of driving, much the same as he was in Supers. Pete Smith was also now going well and piling on points in his very potent Dastle Mk3 with Gemini Ford motor in. There were times when Pete was virtually unbeatable especially at Ipswich and Aldershot, a track he took to and liked an awful lot.
October 13th at Brands Hatch saw the Midgets out on the full clubman circuit for the first time. This was quite something because none of us had ever had a Midget up to full chat and nobody knew what to expect with a car that had such a short wheelbase. They proved a great success on the full circuit and were very hairy to drive. Here people like Rick Stevens, Pete Smith and Geoff Rumble scored having raced at Brands before in other formulas. The rest of us were left to find our own way around and find the fastest time through corners; this did not take too long however and we were all getting used to racing on the full circuit by the end of the day’s racing. In all we were all delighted to have the opportunity of racing on something new and where the fence was out of sight for a change.
November 10th at Ipswich saw the last meeting in East Anglia for Midgets in 1968. In all we had a good turn out of cars for the meeting with some good racing. John Houghton kept up his, by now, winning streak at Ipswich by winning all three races in fine style. He ended the season by winning most of the Midget races at Ipswich which certainly suited his car and his driving.
I really felt with the end of the 1968 season we had put Midgets on the first rung of the ladder. We had our first full season with quite a lot of interest building up all the way along the line. I was well satisfied with finishing up top of the points after having quite a successful season all told.