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The First Champion of the World !

The first year of UK Stock Car Racing, 1954, saw the sport enjoy huge success with big crowds drawn to the tracks. Promoters and drivers made good money at over 130 meetings staged around the country. The following year, 1955, started well and there was even a visit to the UK by a group of NASCAR racers from the USA. Most action had been of the highest order, but to keep the crowds wanting more, something else was needed. So it was that pioneer promoter Digger Pugh dreamed up and organised a "World Championship" at the Harringay track. A series of heats and semi-finals took place in the three weeks leading up to the big meeting on 24th June. The event was a "world" event in name only and was dominated by southern based English drivers. However, the seed was sown and over the years the "World Final" has remained the one event that all promoters want to run, all fans want to attend and all drivers want to win.

But back to 1955 - The winner of the first World Championship was Mac McDonnell from Dartford in Kent. Richard Bourne was a young lad at the time and remembers Mac well. Richard explains:

We lived close by Medway Autos in Chatham, who ran two cars. The Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News for 24th June 1955 ran a front page feature on them and "their driver Mac McDonnell who was hoping to win the world championship at White City". The two cars ran as numbers 32 and 35, both painted bright blue with the number in white. Mac's was 35, and was rumoured to have an engine from a Bren Gun Carrier! The other car was a bit smaller and was driven, I think, by Alan Whickham.
Mac McDonnell 1955
Mac with the World Champions Trophy (RB scan)

Earlier in the year, Richard was lucky enough to be taken to his local track near Sittingbourne to see Mac in action. Records show that Mac won at least one final at the Kent track located in the countyside between Wormshill and Frinsted. Richard recalls:

I can't remember how we originally came to go to the meetings at Wormshill/Frinsted. They were held on Sunday afternoons, in a grassy valley down a country lane. The track was just marked out by oil drums on the grass. I think they were eventually stopped because of local complaints. In the way of the times, we went on the bus, which involved a change at Sittingbourne and a then walk down the lane - you had to be dedicated! From memory (I was about 7!) there were no facilities whatsoever - toilets, refreshments, etc. - nor any special emergency provisions so I guess it was all a bit risky for the participants.

The general impression was that it was all completely unregulated. The cars seemed to vary a lot in size, age and capability, and the whole thing had an air of being like the Keystone Cops. I remember one guy coming second on three wheels, and another who had a car which was painted in the style of Dennis the Menace and which greatly amused everyone by shedding bits - doors, wheels, mudguards - as it went round the track even if there were no other cars around! Mac's monster seemed invincible by comparison.

Wormshill 1955
Action at the Sittingbourne (Wormshill) track taken by RB on his Brownie 127 camera. Mac is number 35.

Stockcar Racing, and especially top driver Mac, captured the enthusiasm of many local fans, including Richard:

Mac became a bit of a local hero to a few of us primary school pals and, nice guy that he was, he responded to this by giving me a signed photo taken by a Sheffield newspaper. Presumably this was on the occasion of some national event. If anyone knows what became of Mac it'd be good to know.
Mac McDonnell 1955
Signed Photo and Greetings from Mac (RB scan)

Mac McDonnell 1955
Mac at work on his car (RB scan)

Very many thanks to Richard for sharing his story and pictures from these great early days of UK Stockcar Racing.

Further research reveals that, for the 1955 season, Mac ran a Ford 91A Saloon. The car was powered by an Ardun OHV converted motor. This was one of the fastest UK cars to run in that year and won Mac the World Final. Joe Farley was second, Percy Betts third and Johnnie Brise fourth. Johnnie was to become one of the finest drivers of the late 50s, winning three World Finals (1956, 59 and 60).

So successful was the new World Championship that promoter Johnnie Hoskins ran his own version on August 31st, 1955, at Belle Vue, Manchester! With the exception of 1975, 76 and 77, when there were two World Finals (one for SCOTA, one for BriSCA), just one "world" event was staged per year for the big stockcars. However, multiple versions of a "world" final in the same year have been a feature of other oval racing disciplines over the years since, notably for the bash-and-crash Bangers which share many of the same crazy attractions as the 1950's Stockcars!

This page last updated: 14th August 2005. Peter Marsh. Mail me autumnView@yahoo.com.

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