Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter recalls an event at Croft each January which usually lived up to its name

A RECENT column bemoaned the fact that the ravages of Covid-19 had scuppered most festive motorsport for the first time in living memory, meaning competition engines remained as silent as in Franz Xaver Gruber’s Christmas Carol of a similar name.

Usually, ringing out the old was accompanied by manic preparations for what was traditionally one of the very first events of the year, the Jack Frost Stages Rally at Croft. And because everything in the sport revolves around the calendar year, such matters like licences and equipment, dated for safety, rules and regulations changes etc meant many a last-minute panic for those not as well organised as they should be.

It all came about following a conversation between Darlington & District Motor Club Competition Secretary at the time, Terry Wright, and fellow club member Roy Brader that the seeds of an idea to run a single venue rally at their local Croft Circuit began to germinate. Ambitious as ever, Terry was looking to expand the club’s interests whereby the idea was met with enthusiasm by the circuit owners and a date set for January 2000 for the inaugural event.

There had been a couple of single-venue events at Croft in the past, one won famously by Malton character ‘Yuk’ Hodgson, who ended up on the Croft Spa Hotel fountain, but that’s another story… The latest incarnation was designed to fall between the very popular local events; the Christmas Stages Rally in late December and the Riponian Rally in mid-February and running in January there could only be one name for it, thus The Jack Frost Stages Rally was born.

This was at a time when the Christmas Stages was a multi-venue event on the Army ranges around Catterick and the Riponian, a forestry event around Thirsk and Helmsley, so the Jack Frost Stages was perceived as unique. Predominantly held on tarmac but with a few rougher circuit perimeter tracks thrown in, the event certainly lived up to its name with icy cold and slippery surfaces for at least the first couple of stages until the sun came up.

That first event in January 2000 saw John Brodie and co-driver Don Whyatt take their MG Metro 6R4 to the win but the following year saw much better weather with the stages being dry and fast, removing the four-wheel drive brigade’s advantage. Dave Holland and John Calverley brought their indecently quick four-wheel steered Ford Escort Mk1 and dominated. Topping speeds of more than 110mph on the straights, it would be the one and only time a two-wheel drive car prevailed.

The event also saw the debut of a couple of drivers who went on to greater success, including Scottish Champion David Bogie and World Junior Rally runner-up Guy Wilks from nearby Heighington. The rally was also designed to be a drivers’ event with the timing kept very simple by issuing restart times at stage finishes but most winners had top class co-drivers sat in the passenger seats anyway.

Despite only one or two events suffering from heavy snowfall, the set-up crews had a much harder time of it with days spent creating the stage layouts in freezing conditions, usually blowing a gale. It’s always bitterly cold at Croft this time of year!

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Victories on the Jack Frost have been pretty much spread out with 13 winners in the 21 years of running, with Penrith British Superbike team boss Paul Bird the most successful with four wins from 2009 to 2012. Local drivers, Chris Wise (Thirsk) and Tony Bardy (Scotch Corner) have three each with Scotsman John Bogie on two victories. And despite his multiple wins on the Christmas Stages, Leeming’s Kevin Procter had to wait until last year to record his one and only Jack Frost win so far.

Other single victors have included Le Mans 24 Hour winner Guy Smith in 2016 (Ford Fiesta WRC) and then three years later, his dad Peter in a Ford Fiesta R5. Former National Champion Steve Smith and rising star Aaron Newby have taken victory in their respective Subarus whilst the Northallerton duo of Graeme Bell and Russ Radford were popular winners in their Proton Satria Neo in 2017.

One regular competitor on the event has been Lancastrian businessman John Stone who featured in two of the most notable Jack Frost finishes. The former National Asphalt champion came oh-so-close to winning on two occasions in both 2006 and 2007. Indeed, Stone and co-driver Lee Carter did actually take provisional victory in their MG Metro 6R4, crossing the finish ramp over 30 seconds ahead of Tony Bardy before being excluded on a technicality. The regulations clearly stated that all cars had to carry a spare wheel to change in case of a puncture (rather than damage the circuit surface) but upon inspection by scrutineers after the final stage, it was missing, so he was thrown out, leaving Bardy and co-driver Reg Smith to claim the win in their Nissan Sunny GTi-R.

Hoping to make amends the following year, Stone and Carter arrived in a Hyundai Accent WRC and complete with spare wheel, finished equal on time with Chris Wise’s MG Metro 6R4 after eight stages. But the tie was decided on who was fastest on the opening stage and with Wise and future wife Tracey Taylor-West being just one second quicker than Stone, it was they who took the first of their three wins.

A popular feature is that D&DMC has always supported the SG Petch ANECCC Rally Championship by giving a free entry to the championship winning crew who are then generously loaned one of Darlington-based SGP Motorsport’s 4WD rally cars usually driven by either Steve Petch of his son Stephen. Defying all odds, Cumbrians Barry Lindsay and Caroline Lodge, winners of the ANECCC series in 2017, swapped their venerable 1600cc Peugeot 106 for the 300bhp Ford Fiesta S2000 and amazingly won the 2018 event outright in the snowy conditions, seeing off the usual top drivers in the process.

Such dreams are on hold for now as it was announced a few weeks ago that due to financial issues around running costs as well as the current logistical issues to do with the pandemic, the event would not run in 2021. Let’s hope it’s only a brief sabbatical as the sport can ill-afford to lose such events, they are part of our local heritage.

Thanks to Terry Wright and Tony Todd for their help with this article.

Jack Frost Stages Rally – Outright Winners

2000 John Brodie & Don Whyatt (MG Metro 6R4)

2001 Dave Holland & John Calverley (Ford Escort Mk1)

2002 John Bogie & Davie Paterson (MG Metro 6R4)

2003 John Bogie & Davie Paterson (MG Metro 6R4)

2004 Tony Bardy & Reg Smith (Nissan Sunny GTi-R)

2005 Tony Bardy & Reg Smith (Nissan Sunny GTi-R)

2006 Tony Bardy & Reg Smith (Nissan Sunny GTi-R)

2007 Chris Wise & Tracey Taylor-West (MG Metro 6R4)

2008 Chris Wise & Tracey Taylor-West (MG Metro 6R4

2009 Paul Bird & Ian Windress (Subaru Impreza WRC S9)

2010 Paul Bird & Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC)

2011 Paul Bird & Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC)

2012 Paul Bird & Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC)

2013 Chris Wise & Tracey Taylor-West (MG Metro 6R4)

2014 Steve Simpson & Patrick Walsh (Subaru Impreza)

2015 Aaron Newby & John Cope (Subaru Impreza)

2016 Guy Smith & Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta WRC)

2017 Graeme Bell & Russ Radford (Proton Satria Neo)

2018 Barry Lindsay/Caroline Lodge (Ford Fiesta S2000)

2019 Peter Smith & Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5 WRC)

2020 Kevin Procter & Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta S2000)