In the Scottish Borders, racing blood runs deep
I often ask myself why I’ve been a lifelong fan of motorsport, writes Luke Barry. It’s something a bit unique, a bit of a niche if you like.
The short answer to that has always been the Jim Clark Rally. But truth be told, motor racing is something that runs within the blood of Berwickshire and the Scottish Borders. The region where I proudly trace back my roots.
It was something that Andrew Tulloch, Assistant Curator for Museums in the Scottish Borders Council, said that got me thinking.
“We want to remind people that Scotland can produce World Champions”, he said.
He was speaking about the expansion of the Jim Clark Room, that will see £1.6m spent to both expand and improve the existing museum dedicated to the Chirnside farmer’s glittering racing career.
Clark was a truly special talent. He raced in an era that was a lot less corporate than the Instagram-crazed Lewis Hamilton era we live in today. Colin Chapman’s Lotus team was his home, but he would race in Formula 2, the Indy 500 and the British Touring Car Championship as well as Formula 1, where he took the title twice in both 1963 and 1965.
He would sadly lose his life in a Formula 2 accident at Hockenheim, Germany in 1968. The motorsport community lost one of its greatest drivers and one of its nicest guys that day. And it deeply affected Scotland’s other World Champion, and close friend of Jim’s, Sir Jackie Stewart. Clark’s death along with many other racing drivers at the time inspired Stewart to work with the sport’s governing body (FIA) to improve the safety of motor racing.
Jim Clark continues to be commemorated with the museum in Duns and the annual rally that runs along the lanes of the Scottish Borders. Which brings me full circle.
The Jim Clark Rally was something you either embraced or avoided when living in the Scottish Borders. As the rally was run on public roads, naturally roads were closed and with the Borders being a very rural area of Scotland, that seriously prohibited you getting around.
So you could go away for the weekend or stay at home and enjoy the free spectacle before your very eyes. My parents and I chose the latter, so it’s not really too hard to see why I fell in love with the sport. Early memories are often key, and mine were of the best rally drivers of Britain haring down the road that my mum would drive me to school on. In the dark, with the screaming engines, sharp lights and the smell of fuel and rubber assaulting my senses in a brutal, yet pleasurable, way.
The rally hasn’t run since 2014 due to fatal accidents on the event that has resulted in a Fatal Accident Inquiry and subsequent insurance issues that have prohibited the event continuing for the time being. Ironically, it was the tragic events of 2014 that first triggered my desire to enter the field of journalism. I was contacted by various news organisations who wanted to use footage of the event I had posted on YouTube, and although the event shook me in a way nothing in my life has of yet, I got a buzz from being involved this telling a story in a very small way that prompted me to look into studying journalism as a degree, which brought me to where I am today.
As well as being a fledgling journalist, I consider myself a good driver, but I don’t have the talent or the money to go racing. That hasn’t stopped the rest of the area however. The Scottish Borders has produced and is continuing to produce a wealth of great driving talent.
Nineteen year old Jamie Thorburn is making a real name for himself in single seater racing. 2017 took the teenager to the BRSCC National FF1600 Championship (Formula Ford) and in his first season outside of Scotland, he took fourth overall in the championship out of 29 entrants.
Speak of “Thorburn” over in the forests and you’re talking about one of the country’s most talented rally drivers. Jamie’s cousin Euan is a three-time national champion, having won the BTRDA in 2013 and the Scottish Rally Championship in 2014 and 2017.
Then there’s Garry Pearson. Also from Duns, Garry missed out on the Scottish Rally Championship title by just a single point in 2016 and has made several noteworthy performances in the British Championship including a class title in 2014 and an impressive performance considering his lack of experience on a round this year.
And sticking with the Duns and the rallying theme, you can’t discount Max Redpath. He’s gearing up for the biggest test yet in his short career thanks to claiming the Scottish Rally Championship Juniors title in his first full season of competition. He and his honest Peugeot 205 are heading down to Wales Rally GB to tackle the National event that runs alongside the British round of the World Championship.
Then there’s Louise Aitken-Walker and her daughter Gina Walker. Louise became the Ladies World Champion in 1990 and oversees her daughter’s rallying in Scotland, with Gina making terrific progress over the last couple of years. Claire Mole is also a very successful navigator in her own right partnering several top line drivers including Aitken-Walker. Nowadays she sits alongside another promising local in Michael Binnie.
A lot of the names mentioned above went to the same secondary school as me. Jamie Thorburn was the year below and Max Redpath the year above me. It’s a shared passion down in the Borders, largely thanks to Jim Clark, the museum constructed to remember him and the rally run in his memory.
The Scottish Borders has a rich racing heritage and the pool of talent clearly isn’t drying up. The real question is then: why would I not be a motorsport fan?