The Flying Finn #55 Bert Finnikin

 

Mention the name "flying Finn" to the average motor sport enthusiast and it conjours up thoughts of cars thundering through forest on the RAC Rally and spectators stood up to their elbows in sheep. To the lovers of BriSCA Stock Car racing, it represents a top flight driver to whom the chequered flag is no stranger and is favoured by many to take the coveted gold roof.

Bert hails from Leek in Staffs., which is not a million miles away from the Ashbourne home of Dave Mellor (304), a past holder of the World Champion's gold roof. The surname Finnikin has been around the raceways for a great number of years. Bert's father was the late great Charlie Finnikin—a tremendous character and a great favourite at Belle Vue, where he became a cult figure due to his fondness of prize money. The nickname "Moneybags" became his trade mark. It was a sad day when the familiar green car of Charlie's was seen no more. Robert Geoffrey Finnikin started his stock life as many other children born into stock car families do; in mum's arms, rusk in hand, watching the brightly coloured cars fly past and not really sure what on earth was going on. Bert and brother Alan grew up with stock car racing, often tearing round the back of the family garage business in the fields with dad's Fl car. Bert's first race actually didn't exist as he was only fifteen, the legal age being sixteen to race an Fl car. For the record, it took place at Long Eaton in a Helter-Skelter, before they named such races after horse race meetings—the Grand National of today. His official debut was at Belle Vue, where he drove a self built replica of his father's car adorned with the number 28. A few seasons passed, and Bert raced on and off in some fairly uncompetitive cars, but the arrival of the ex-Ian Russel/Alan Young car altered all that. The car was originally intended for Alan to use, but as he was still suffering from leg injuries incurred in an incident at Stoke, Bert decided to have just a couple of outings in it to see how it went. Sponsorship was gained from the firm he worked for, Tarmac, and 1977 was entered in the record books as the year of "The Flying Finn".

The season started with Bert holding a yellow roof after a points tally of 238 in '76, with three heat wins and no final victories. By July, Bert was at the top half of the yellows and having a fairly mundane season. By August though, the Young car was much in evidence, as was Bert's prowess at picking up numerous heat and final wins. During the summer months he had a memorable run of victories, winning three heats and three finals in four meetings over only eight days. By September he was a firmly established red top with 344 points to his credit. More finals fell to Bert and by the end of the season, the now recognised star driver had 592 points, was thirteenth in the charts, had scored nine final wins (second only to Stuart Smith) and seventeen heat wins. Not bad after taking only three heats in all of 1976. The question now in everybody's mind was, could he repeat the success in 1978? The easy answer to this was, super star status, a points total of 1342, fifth in the Belle Vue World final, and a resounding success over in Holland in the first of the Long Track Championships. It is worth nothing at this point both Bert and Alan's good work with the drivers in Holland. It's largely thanks to them that the Dutch are such a competitive force in the '80s. I am not quite sure of the thanks that would be passed if they took the World Championship though! Don't laugh, because they are now a real force to be reckoned with. Bert's grid position in the World final came via a second place at the Northampton semi-final. This put Bert behind Stuart Smith in the Belle Vue line up. 1979 found Bert still taking the chequered flag for regular trips round the raceways. He gained another second place in the semi-finals, this time at Leicester. This particular race stands out in my memory. The winner, and as a matter of interest, the driver who took the gold a couple of months later ("Rods & Stocks" sponsored as he is now), Frankie Wainman, led Bert round for lap after lap. The crowd were going frantic for Bert to stick the bumper in. Bert just chased him round and many thought, "What would have been the outcome of such an action?" Bert is more of a thinking man's racer, or in other words, he thinks before stuffing them through the fence! Yet again, Bert shared the rostrum at the World final, this time for third position at the White City.

 

So now we move up to date with 1980. Two major events happened, the first of these being that a brand new car appeared. This was the ex-Sugar Shergold machine and from it's first appearances, some thought in the suspension department was obviously going to be needed. Brother Alan did his homework and this, with the combination of one of Mike Huddart's super breathed on Chevy engines, gave Bert a very hair) motor car indeed. Alas, the power tended to take over and a less pokey motor was fitted. The other major development was a new sponsor, the now famous firm of Stan Lee's Coregreen, from Tean in Staffs. Tarmac still sponsor the familiar green and red 55 car to, which gains admiring glances wherever it appears due to it's usually immaculate turn out. 1980 saw Bert once more through to the semi-finals, this time at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, a track he usually excells on. Unfortunately this time the glances of lady luck were not upon him and he was denied a place on the grid at Coventry. A total of 916 points were gained in 1980, giving him a final position of eighth in the points table. He won twelve finals and thirty three heats. This works out at an average of 14.1 points per meeting, which compared to Smithy's 18.6 is no mean feat.


To my mind, Bert comes under a heading which some correspondents dislike, that of a professional driver, and I shall explain what I mean. As mentioned earlier, his car preparation is of the highest order, and to lovers of the sound of V8 engines, the 55 car is music to the ears. Bert's driving skills are as far removed from the old smash-bash-mayhem of years ago, as Hot Rods are from Stock Saloons. He also honours his bookings whenever possible. For instance, after one hectic Saturday and a full night's work, he arrived at Hartlepool just in time for the consolation. After a couple of quick laps, he promptly wrapped the whole job lost up the fence posts on the back straight! Other memories of Bert concern a trick he used to do at Odsal Stadium. This consisted of nosing the car up to the fence and reving it like mad in gear. The tyres poured smoke in a dragster style "burn out", supposedly to warm them up. It was a trick which made him a great crowd favourite at Odsal. Bert, a married man and now with a family, will I am sure be around for a long time. He's a credit to the sport and Coregreen, his sponsor, and I suspect that somewhere in that great oval stadium in the sky, the late Charlie Finnikin will be casting a very approving eye over the career of his son. To the people who think BriSCA Fl Stock Car racing is still overgrown lorry racing and that a professional attitude to the sport is wrong, look hard at the 55 team. Realise why our sport is going to rise from the joke that the media likes to treat us as, to the top form of oval motor sport that it will surely becoml in the very near future. It's thanks tc the likes of Bert Finnikin that this will happen. On behalf of myself and "Rods & Stocks", we wish Bert all the best fol 1981, especially in the World final, this year to be held at Bradford, one of Bert's best tracks.

 


PETE HEARN

Original article was written by Pete Hearn copied from the March 1981 Rods & Stocks International Magazine