It is often said that retirement can become so busy that there wouldn’t be time to go to work. Surely that’s the point – there is more time to fill, so consequently it gets filled. It is also said that most people by retirement age have gleaned even knowledge during their lifetime to be able to publish a book and that is exactly what I have done.
I am very fortunate in that from 1974 to 2015 I had the most wonderful hobby – I was a motor racing commentator, albeit covering the minority sports of Autocross, Speed Hillclimbing and Sprinting. I was invited to officiate at events all over the Westcountry from Salisbury in the east to Newquay in the west and all points in between. To give you some idea, the picture alongside shows our own Trevor Norman of Norman’s Fruit and Veg in action at a Speed Hillclimb in St Austell on his way to winning the South West Hillclimb Championship in 1995.
Now that you have the gist of what my hobby was all about, I can now explain how the book came into being. In the spring of 1998, I was standing in the paddock at the Werrington Park Hillclimb, near Launceston, surrounded by all the paraphernalia necessary to put on a club motorsport event, when I realised that while it was all here today, it would be gone tomorrow, and unfortunately, gone in a hundred different directions with any lasting record broken into a hundred fragments. Needless to say during the last 40 odd years I had gathered together a unique collection of programmes, results, drivers' information sheets and photographs - sufficient to produce that missing lasting record. The decision was taken to write this book on that very afternoon at Werrington, a title was decided upon then nothing for the next 15 years. When I reached retirement, I seem to have had the time and the will. The question is, was this an exercise in self-indulgence or was it my way of saying ‘Thank you’ to all those amazing people out there who spent an absolute fortune to entertain me? It could be a bit of both, after all, everyone loves to see their name in print.
Very little had been written about these minority and purists' sports; Robin Boucher published the first book on the hillclimbing and sprinting in 1976 and in 1990 Chris Mason completed his 486 page tome entitled Uphill Racers. These, however, concentrate on the national scene, only occasionally mentioning the South West. The time had come to correct that situation. I had never intended that my effort would be a comprehensive history of South West motorsport – now that would have been a monumental task! My literary effort was a mixture of some of the events where I officiated as commentator and some that I merely covered for the press. Some have results and a full report, interrupted by a more in-depth look at the sport itself; the clubs, the venues, the cars and the characters involved - with the emphasis on the people who have entertained enthusiasts for years. I have never vouched for its accuracy – the purist will probably find mistakes galore. No, this whole exercise is based on a fading memory and the huge amount of paper records retrieved from various storage boxes around our house. As the title suggests, it was my interpretation of what I saw through the commentary box window, not necessarily what actually happened.
My research into self-publishing took me to a family friend, Richard Stockwell, who, since he was about to retire and sell the family publishing business, took me under his wing and gave me the benefit of his considerable experience. First I needed a proof reader, someone who could check the grammar, spelling and the content of my efforts. For this I turned to the man that I had asked to write the Foreword, my friend of some 50 years who himself was pedantic personified, Roger Jordan then of Combe Martin. He took on the task and declared 3 months later that he wished he hadn’t – it’s not an easy task.
The decision as to how many to have printed was a difficult one, since no one had ever published a book about South West grassroots motorsport before so there were no examples to follow. I had to rely on my gut feeling and the advice of a couple of professional motoring writers that I knew. Next I needed a printer and, guided by Richard, met up with Burridge Printers of North Tawton who quoted me for printing and binding 500 and 750 copies. Because the difference in cost between the two was quite small, I opted for the larger figure. This was an investment of several thousand pounds, but an investment that I felt sure I could recover – it was never the intention that the enterprise would make a profit.
When it finally arrived, the end result was better than anticipated. It was a hefty tome of some 330 A4 pages and even in paperback format, weighed just over 3 lbs. Now the matter of selling the thing was foremost in my mind.
Thankfully, 40 years of my working life had been spent with one of the Westcountry’s leading self-catering holiday providers, so marketing was something I had witnessed and been involved in on a daily basis. I am also very fortunate to be living next door to one of the best graphic designers in the area, Steve Nuth of this magazine, and he provided me with an excellent advertising backdrop. For over 20 years I have been the proud owner of my own personal web domain, www.patjennings.com which came into its own during this campaign and I found that social media is not just for the young – in fact Facebook has been my major marketing medium for the past 14 months.
Promotional copies were sent to all the leading motor clubs in the South West, who gave me reviews in their monthly magazines, I had arranged personal interviews with our own North Devon Voice Radio, with Radio Devon and with Radio Cornwall, I was given excellent book reviews by two national Motorsport publications, Autosport and Speedscene, and I had arranged book signings at numerous events beginning with the launch at the Werrington Hillclimb, near Launceston where the idea of such a book was conceived. This was followed with signings at Wiscombe Park, Honiton, Tregrehan Hill, St Austell, Sugworthy Circuit, High Bickington and at Castle Hillclimb, Lostwithiel.
In just over a year, two thirds of the books have been sold and I am now giving a donation per copy to a voluntary body without which there would be little or no racing in the area – West Country Rescue. I am also approaching my break-even point and when that arrives, there will be that same feeling that I had when the printed copies first arrived – a sense of achievement.
For fear of being accused of blowing my own trumpet, I am going to say that all this isn’t too bad for man in his very late 70’s, although maybe I could be used as an example that one is never too old to have a go. After all, how do we ever know what we can achieve unless we try? This, reader, is one of the many Joys of Retirement.
©Pat Jennings 2023