Scalextric Meets John Fitzpatrick
Over the years we here at Scalextric have produced a large number of cars driven by various legends of the BTCC (including its predecessor, the British Saloon Car Championship) and 2018 has certainly been no exception. Alongside modern day releases of cars driven by greats such as Andrew Jordan, Colin Turkington and Matt Neal sits a car that on the surface is slightly more humble - a lovely white Ford Escort Mk1, in the unmistakable colours of Castrol motor oils, run by Broadspeed and driven by John Fitzpatrick.
When Ashley Sutton clinched the 2017 BTCC title many believed him to be the youngest victor ever, but in fact when he won his crown in 1966, Fitzpatrick was some months younger and this was long before the days of junior motorsport and the ever-younger grids we see in many series today. It was also in vastly different machinery as the BSCC of the 1960s was a multiclass affair and John won the title driving a Ford Anglia, not winning races overall but instead consistently winning his class.
To celebrate the release of John Fitzpatrick’s Ford Escort Mk1, and to offer you the chance to win some unique prizes, I went along to meet John Fitzpatrick at his home, to present him with a model of his Escort and to have a quick chat with him about all things Scalextric, racing and those memorable wide arch Broadspeed Escorts. I began by asking John what he thought of our rendition of his 1971 Brands Hatch car:
Well, I think you’ve done a great job! I mean it’s fabulous, both of them, the older one and the new one as well [we took this opportunity to also present John with a model of his famous burgundy and silver Broadspeed Escort, released by us some years ago too]. The detail is incredible, and it just brings back such fabulous memories especially the Castrol car, where I used to have some terrific dices with the Camaros and the Mustangs. It was a real giant killer of a car!
Was it much of a step up from the Anglia you raced earlier, which you won the title with?
Not really, the difference between the Anglia and the 1300 Escort was hardly anything, but the RS was quite a jump, it had something like 50BHP more, so suddenly it was a race winning car not just a class winning car.
We’ve modelled some of its competitors like the Mustang and Camaros, what was it like fighting them in the RS Escort?
Well of course you had to be a little bit careful as they were a lot bigger and heavier, so if you did happen to touch you’d obviously come off worse! I had some great dices with both Frank Gardener and Brian Muir, both in big cars; we rarely touched though, in those days it was great racing, but it was clean racing, it wasn’t a problem to be in the Escort, it was a great time!
After you left the UK racing scene your travels with Porsche and BMW took you all over Europe and the USA, but in 1976 you went down to Australia. What was it like to win the Bathurst 1000? A race we have celebrated often here at Scalextric!
I’d been to Australia the year before, as I had met an Australian driver called Brian Foley through racing Minis. He was an Alfa dealer in Sydney and he asked if I’d go out and race one of his Alfas at Bathurst, which I did in 1975. That particular year Frank Gardner was driving for a guy called Ron Hodgson, who was a big GM dealer, and they were second in the race. Frank was a good friend of mine and when we got back from Australia I had a call from Frank telling me he was now signed to BMW and can’t race Holdens anymore. So, did I fancy taking his place? I said yes, absolutely! I went out and the first race I did for them in 1976, I won! All thanks to Frank Gardner and BMW!
We actually produce a few Bathurst cars, including one driven by yourself, as a track what is it like to drive?
Well it is a lot different! It’s very fast as there are two long straights with a pit straight joining them, so two thirds of the track is straight and flat out. But then of course you go up over the top of the mountain and back down, fast and slow and with the adverse camber it really is a challenge, I love it! Of course, the crowds out there are absolutely fantastic! They have to divide the fans - if you are a GM fan you go into one enclosure, if you are a Ford fan another, because they daren’t mix them together!
Of course, you drove both over there? But you were known as a Ford man!
Luckily it didn’t seem to matter! I was in a Holden on the day in ‘76 and I drove with Bobby Morris who was one of the best drivers in Australia, so it wasn’t exactly difficult for me to fit in with the team, it was already a front running team. But I enjoyed it, I had a great time and I went back a few times after that. In fact I drove a Ford two or three times with Alan Moffat, I never won it again but once was enough. In fact, if you win Bathurst once, you are really well known in Australia!
After that one of the most well-known periods of your career was spent running your own team in the USA with a Porsche. When you started out in the BSCC did you ever think you’d end up out there doing that?
No, never in my wildest dreams! In fact, it was at Bathurst the year after I won that I bumped into Dick Barbour from San Diego and we were chatting away and he said, ‘what are you doing next year Fitz?’ I said I had no idea, so he said, ‘why don’t you come to America and drive IMSA for me?’ That happened at Bathurst and that’s what got me over to America. I drove for Dick Barbour in the Kremer 935K3 and we won most of the races and the championship. At the end of the year though we were out of money and couldn’t carry on, but SACHS (the sponsor) wanted to carry on and that’s really what led me into founding my own team with SACHS sponsorship.
Fitz in the rain at Brands Hatch (photo courtesy of Gary Hawkins)
Which then saw you have success all round the world!
Yes, absolutely, always with Porsche, it led to the 956 and 962 Group C cars and then I stopped driving and carried on running the team.
You have driven some amazing cars, from the Escort to the CSL Batmobile BMWs, to the 956, but which is your favourite? A few laps of the Nürburgring, which are you going for?
Well I was lucky that I was driving in a period when the cars were sensational. Truly sensational. With a great mix of cars as well. That is quite a difficult question, er, I would say the 956 was very exciting at the Nürburgring, but it might have been a bit too exciting to be honest! That is such a difficult question! Probably the 935, enough power to get you into trouble but enough poise to get you out of it too.
And what about Scalextric, throughout your career did you ever have a Scalextric set?
Oh absolutely! I started off with a Hornby train set and then Scalextric, and in fact I have a load of Scalextric stuff in storage!
A huge thanks to John for giving up his time to speak with us. It’s always fantastic meeting drivers, both past and present, to discuss what we model here every day at Scalextric. However, John not only spoke to us, but he was also kind enough to sign a couple of examples of his car.
To be in with a chance of winning one of the signed Scalextric cars, simply head on over to our Competitions page and answer the question there. With two cars up for grabs, two lucky winners will be picked at random from the correct answers.
Good luck to everyone who enters and I'll see you soon,
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