New season countdown : 5

5

Doug Wardropper was a pioneer of stock car racing. He was an accomplished driver and an innovative car builder. Living in Ipswich, he first raced at his local venues Norwich, Ipswich, and the almost mythical Whip Chicken Farm, in the sport’s inaugural year of 1954.

During the Second World War, Doug had been a technician working on the Merlin engines made by Rolls Royce. These were mainly fitted to the Spitfire and Lancaster aircraft. The Merlin was a V12 internal combustion engine with a displacement of around 27 litres and is today regarded as a technical masterpiece. It is therefore almost a certainty that in those formative years of the sport, Doug had technical knowledge and engineering expertise far in excess of anybody else on track.

Doug’s first car was based on a 1930s Ford Model 40 and although it was a good car for starting out with, it didn’t take Doug long to realise that it wasn’t the most competitive car on track. The flathead V8 engine would have been meticulously prepared, but it was never going to compete with the overhead valve engines being used by the current top men.

For the 1956 season, Doug replaced the ageing power unit with a reasonably new 303 cubic inch Oldsmobile Rocket engine, sourced from a scrapyard. Fitting the Rocket in place of the Ford unit was by no means straightforward, and it would have taken some considerable engineering ability to make it fit.

A first ever final win came at Brafield in May 1956, and that was just the start. More finals followed throughout the year and into the following year. But as the car was gradually tweaked to allow more of the engine’s power to be used, it became apparent that it was more than the Ford driveline could take.

The following year the once ‘stock’ Model 30 was further modified with a rear axle from a Ford truck, but that was just a stop gap. Having now realised that stock cars didn’t have to be stock, a new car was built based on the chassis of a Fordson WOT2 army truck and the bodywork of a Ford Popular saloon. It was a winning combination and in 1958 Doug won 26 finals and the National Points Championship.

The year after saw Doug take 18 finals and the British Championship, before he gave the car to son Alan and built himself another. The new car didn’t have the edge that the old one did, and while Alan won plenty, Doug struggled.

The WOT2 chassis was strong but it was big and heavy; the thing to have in the early 1960s was the chassis and axles from a Morris LD. Although the chassis itself eventually gave way to fabricated ones and the front axle dropped in favour of axles from other commercial vehicles, the Morris LD rear axle was cheap, robust, and readily available in scrapyards. It would remain the staple for the next 40 years.

For the 1962 season Doug and Alan put together an LD based car fitted with an even bigger Rocket engine, and with it Alan won 16 Finals and the National Points Championship. The following year the father and son team built a similar car, but this time with a smaller and lighter 389 cubic inch Pontiac engine.

This car put Doug back up at the top of the sport and he won five finals before going to Harringay for the World Final. Come the big race, Doug was on top form and took on the sport’s best, including race leader Aubrey Leighton, and won.

Doug won 79 finals in total and is one of the very few drivers to have won the World, National Points, and British Championships.

Doug retired from racing at the end of 1967, and what he’d learned building stock car engines was channelled into his new business venture, Scholar Engines.

The one and only John Goodhall at Coventry in 1992.

The one and only John Goodhall at Coventry, 1992.

Arie Verhoef at Baarlo, 1993.

Arie Verhoef at Baarlo, 1993.

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