Mike Close (#199)
Understated and modest, Mike Close was the quiet man who could never be discounted in the late seventies and early eighties. Learning his trade from 1971, initially sharing a car with his cousin Norman, Mike had a mechanical brain that helped him pick out the best ways to progress. A Chrysler V8 was swapped for a 3.8 Jaguar, which in turn made way for a big block Chevrolet. That unit powered Mike to the 1973 British Championship at Nelson, an astonishing success for a driver still only in his second full season.
The new season saw Mike debut a self-built car. In it he duelled with Stuart Smith, Willie Harrison, Frankie Wainman and Doug Cronshaw, but could not match them when they were at their peak. Nevertheless, Mike was a consistent performer and was one of the six inaugural superstars when the new grade was introduced in 1976.
Consistency led to the second row of the grid for the 1977 World Final. Willie Harrison initially blasted away, but his race was brought to a sudden halt by Johnny Goodhall. That left Frankie Wainman in the lead, attentively tracked by Mike. The laps rapidly counted down and Frankie could not shake Mike from his tail; with five to go Mike eased Frankie wide to take the lead and the victory.
It was the high point of Mike’s career, but not the moment at which he was at his best. That came in 1982 and 1983. Mike found greater speed in a new car fitted with longer rear springs. Better weight distribution helped with grip and speed, especially on tarmac. In 1982 he won the National Points Championship, the first to win the silver roof after Stuart Smith’s thirteen years of domination. He also won the European Championship, and in doing so became the second driver to land all four major championships.
He nearly retained both titles the title the following year. First the European crown was won again by fighting off a challenge from Dave Mellor. Then Mike finished an agonising 53 points shy of Bert Finnikin in the National Points Championship after leading the grading list for most of the season. With the accolade of 100 final wins achieved in 1986, Mike retreated into retirement after the 1987 World Final. He did so with the same quiet modesty with which he began racing. But while Mike may have been the quiet man of stock cars off the track, when he was tearing around it in one of his well-prepared machines, he was anything but.
Scott Reeves (author of Gold Top: the John Lund Story)