Local motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter looks back through the motorsport archives again.

SPORTING partnerships come in all shapes and sizes: Clough and Taylor, Keegan and Toshack, Torvill and Dean, Broad and Anderson, Sven and Ulrika, the list goes on…

But in local motorsporting legend, instead of it being a duo, it was a triumvirate. Two may be company when you are both pulling in the same direction but three’s most definitely a crowd when all that matters is beating each other.

Cast your minds back to the early 1970s where on many occasions, at a windswept and desolate North-East racetrack, there was many a live show better than anything on telly, with an unsuspecting cast of drivers and machinery.

Take an up-and-coming Geordie, throw in Cumbrian mechanic and a Croft-on-Tees-based Scot. Add in a couple of small engined Minis and a blinking Hillman Imp of all things and you had a recipe for some of the finest ever saloon car racing ever witnessed at Croft, so much so they named it The BBC Show.

The first B in the acronym is Barton. In the early programmes listed as Andrew, Andy became one of the most successful drivers of all time at Croft. The garage proprietor from Newburn on Tyneside had campaigned a Morris 1000 and a Mini Marcos during the mid-1960s before building one of his many powerful Mini Coopers. The 850cc Holbay-engined version proved to be very competitive and with his distinctive hand painted numbers and three-wheeling antics through the corners, he became a firm crowd favourite before moving onto single seaters in his later career.

Sedric Bell, who also owned a garage, lived in Carlisle and was the quiet man of racing despite being sponsored by the Cosmopolitan Club in Harraby. Nicknamed The Cosmo, the nightspot hosted such luminaries as The Who, Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues in the 1960s. Such was the impression he made on his many trips across the A66, that Darlington & District Motor Club inaugurated a trophy in his memory in 2009, after his untimely death from Parkinson’s Disease.

And then there was Clacker. Or was it Clasher? No-one seemed to know, but the tall, bespectacled plumber was often entered (as his Darlington business which has operated since 1961 attests) as A.J. Clacher. Alex, to his friends, was a competent motorcyclist including finishing third in the tortuous Scott Trial and adorning the front cover of the programme in 1961.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

An accomplished motocross rider too prior to his defection to four wheels, his early forays weren’t distinguished when his first Imp was written off in an Oulton Park start line shunt.

The replacement, an ex-Reg Hargraves Imp, arrived in 1971 and saw service for four years. It was during this time that the 1000cc saloon class featured those epic battles with Bell and Barton. He also did most of the development of the car from his Croft-on-Tees home and sadly lost his battle against pancreatic cancer in 2015.

The cars they raced were engineering masterpieces with many modifications way ahead of their time. Back then, the predominant class in British motor racing was Formula 3 which was limited to 1000cc maximum engines so most of the development work was centred around that capacity. Various versions included Barton’s 1972 Mini Cosworth SCA 997cc and Bell’s Mini-Holbay Ford F3 997cc which were reputed to churn out over 140bhp.

On one occasion, the usual BBC battle was in full flight at Croft when Clacher suffered a rare mechanical failure. That left Bell and Barton to scrap it out for the lead and as they exited the chicane, they were side by side. With the dividing barrier between the pits and start line rapidly approaching and neither driver prepared to yield, Bell ended up going flat out down the pitlane, changing up gears as he went as Barton followed the track. Sedric was black-flagged and incurred the wrath of the officials afterwards.

Another battle occurred at the first race meeting of the 1973 season at Croft when all three scrapped it out in a ten-lap MCD Special Saloon Championship race. Barton got the verdict ahead of Clacher with Bell in third, but there was never much between them. All three travelled to other tracks, including Rufforth near York and Ingliston near Edinburgh having plenty of success at those places too, but it’s those battles at Croft which remain indelibly etched in the memory.

And whilst the entertainment factor was always paramount between those three, let’s not forget the other saloon car stalwarts who plied their trade locally such as the Mini of Ken Walker; the two Tonys, Dickinson and Sugden, in their radical Skoda 130s; John Blankley’s Rockside A40, Keith Bowmaker’s V8 Escort and of course, Chris Meek and Doug Niven’s various thundering creations. Leeds businessman Meek drove just about anything he could get his hands on whilst Scotsman Niven, the late Jim Clark’s cousin, rocked up in the likes of Ford Boss Mustangs, Escorts and even a five-litre V8 Chevrolet-engined VW Beetle.

Some of the cars live on, as do some of the drivers and can be seen occasionally at the various classic or retro meetings these days. But they’ll never recreate those indelible memories of three working class lads in their home-built specials who entertained those lucky enough to witness it.