Frankie gives the inside story of his new shale car.
I can’t remember exactly when I started it, but it was a while ago. I didn’t count how many hours it took, and I wouldn’t like to.
I decided that I wanted to do something totally different. Me and Clint, my brother-in-law, we got together and he had some ideas. He actually sent me a cardboard model. It was basically the body of an NZ car, but solid. I thought, yeah I can do that. But it was difficult to do with our rules.
Once I’d decided that’s how I wanted it, it got in my head, and I got stuck right in. I didn’t know if anybody would like it.
One night, when everyone had gone home, I set to, and got all the loops for the cage tacked on. It was about four in the morning. I looked at it, and I thought, “Yeah!”.
In the morning I needed Danny to see it, to see his first thoughts, he’s got an eye for stuff like that. He walked in, he looked round it, he looked at me…. then he looked at the car again…. then he looked at me and he said “I can see where you’re going with that. That’s gonna look alright”.
There’s a crease down the side panel, we built that in. I wanted a back window, like an NZ car, I liked that. I was gonna put the bonnet inside the cage, so the cage is wider. I just wanted it different, really.
The badge and grille are genuine Chevy Camaro parts from the States. The grille took days to get right. Everything else had to fit around it.
People that saw it while I was building it were all “I like it!”… unless they just didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t! Nobody said they didn’t like it, which was nice! I can’t really say how pleased I am with it. I know some say it looks a bit weird from some angles but I don’t care!
I couldn’t think of anything different to do with the wing. You can alter the angles and that, but it doesn’t look much different. I’ve since been told there’s one similar in Holland, although I’ve never seen it.
I was alone in the garage one night, with Adele on my headphones and looking at the wing, and I thought, “Why not put a wing inside the wing?” So I asked Rob Mitchell if he could put some extra bars in it and he asked what for… in the end he put the extra piece in for me. The extra panel means extra space for signs, which is nice. And I went for some extra lights, I thought they looked quite cool!
The chassis and the suspension are pretty much the same as the old car, but we’ve jiggled the weights around a little bit. It’s got some posh bird cages and a longer torque arm.
The pedals are different in this car, my feet are on the floor. And the steering box is inside the cab. I’m quite particular about pipework, I like it to be neat. I’m actually a time served pipe fitter… there’s some of the pipes in the cab that took me days to get just right, and nobody will even notice them.
There was no engine in it until Wednesday. Someone said, just use the older engine, but I wanted the newer one in it. It’s got my smaller block out of the tarmac car in it. It didn’t quite fit in the chassis, cos we’d built it around the shale engine.
I took the shale engine to be checked, and found it had detonated a piston. A new set of pistons would take about five weeks, so we threw the tarmac engine together.
I’ll be out at Skeg on Good Friday in the tar car. I’ve borrowed Graham Moulds’ engine, though I haven’t touched the tar car at all. I should have my own engines back for the Birmingham Hednesford weekend, and we’re on with a tar car for little Frank.
AKA painted it, and Brian Evans did the signs. I wanted a modern design, if you can call it that. I told him I still want the lettering and stripes, I’m really chuffed with how it’s come out.
In the weeks leading up to King’s Lynn, the lads were doing every night until 12, 1am, and then going to work in the morning. I was doing 17 hour days. At least! It was 4.30 in the morning when it was complete. No word of a lie, when we finished it I drove it down our lane and back, and then put it in the truck. That’s all the testing it had.
So we got to King’s Lynn and everybody loved it, it was a bit of a buzz!
I’ve never driven owt like it, it was unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever won heat and final the first time out in a new car.
Before the first heat I said I’m just gonna take it easy, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. All the top lads were in that heat, Dan Johnson, Paul Harrison, Speaky. I did the first lap, and I thought, “This feels alright”. I was hanging back, just in case, then I did another lap and thought, “Yeah, this is good”.
So I hit Speaky and Dan wide, lit it up, and that was it, I was gone! Honestly, if you’d had a camera in the cab at the point, I had the biggest smile ever!
To be a car builder, to go out in a brand new car and win these days, it’s almost impossible. I felt like I was high, I honestly could have just loaded up there and then and gone home, I was buzzing!
We got back to the truck in the pits, and I think it was Norm who said, “What do you want us to do to it?”, and I said, “Nothing! Leave it exactly like it is, just put some fuel in it”
I went out for the final and it was so quick. I had a good race with Dan. Nothing dirty, just good clean racing, and it just felt good.
People were saying to me afterwards, you’ve got to do the GN, you’re the last driver to have ever done the maximum. I don’t know if that’s true, to be honest.
But I got going and got a good start, then I thought, I might do alright here. There was about five laps to go and I looked at the scoreboard. Billy Johnson was winning, and he was in front of me. I’d just sold him some tyres!
Turned out it was Joe Booth winning, they’d missed him. So close! The National had 33 cars in it, and I finished third from the lap handicap. I’m happy with that!
To have a brand new car debut like that, it was the only thing that kept me awake on the way home!
I have to mention the team, Binnsy, Denby, Dan Clifford, Norm, Frankie JJ, Phoebe, and Sharne. To see them on the night, all sat together as a team with everybody on a high, it really was quite special. Also massive thanks to Sam for feeding us all every night, and Clint for all his help with the design.
Did I enjoy it? Did I!!! I don’t really know what made it go so fast, to be honest. Maybe it was the driver….. yeah, let’s go with that!