BriSCA Heritage 395 Mike Shirley

If there was a club for stock car drivers who made it into the National top twenty without the help of Chevrolet 454 it would be very small and very hard to get into, and this month Dave Mellor and John Cayzer would have been welcoming a new arrival in the shape of Meriden's Mike Shirley who powered his way into this exclusive association with a 44 cu. in. (that's not a typo that's in the magazine!) Chrysler.

Mike's first taste of big league Mike's first taste of big league action was as a five year old back in the middle sixties and in those far off days his idol was Ron Rogers who still puts in regular appearances around the raceways but now keeps a low profile, unlike the time he thrilled Mike and thousands of others with his epic world final battle against Yorkshire's Tony Neal. By the time he was 17 Mike had some experience of acting as mechanic for Bryan Warner but by now he was working as a commercial fitter-mechanic and decided to take the plunge by investing his money in a former Ron Rogers car which was being sold by Alan Scothern. For a young man on a low wage stock car racing was an expensive hobby but after making his debut at Coventry Mike kept scraping money together to remain active in the sport, and from the start has been helped along the way by his friend Rob McCarthy and Mr. Shirley Snr.

That first car lasted for about two seasons before Mike wrote it off at his local Coventry track, and was followed by another which was self-built and lasted for about three weeks before being turned into scrap metal on Bristol's Mendips Raceway. Clearly not discouraged by his lack of instant success, Mike splashed out on a flat chassis and in the space of a week from when he took delivery the next car was built and ready to race. In the meantime the engine from the former Scothern/ Rogers car went to the husband of Mike's sister, Rex ("Wrecks") Hart, who won heat and final with it at Coventry before blowing it up at Belle Vue. After about three seasons in the National Grading basement Mike moved up to 'B' grade and since then has steadily increased his status in the sport aslongside his growing experience. Not surprisingly the 26 year old bachelor rates his recent rise to red top as his most satisfying achievement to date, although perhaps ironically this was achieved at a stage of the season when he was still awaiting the first win of the year despite the fact that he had won finals in each of the last two seasons. Not only does this apparent contradiction show that Mike is desperately unlucky when it comes to getting his hands on the chequered flag, it also speaks volumes for his consistency. A shining example of this was supplied by Mike at the 10 August Long Eaton session where I first approached him between races to arrange an interview — at a meeting where some drivers who normally command far more column inches in this magazine were unable to progress through to the final, Mike, racing from the back of the grid, qualified at the first attempt and then added further to his points tally by being placed in the final, and that is star quality in anybody's book.


As to the future, the sport's newest star hopes to continue his climb to the top of the tree but unfortunately has to miss a large number of point-scoring opportunities through being unable to race at midweek meetings. This fact makes his elevation to star grade in August the more creditable since the present grading system is strongly biased in favour of those who are able to compete at the most meetings. Although just a weekend racer Mike keeps busy between meetings by keeping the car raceworthy and coming from a farming family provides him with ample space to work on the car and transporter.


Stock car racing never gets any cheaper for competitiors but since practically breaking himself into the sport Mike's efforts on the track have managed to attract some sponsorship and these days ROS Oils and Newfield Sawmills help out with the expense. But one item missing from Mike's shopping list is a 454 Chevy. As he says, "I'm quite happy with the Chrysler and I've got a spare if it should go wrong. I reckon if Smithy went back to using a Buick then everyone else would start running Buicks, but I'm content to carry on as I am." This may not be a widely held opinion but it does show that this amiable young man is nothing if not an individualist and in sport largely dominated by company directors who have ample time and money for racing, Mike Shirley has shown that there is still room at the top for low budget competitors who are prepared to fight their way through the crowd by combining skill and experience with perseverance.

Original article by Jeff Osbourne from Stock Car Magazine September 1985. Photo by Peter Cox taken at Belle Vue.

 

BriSCA Heritage 395 Mike Shirley Golden Oldie

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When the Ellis Ford car appeard in their "Golden Oldie" features this is what keith Barber had to say about Ellis Ford and the car. Illistration by Keith Barber

Our September issue featured the '67 World Final winner. . and our October issue featured the car that came second in the World Final twenty years ago. This months oldie also featured in a big way in that 1967 Harringay staged World Championship, but the drama unfolded just before the start of the race. . . not while it was in progress. Ellis Ford had been racing stock cars since the fifties, and has twice previously featured as a magazine 'oldie'. In 1965 he was the first to win the grand slam of British Points and World titles, but after a problematic winter racing trip in South Africa the '66 season was less than succesful. The car that had been all conquering in 1965 was the evolutionary product of a car that had first appeared in 1962. Every winter Ellis cut a bit off here and added a bit there. . . . and up to 65 it got better and better. For '66 the car looked the best it had ever looked, revamped and rebodied but either the car, or its driver, lost ts edge. Wondering where to go next, Ellis continued to campaign the same car into the 1967 season, but commenced construction on a new machine which he intended would start a new era of stock car. The chassis was a familiar 4" x 2" ladder frame, the roll cage formed in such a way that the body panels were welded directly to it. . . . just like today. Axles were unique. . . . a Jaguar independent axle at the rear was matched by a split beam independant layout at the front. Suspension was by torsion bars, and these were adjustable from the seat. . . . It was a short wheelbase machine. . . . around ninety inches. . . . and a Holman Moody 427 inch Ford provided a vast Slit plUS of power, but when it rolled onto the track at Harringay it was the highly polished aluminium spoked wheels that stunned the vast crowd into silence. . . . along with the Dunlop racing tyres. It was the tyres that stopped the car from racing, "racers" being outlawed during '67 after it had been concluded that they were detrimental to the entertainment, value on tarmac tracks. For Ellis it was just a big hype, because he had his old car in attendance, and after a lot of disruption this was the one he eventually raced on the night.
But the revolutionary Ford Special never worked. Fitted regular road pattern Dunlops Ellis struggled to make it work during the rest of '67, and during '68. Bit by bit the trick items were removed, and eventually it featured LD beam axles on leaf springs, just like everyone else. Ellis eventually tired of the project, emigrated to the USA, and sold the car to Mal Sample. . . but like Ellis Ford there have been many over the years who thought they had a better idea. To date, convention has won!

Images

Additional Links

Mike Shirleys career stats, cars and race results from briscaf1stox.co.uk
Building of the Ellis Ford Heritage car from briscaf1heritage.com Also worth a look is artist Martin Squires Flickr page especially his Ellis Ford Heritage car illustration