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A flashback to when Skegness was shale, and Mick Harris getting the inside front wheel off the ground in 2001.

A flashback to when Skegness was shale, and Mick Harris getting the inside front wheel off the ground in 2001.

Mick Harris had previously raced F2 for a brief period before making his F1 debut at Long Eaton at the Christmas 1996 meeting. His first race win came just a couple of meetings later, with a heat win at Sheffield in the opening weeks of the 1997 season.

After that, Mick made the most of being graded white and won at least one race every meeting he contested, culminating in a whitewash at Sheffield at the end of April when the number 8 car won both heats and the final.

Usually graded blue or red, Mick emerged as being a capable shale driver, and won a final at Swindon, another at Sheffield, and two at Coventry.

The later part of the 2000s saw Mick concentrate more on tarmac racing. Mick did not appear for the 2011 season, and it was assumed that he had taken a back seat to allow more effort to be put into son Tom’s rise to the top of the sport.

Mick came out of retirement at the 2011 Gala Night meeting driving Tom’s car, and won the final.

Martin Verhoef at Northampton, 2001.

Martin Verhoef at Northampton in 2001.


A beast of an engine and a massive wing on a car built for straight line speed down the long straights of Baarlo.

The British tarmac racing scene underwent some radical changes in the early 1990s as the rolling chassis changed from being carefully assembled from parts mainly sourced from scrapyards to being full blown racing machines with proper racing tyres, ratio change gearboxes, coil over shock absorbers… the list goes on.

But that was nothing compared to what had happened in Holland a decade earlier. The big track at Baarlo had been around since 1964 and had staged various types of oval racing. In the mid 1970s efforts were made on both sides of the North Sea to forge links between the British and the Dutch cars that were the most similar.

The SCOTA organisation got in first and staged the 1977 F1SCA World Final at Baarlo, won by Englishman Ian Ireland. A year later, Baarlo arranged it’s own championship, the Long Track World Final, and BriSCA F1 drivers were invited to take part. It became an annual event, with British driver Andy Stott winning in 1979.

Improvements were made to the venue and a new smooth tarmac surface saw a rise in race speeds around the 1km oval. This led to increasingly more powerful engines, bigger tyres, and ultimately a range of aerodynamics on the cars.

When Baarlo closed at the end of 1998, these cars continued to be raced at other tracks, and occasionally they came over to England.

The photos above show Martin Verhoef’s brute of a car on two different visits, and with two different types of aerofoil. The bigger one being the type used at Baarlo.

Gary Castell at Northampton in 1989.

Gary Castell at Northampton in 1989.

Andy Webb (247) is probably best known for his car with the famous “Spiderman” paint job, but perhaps his biggest claim to fame is that he is the uncle of Gary Castell.

It was in one of Uncle Andy’s cars that a young Gary, then number 512, first took to the track way back in 1981. Results were modest at first, but started to improve with a new self built car and a switch to number 8.

Gary’s first final came at Coventry in late 1985, but not long afterwards he stopped racing when marriage became the priority.

But in 1989, Gary Castell was back on track and at the wheel of one of the more notorious cars of the 1980s. It was the somewhat radical NZ-style spaceframe car that had been built by visiting New Zealanders Peter Kuriger and Russell Joblin for Joblin to race in the 1986 World Final.

The notoriety came about when back marker Joblin lost control and after almost knocking the starter off his rostrum, bounced off the fence and into the path of race leader Stu Smith, who was on course for his fourth world title in a row.

It might not have been the ideal car for Coventry, but Gary turned it into a tarmac super car. Good results and a lot of race wins, including another final, were recorded for the next couple of years, before Gary decided to upgrade and built a new car.

It bore more than a passing resemblance to the Chris Elwell car of 1988, which itself had been inspired by the original 1986 Kuriger/Joblin car. Gary did a few meetings in England with it, but perhaps tellingly, he seemed to do more meetings in Holland.

But these were troubled times in F1, and the cause of the bother was tyres. The Dunlop road tyres that had been the staple rubber for years had become harder to come by, and proper racing tyres had started to take their place. Unfortunately it wasn’t always clear which tyres were or weren’t allowed, and after one too many fallings out with those who were supposed to decide, Gary’s frustration got the better of him and he sold up.

The story might have ended there. But by 1999, F1 megafan and double-glazing magnate Derek Hines was in need of a driver. Having previously been a sponsor of several drivers, Derek’s enthusiasm for the sport had reached the point that he bought a car of his own and then got someone else to drive it. Step forward, Gary Castell.

Derek had bought the last car to be raced by Gaz Bott, and after a few months getting used to it, Gary went on to win quite a few finals, all on tarmac. When Derek added a brand new shale car to his line up, Gary put in some sterling drives on the loose stuff as well.

It seemed like an ideal partnership, but it wasn’t going to last forever. After five or so years, Gary was starting to think he was perhaps getting a little bit old to be racing week in, week out, and Derek’s son Paul was now an up and coming driver.

Paul Hines would learn a lot from Gary during the time that they raced together in the B-Warm Windows team, in terms of both race-craft and car preparation.

The B-Warm era was the most successful period that Gary had had to date, and it came to an end at the end of the 2004 season.

The story might have ended there. But in 2005, Gary was offered a drive in an F1 owned by a Dutch team. Racing mainly on the tarmac tracks in Holland, Gary did the team owners proud, and became something of an honorary Dutchman.

Gary regularly travelled from his home town of Daventry to race in Holland. It was a massive effort, and the English/Dutch arrangement posed a problem regarding qualification for the World Final. Gary was not eligible to score qualifying points in the UK because he was registered as a Dutch driver. Furthermore, he wasn’t eligible as an overseas driver because he lived in England.

In 2010, Gary won the World Cup at Venray, and the following year he did it again. Both were stunning drives, and if the Dutch ever get around to compiling a list of the greatest Dutch stock car drivers, Gary Castell will surely be somewhere near the top.

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