1

Harry Stiller

Harry StillerI first met Harry at the end of the sixties. The sixties were the time when Hill, Brabham, Clark, Surtees, Hulme and Rindt made the national press, but following fast behind them were a swathe of terrific drivers, well known to Autosport and Motoring News readers.
Formula Three was where it all happened and in the second half of the decade there were tremendous battles between the likes of Ickx, Irwin, Courage, Bell, Cardwell, Wissel, Peterson, Gethin, Jaussaud, Pescarola, Pike, Lucas, Mike Walker, Oliver, Miles, Fenning, Rollinson, Revson, Lanfranci, Gaydon, Jonathon Williams, Chris Williams, Cyd Williams, Hunt, Hanson, Hart, Nunn, Trimmer, Troberg, Beckwith and, of course, Harry.
Prior to winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 1966 and 1967, Harry had made his way up the ladder in an A30, an MGA, a Lotus Elite, a Lotus 23b, a Lotus 27 and eventually the F3 Brabham.
The “screamer” days were behind him when I met Harry in 1969. He had a very successful leisure park, Tucktonia, near Boscombe, and I was based in Poole just the other side of Bournemouth. Harry was a well known character in the area. Fit, tanned, smart, 30-ish, had the red Ferrari, been there, done that; it was rumoured that he had given the term “Pole Position” a completely new meaning to many of his mini-skirted admirers.
We became good pals and shared many an escapade. Harry went on to sponsor Alan Jones in the Hesketh. We both experienced the horrors of business in the seventies and then drifted apart when Harry left for the States.
Our paths crossed again a few years ago and we have since spent many happy times discussing the good old days. Recently, I asked Harry

“What was the greatest drive of your life?”

“I could say that they all were, trying to pick one out of the many  is really tough; just when I thought….ah! there was Barcelona in the wet…err, wait a minute, what about Sicily in ’67…hmmm,,,,nope, Snetterton was great! Of course, I’ve forgotten Crystal Palace .... err maybe not! There’s always Silverstone ’66 when I set a new lap record. See what I mean….really tough!!!
In the end, I’ve settled on one. It has to be the Archie Scott-Brown Trophy at Snetterton, 13th round of the 1966 British F3 Championship, 29th May 1967.
I chose this one not because I won it but, because of how I won it. It was a typical turn out of lots of all the potential winners, as usual. I seem to remember that my team-mate, Charlie Lucas, had been fastest in the morning qualifying and was on pole position. The rest of the first 4 rows were separated by a Gnat’s cock of a second. In those days the circuit was different to how it is now in that there was no chicane coming onto the pit straight and, at the end of the back straight there was a hairpin. Consequently, it was a much faster circuit than it is now and in terms of our lingo of the time, “A bit of a slipper” (a slipstreaming track). In my case, this was a good thing as I had only qualified about eighth in the morning as my gearing was a tad off for the conditions that prevailed that day. Snetterton was always a bit bleak and when the wind got up, it effected your terminal speed at the end of the two long straights depending on in which direction the wind was blowing.
After practice my mechanic Tony and I were locked in conference over the gearing situation and were debating on just what to do about changing ratios to best benefit from the likely wind conditions. One of the local weather pundits had told us that, if anything, the wind was going to increase as the day went on so, we decided to take his word for it and plan accordingly. After swatting over the Hewland gear chart for 15 minutes, we decided to change third and fourth gears by one ratio in each case. What most of my fellow competitors didn’t know was the fact that, at the beginning of the year, we had got Hewland to make up some one-off gears that basically were just 200-300 revs off the standard gears they produced and, that year, we had them exclusively. It gave us that little bit of an edge which, in F3 in those days, was what you needed and could make the difference on a circuit like Snetterton of you finishing 1st of fourteenth!
Came our race, the conditions were exactly as our local guru had predicted. This put me in the right mind-set and I took up my position in the third row. Luckily, I made a great start and went past the two guys in front of me and was about fifth into riches, the first corner. Going down the back straight in the slipstream of those in front of me, I was more than able to keep up and was not being dropped which was just what I wanted. As we approached the hairpin I could see that I had 3 to 4 hundred revs in hand which bode well for me as, the wind was in my favour and was definitely behind me. From the hairpin to the old bomb hole I could hold off those behind me so….again in my favour! After 5 laps or so, I had it worked out. If I could lead into the hairpin at the end of the back straight and stay in front until the bomb hole, provided that I got a good exit from the bomb hole and was leading through Corum curve, nobody was going to pass me before the start/finish line on a last lap dash. If I remember correctly, it was a twenty-lap race. At mid race point, I got the tow down the back straight and passed the lot of them going into the hairpin and held the lead until the finish line when, about 3 or 4 of them whooshed past me with the benefit of the slipstream.
I was now watching the pit board signals Tony was giving me. I knew that going into the last lap I could afford to be no less than third in order to have a chance to win it. As we started that last lap sure enough my mate Peter Gaydon came flying past me as did Alan Rollinson and going into Riches I was exactly where I wanted to be….third! Entering the back straight I picked up the tow from the two of them and, sure enough flew past Alan, got tight behind Peter, pulled inside him and out-braked him into the hairpin. I came out of the hairpin and didn’t dare look in my mirrors until I was halfway down the straight towards the bomb hole. When I did look, I must have had 4-5 car lengths on them and the others. I was so excited that I almost out-braked myself at the Bomb hole but luckily got a good entry and an even better exit onto to the long Corum curve. Coming off the curve and glancing in the mirror to my left side I could see them coming at me in the tow and wasn’t a hundred percent sure I could hold them to the line. I could see it was Peter Gaydon directly behind me and chose to hold a central track line to the finish. He got a terrific tow and a hundred yards from the line I thought it was touch and go whether I made it…he got right up almost alongside me completely as we went over the finishing line       
but I could see as we crossed that I had about a nose on him. Sure enough I had won it!
I got particular satisfaction in winning that one as it had to be thought out. All our strategy had worked and my patience in sticking to the plan throughout the race had paid off. It gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction and I was on a high for hours after the event. All the guys were full of congrats after the race and none more so than Peter. To this day he and I still talk about it whenever we see each other and, of course, I wind him up about it whenever given the chance. He does the same to me about how he beat the daylights out of me, and by the way everybody else, at Mallory Park sometime after my day at Snetterton. 

To comment on this interview please click here