OFF TRACK – Dedicated to the victims of a Rowrah gunman

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Can you identify number 31?

“Be very careful what you wish for,” my grandmother used to caution “because you just might succeed in getting it!” When I served as Cumbria Kart Racing Club’s Press Officer, my overriding aim was to put Rowrah firmly on the map. It took less than three dreadful hours of mayhem on Wednesday morning, June 2nd for my wish to be granted. The price of this publicity was measured in blood when crazed gunman Derrick Bird went on the rampage throughout a 45 mile journey of death and destruction. Darren Rewcastle, Kevin Commons. Susan Hughes, Kenneth Fishburn, Spike Dixon, Garry Purdham, Mike Pike, Jane Robinson Jamie Clark, James Jackson and his wife Jennifer plus Derrick’s twin brother David all lay dead in the aftermath. A further eleven people were seriously injured before Derek finally turned his own gun upon himself.

Derrick left behind two young sons who are now desperately trying to make some sense out of their father’s actions. Apart from relatives of the bereaved, he also left mental scars amongst many bystanders. My close friend and work colleague Andy Shand witnessed the murder of Mike Pike outside his home at Seascale. Mike had been a former Trades Union official well respected by both of us and he actually shouted a greeting to Andy just seconds before being gunned down whilst out riding his bike. Andy tried to ring the emergency services but couldn’t get through. It later transpired that a stray bullet had completely severed the telephone wire. Another bullet was found lodged in his window frame. Weeks have since gone by, but Andy’s wife still has nightmares over the incident. No doubt many others will have been similarly affected.

For 20 years Derrick Bird had lived in a terraced cottage at Rowrah within 300 yards of my own home. He’d grown up along with his brothers David and Brian in Ennerdale, just a couple of miles away. When my younger sister was married in 1978, David acted as the Best Man. The twins have been described by the media as “chalk and cheese” although their interests were actually very similar. Both were renowned petrol heads and Derrick was particularly keen on Motor-Cross although, like David, he’d tried his hand at karting. Sharing a 250cc Yamaha machine with his close friend Neil Jacques, Derrick had completed many laps of the Rowrah circuit without actually taking out a racing licence.

Bird’s activities resulted in a media circus as TV crews from various parts of Europe came flocking to Rowrah. It’s a relatively tiny village, consisting of just over 50 houses so virtually every resident had a tale to tell about Derrick. Those amongst us who wished to keep our thoughts private were relentlessly pursued and it reached a stage where newshounds were quietly asked to vacate the Stork Hotel after upsetting local patrons with their persistent questions. Surrounding pubs and guesthouses did a brisk trade and traveling kart competitors for the Rowrah race meeting on June 12th were struggling to find any available accommodation. Some who were successful found themselves paying twice the normal rate for a room. So much for “Free Enterprise!”.

It wasn’t just hoteliers who sought to make a profit. Photographs of Derrick Bird were being bought by newspapers for £1,000 each. His ex partner was reputedly offered £30,000 by a Sunday Paper to “sell” her story. In motor racing circles this figure might not raise an eye-brow. In a small rural community, however, it’s a massive amount of money. For those newsmen who couldn’t cajole stories with huge bribes, there was an easy answer. They simply made it up. Neil Jacques was astonished to read a lengthy account about how he’d been drinking with Derrick until early on Wednesday morning just a few hours before the shootings began. Neil swears, however, that he’s avoided all reporters like the plague and certainly didn’t give any interviews. Many residents insist that this episode has taught them never to believe anything written in the newspapers again. So, if you think that errors can occasionally creep into Karting magazine reports, then just be thankful that you’re not relying on the Sun.

There’s always someone willing to add some light relief to any situation and it didn’t take long before several karters were sending humorous text messages. “Call a Rowrah cabbie and he’ll be there like a shot,” was just one rather tasteless example. Reading some of the text messages, solemn or otherwise, I wondered why there has been such a dearth of letters in Karting magazine recently when the sport is clearly awash with some very wordy people. Last month was an exception, of course, and we had a whole page of letters all related to the same topic. It seems as though the MSA has caused a few upsets with recent proposals to introduce Super Cadet and raise the entry age for Juniors. On this score, I have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed by Tim Parrott, Alan Turney and Grahame Butterworth. If it is felt necessary to introduce an additional category for cadet, then allowing multiple engines would seem a very expensive and unnecessary way forward. The Turney proposal for restricted BT82 motors and karts with 25 or 30mm axles makes sense to me, although I’d also consider other tyre options before necessarily deciding on Maxxis. The MSA’s primary objective should be to reduce costs and if British manufacturers are assisted as a result then so much the better in my view.

Amongst early respondents to last month’s poser were Gerry Philpotts, Ian Prestwick, Timothy Field, Richard Brett, Ken Churchill and Chris Arnold who all correctly identified Paul Burgess (no relation to Mark) as the driver pictured leading Francois Goldstein. I wasn’t absolutely certain who the 3rd competitor was, but Chris Arnold identified him as Colin Deavin. Chris agrees with me that the year would have been 1973, but thinks that this photo was taken during a European Championship round at Rye House rather than the World Champs in Belgium. On reflection, I think he’s correct. My apologies are due to Gerry Philpotts and Ken Churchill who identified Riccardo Patrese in the May Issue. Unfortunately, I received their answers too late for inclusion in last month’s issue.

THIS MONTH’S POSER

It’s Saturday, July 30th 1966 and England are playing West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley. Three hundred miles away at Flookburgh, near Barrow in Furness, karters are roaring around the Ponderosa circuit contesting Round 2 of the RAC British Championships. Brian Robinson (No 18) is driving the Matador lying 3rd behind Drummond Pringle’s Fastakart (No 12). If you can identify the future British Champion in a Barlotti/Bultaco (No 31) then please send an e-mail to dave.bewley@talktalk.net or telephone 01946 861355.