Untitled Document

BMR LEGEND SERIES

National Hot Rod #950 - Norman Woolsey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was back in 1968 that Norman first took to the track racing a 100E Ford in the Production Car class at Shamrock Park in his home town of Portadown. Norman had been a curious spectator at the opening meeting of the venue one week previous and quickly decided he wanted to join the action on the other side of the fence. And so his first Production Car was bought from the garages of D. Prentice and Sons, where Norman worked as a mechanic, at 5pm on Saturday afternoon, driven to the track and raced that very same evening with the windows and all still intact! Not only did Norman drive the car to the track, but he also managed to make the 5 mile return journey after the meeting as he had no other way of getting the car home again! Norman soon began to find his feet in the Production Class where his next car would be a Morris Oxford, which he purchased jointly with the Mulholland brothers for £45. The two brothers prepared and maintained the car, with Norman entrusted with the driving duties out on track. Norman was steadily becoming an emerging force in the Production ranks and his next choice of car would propel him onto centre stage at the weekly meetings.

Norman appeared in an Austin Atlantic, with fellow racers Sam Marshall and Robert Symington building similar machines. What followed was a classic David v Goliath struggle as the small, light, agile Minis driven by the likes of Cecil Robinson, Richard Douglas and Henry Stewart, battled against these big, powerful, noisy Atlantics. Their duels caught the imagination of the fans and the Production clashes were soon amongst the highlight of any race meeting. The promoters however were concerned that the Atlantics were just too heavy and strong to be on track with the smaller cars and a ruling was made in the early seventies to ban the bigger cars from participating in the Production class. With his car no longer eligible Norman decided it was the right time to take a break from the sport and spent the next few years building up Scotch Street Motors, his successful car sales and garage business located on the Moy Road near Portadown.

The racing bug never left his system however and Norman was tempted back to the ovals in 1978 behind the wheel of a Mk. 1 Ford Escort in the Production class once more. The Mk. 1 gave way to a Mk.2 version for 1979 and Norman quickly established himself as a consistent front runner once more, holding down a red grade in this competitive class where the opposition included such names as Davy Evans, the Robinson brothers Noel and Robert, Stevie Morrison, Alastair Jackson, Ivor Greenwood and Jim Stewart. The Mk. 2 was pressed into service once again for the 1980 season, but by this time the Hot Rod class was really beginning to steal the show on the local tracks and many of the Production stars had already made the switch before Norman himself committed to the rods for the 1981 season.

It proved to be a challenging introduction to the non-contact class with Norman winning plenty of races, but also collecting his fair share of damage along the way. This was a time when the Hot Rod guys were racing at least two, and sometimes three, nights a week, every week, from Easter to October. It was a demanding schedule, but with his trademark determination Norman knuckled down to the task in hand and finished the season second in the overall points chart behind Davy Evans. Norman was rewarded for his consistency by an invitation to represent his country in the British Match Race Championship at Northampton , his first ever trip to the mainland. That was followed up with an end of season journey to Ipswich for the N.H.R.P.A. Championship.

For his 1982 campaign Norman decided to move away from the traditional Escort and instead built an unusual Datsun 120Y Coupe. The European Championships were being staged in the province that May and Norman had just got the car on song, qualifying on the front row for the final, when it was written off in a famous collision with John Edwards during the Raceway staged final. The Datsun model had only lasted about six weeks, but unperturbed Norman built a Toyota 1000 in a matter of days to return to the action once more. The little Japanese hatch proved to be a good choice and would carry Norman to his first major honours the following year. On a wet evening at Raceway Norman clinched the Irish Closed Championship and two weeks later at the same venue led home Englishman Pete Stevens to win his first international event, the Irish Masters.

Buoyed by that success Norman started 1984 strongly and managed to confirm his place at the World Finals in July alongside the province’s other representatives, Ormond Christie and Davy Evans. With some welcome sponsorship from Sealink on board the World Final weekend saw the debut of a Toyota Starlet painted in the colours of the ferry company which carried Norman home in a fine third place at his first World Final appearance. Norman was right on the pace for the remainder of the season, finishing second in both the European and Scottish Open Championships, but not content to rest on his laurels another Toyota Starlet was prepared by the crew for the 1985 season.

The new season started well with victory in the Scottish Open Championship, Norman ’s first title success on the mainland. Come World Final time hopes were high for another good result and Norman went one place better than the previous year to finish a strong runner-up behind champion Christie. On returning to the province Norman was very pleased to be the inaugural winner of the Davy Evans Memorial race, as Davy was a competitor Norman respected immensely. His best season to date was completed by victories in the British Championship at Northampton and the Irish Closed at Raceway, with Christie runner-up on both occasions. The battles between Norman and Ormond were becoming increasingly regular and heated affairs. Indeed the Irish Open of that season ended with Ormond in the fence and Norman disqualified for his part in the incident. There would be no let up in the intensity of that particular duel the following year where the two gladiators fought out one of the most contentious World Finals ever to be staged.

1986 began strongly for Norman , with victory at Raceway in the Irish Grand Prix setting him up nicely for another tilt at the World Final come July. Standing in his way however was a familiar foe in the shape of defending champion Christie and the race developed into a contest between the two top drivers in Hot Rodding at that particular time. Ormond led an action packed race until the closing laps when Norman found a way through, but the manner of his move attracted a black cross from the steward. There was pandemonium at the finish as Norman thought he was champion and Ormond was equally sure he had successfully defended his title as the the Portadown driver would be punished for his overtaking manoeuvre. After what seemed like an age Norman was finally confirmed as the 1986 Champion of the World with Ormond a bitterly disappointed runner-up. The debate about the rights and wrongs of that particular race could still cause an argument to this very day! The reminder of the season revolved around the pair, with Ormond gaining some revenge with a win on home soil at the Irish Open before the roles were reversed when Norman became the first Ulsterman to lift the National Championship at Hednesford. There is no doubt that the intense rivalry between the pair propelled them onto a different level that few of their fellow competitors could reach. For the seasons of 1985 and 86, whenever these two went head to head at championship events it was usually a dog-fight between them. Norman loved beating Ormond and vice-versa with the rest generally confined to a supporting role.

One year later it was Norman who felt frustrated at the outcome of the World Final as George Polley spearheaded an English revival in the Nationals by claiming the gold roof for 1987. Norman looked on course to retain his title before some interference from backmarkers saw him lose the lead to Polley. A post-race dispute over the legality of Polley’s exhaust system only added to the disappointment felt by the Woolsey crew, but there were some good days too, with victories in the Scottish Open, his third in a row, the Irish Open and UK Challenge Cup. 1988 was a poor season, with no title wins at all for Norman and a spell on the sidelines after his latest run in with Ormond one wet evening at Raceway earned him a three month ban for deliberate fencing. It proved to be the calm before the storm however as the Portadown man answered his critics in no uncertain fashion the following year.

Norman was making the headlines before the 1989 season had even began when the news filtered through that he had taken over the duties of promoter at his local Shamrock Park track in Portadown. That did not signal any scaling down of his racing activities however and it was all change on that front too. Gone were the blue and white colours of Sealink, to be replaced with the red and yellow of new title sponsor The Royal Mail. New rules in the National Hot Rod class also allowed front wheel drive cars to be converted to rear wheel drive and Norman was one of the first to take advantage of this relaxation when a Peugeot 205 was prepared to run alongside his trusty Starlet. The new car was used sparingly in the early part of the season, but at the World Finals in July the car immediately felt good at the Foxhall track. Norman planted his new mount on pole for the final and captured World title number two with a decisive flag to flag victory. Wins at the British Grand Prix, Scottish Masters and N.H.R.P.A. completed a great season for the racer come promoter.

Another Irish Open and British Grand Prix win followed in 1990, along with a maiden European title triumph at Cowdenbeath in Scotland . 1991 brought a second National title and one of his best ever victories at the end of season N.H.R.P.A. Championship. The majority of Norman ’s victories were rattled off from pole position, but this one was a tremendous drive from further down the grid, around the outside of all the top runners such as Davy McCall and Ricky Hunn. The cost of competing in the National class had become prohibitive by this time however and the formula was dropped altogether from domestic meetings in the province at the end of the 1992 season. Norman remained loyal to the formula however and retained his Nationals which allowed him to contest the major championship events on the mainland. The lack of regular racing at home did not prevent him from claiming an unlikely third World title at the 1993 event and both the European and Irish Open titles were added to his impressive list of achievements once more before the end of the decade.

By the turn of the century it was the racing activities of his two sons, Gary and Wayne, which were taking prominence within the team and Norman’s own racing took more of a back seat. That said he still managed to qualify for one last World Final, his sixteenth appearance, in 2001 and was still actively racing a National as recently as 2007 when he recorded a final win in a World qualifier at Raceway. That just about brings us right up to date and 2009, where we have already seen Norman back in action, this time behind the wheel of his latest project, a Classic Hot Rod.

With a total of twenty-six National Hot Rod titles to his credit Norman ’s achievements stand comparison with any other driver in the history of the formula. Whether Norman receives the same recognition within oval racing as some of his peers is debatable. Perhaps those run-ins with terrace favourites such as Ormond Christie and George Polley will always be held against him in certain quarters, while the perception that the team was always lavishly funded, having enjoyed backing from major brands Sealink and Royal Mail, could well be a contributing factor too. Sure having the right equipment is a great advantage, but you still need the technical knowledge to maximise the potential of that package and the driving skill to push a car to the limit. Preparation, application and determination have played an equally important role in achieving that level of success.

Even Norman’s sternest detractor could not deny that the man’s dedication to his chosen sport has been absolute, although that same commitment has occasionally crossed the boundary between what is acceptable and what is not. That said Norman has been the incident party in many incidents too; you don’t keep going for that length of time in this particular game without experiencing the rough and the smooth along the way. It says everything about Norman’s enthusiasm for oval racing that, over forty years since that debut appearance at Shamrock Park, he still retains that love for the sport to this very day.

Driver, promoter, car builder, parts supplier, sponsor, mentor, father and grandfather are some of the roles Norman has fulfilled at trackside during the previous forty years. With sons Gary and Wayne both championship winning racers in their own right now too, it looks like the Woolsey legacy will still be around for many more years to come.

MAJOR HONOURS

National Hot Rods

World Champion 1986 - 1989 - 1993

European Champion 1990 - 1994

National Champion 1986 - 1991

British Champion 1985 - 1986

N.H.R.P.A. Champion 1989 - 1991

Irish Open Champion 1987 - 1990 - 1992 - 1995

Scottish Open Champion 1985 - 1986 - 1987

Irish Grand Prix winner 1986

British Grand Prix winner 1989 - 1990

UK Challenge Cup winner 1987

Irish Masters Champion 1983

Scottish Masters Champion 1989

Irish Closed Champion 1983 - 1985

Photos courtesy of
Chris Berry, Robin Clark, Brian Lammey, Frank Love & Dave Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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