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1970 Snowman

In the year 1970 a young man's life changed quite dramatically. He had just recently joined the Shell Oil Company at their Scottish HQ in Glasgow. A fan of motor racing and sometime autotester, sprinter and hillclimber, his business talents (shortcomings?) were quickly spotted, and he was switched from sales to promotions.

The reason? Shell had decided to sponsor the Scottish Rally Championship and with a distinct lack of motor sporting knowledge in the Glasgow office, this young man was plucked from the world of field reps, forecourts and petrol sales and thrust into the heady world of promotions, publicity and sponsorships. On that basis, his Boss sent him northwards to Inverness to oversee the company's involvement in the Scottish Championship.

The company had also bunged the organisers some cash with the result that this young man's first proper taste of 'national' rallying was the Shell/Webster Tyre Company Snowman Rally. A 220 mile event which started on Saturday night and finished on Sunday morning with a 3am 'breakfast' halt at the Old Mill Inn at Brodie in the middle of the 10 Special Stage and 16 'Primaries' (competitive navigational road sections!) route.

For someone reared on the precision of racing lines and smooth surfaces, the snow and slush covered gravel roads provided a serious shock to the system. It was dark, bitterly cold and thoroughly disorientating. It was also utterly brilliant, thrilling and intoxicating. The forests were alive with mechanical monsters and full of nutters, sorry, spectators who despite the fact they could see nothing but headlamps and spotlights hurtling past urged on their favourites and yahoo'ed their support for all. Magical.

The fastest man over the stages that day was Nigel Hollier in his Ford Escort TC but victory was denied due to a basketful of road penalties handing the win to James Rae and Mike Malcolm in their Escort 1300 GT. But don't go thinking James (or Jimmy as he was known back in the day) had an easy run. He set fastest time on one of the ten stages and was in the top six in eight more. In second place was Bill Taylor ahead of Roy Fidler, Ian Milne in his Mini, Russell Close and the Imp of Alistair MacRae leading home the survivors of the 71 car field.

Donald Heggie retired his Escort TC with a broken throttle, Bob Watson's Cortina broke its gearbox and Arthur Jasper's clutch failed while Drew Gallacher lost chunks of time changing his Cortina's diff.

And so ended one rally virgin's baptism to the noble art, and fifty-odd years later, he's still attending bluidy rallies! Some folk never learn eh?

1991 Snowman

 

The year was 1991 and a new rallying talent erupted on to the Scottish stage. This memorable debut took place in Inverness where snowmen stared in icy fascination at the local snowomen but found themselves unable to overcome their shyness and remained frozen to the spot. It's no wonder this species died out.

But that's bye the bye, a mere deviation from the intended tale, but it was into this bleak and whitened landscape that there did arrive a scallywag intent on making his mark in this most noble of sports - motor rallying. Inspired by the actions and adventures of one Colin McRae Esq and at the urging of his sister Babs, the newcomer had acquired a mighty steed with a gryphon for a badge - a 1296cc Vauxhall Nova.

Having successfully defied the Road Transport laws, evaded the motorised lawkeepers and avoided the penitentiary for years, since (and perhaps before!) acquiring a driving licence, the 21 year old was seeking new challenges. This was primarily at the instigation of Big Sis who was already established in the world of motor racing and rallying and was keen to divert her hyper active brother into more productive pursuits to curb his propensity for nefarious adventures.

And so it came to pass that the Snowman Rally was earmarked for his 'national' debut. With his comrade in arms, one Michael Kirkpatrick Esq, assuming navigational and timekeeping duties, the daring duo set about the Highland forest roads.

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Seeded at 98 in a field of 107, the Nova set off like a whippet with its *rs* on fire. Quick? Put it this way, the boy Michael had no need of laxatives for a month afterwards.

The result? A class win by over 5 minutes ahead of Jim Smith's Corsa and 28th overall behind Davie Elder and his Escort and in front of the Toyota Corolla of Jimmy Christie. A star was born.

Thereafter progress was pretty impressive, first in the Scottish Championship and the Colway Junior Championship. Within three years he had won the Shell/Peugeot Scholarship alongside another rising star, Neil Simpson from Lancashire, with each of them bagging a £50,000 cheque towards their next season's rallying in a Peugeot 205 GTI.

The Shell Scholarship continued into 1995 and 1996 but there was a problem. Alister McRae had also won a Shell scholarship. Fighting for a fully professional seat just got an awful lot harder.

But back to 1991. The youngster made an impression on a watching journalist, but the lasting memory of Jock was not his antics in the woods but his departure from the Mercury Hotel later that evening. It was dark, cold and wintry, but he was heading for the A9 at the wheel of his high roof Transit - with one of the lads still on the roof rack tying down the wheels while trying to hang on for dear life.

Jock leaned out the window and with a cheery wave said he'd be stopping for chips at Aviemore. I sure as hell hoped he was going to stop long before that!

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1993 Snowman

25 years ago, forest rallying in Scotland was very different to what it is today. The challenge in the forest has always been there but the cars have changed, so too has the social side. Pre rally and post rally parties were the norm in the 70s, not so much in the 80s, but by the 90s, attitudes were changing.

The one event which clung on to that side of the sport was the Snowman. That was simply down to a matter of geography. Inverness was pretty remote. The A9 was a notorious, tortuous drive north from the south and central, while the A96 westwards from Aberdeen and the north east wasn't much better.

Getting to and from the Highland capital was therefore a long arduous process, so folk arrived early and usually stayed overnight on the Saturday as well as the Friday. So what do 400 or 500 yahoos do when packed together inside a hotel with a bar and function suite? Party.

Friday night was usually reserved for a Rally Forum with a panel of guests being interviewed by a cheeky MC and the audience. When that was over, the crowds slaked their thirst in the bar. On the Saturday after an arduous day's rallying in the cold and the wet there was little excuse needed, just an ingestion of 'anti-freeze'. And by goad did some of these lads need a seriously good thawing out.

With adrenalin pumps chattering on empty, the alcohol took over and mayhem descended. Invariably there was a disco but that soon gave way to a new entertainment phenomenon - karaoke.

If ever the tuneless and musically deprived needed an excuse to exercise their vocal chords, this was it. No matter they couldn't carry a tune any more than they could carry their drink, they gave it laldy and had that whole multi storey Mercury Hotel rocking on its foundations.

There were of course many singing stars and would-be stars although invariably outnumbered by the no-hopers - and the crowds loved it. Naturally one or two got carried away and legend has it that one in particular was a highlight of these nights. Rejected by the Chippendales, he couldn't even get into the full Monty, this was Ayrshire's finest entertainer. Sydney Devine wouldn't get a look in here.

And here he is depicted in his full peelly waally, bare scud glory trying to take centre stage yet again, the inimitable Sam Mullen. Also in the pics, Fred with hair, Jon and Ricky with entourage, and a fashionably tasteless young Eddie scoring full marks for presentation if not rendition!

One such party was recorded for posterity and here are the pictures to prove it. Trouble is, most of the other pics in the sequence are not fit for public consumption, especially those of a sensitive disposition and innocent nature. They will therefore have to be consigned to the privacy and safekeeping of Scottish rallying's vaults for posterity - unless the photographer can be financially induced or alcoholically persuaded! In fact, he'd need both!