BY MARTIN WALSH
EVEN at the grand age of 72, Jimmy Lucey is as enthusiastic about competing in autocross events as he was several decades previous, as he declared, ‘It’s just that I have the bus pass in my back pocket these days.’
Indeed, the Lucey family in Ballyvourney, close to the county bounds, are immersed in motorsport as Jimmy’s sons, Gerard and James, compete in both autocross and rallying.
Like many more, Jimmy’s interest in motorsport was honed by watching the Circuit of Ireland Rally. While he competed in rallying, it was in the discipline of autocross that he’s widely known and highly regarded, both in terms of driving and engineering.
The autocross interest was created through his friendship with another Ballyvourney native, the late Padraig Ó Súilleabháin.
‘Padraig’s brother Dan (who was Billy Coleman’s co-driver) bought a Ford V6 Special in England and brought it back here,’ Jimmy explained.
‘I used to tow the trailer to the events for Padraig and after about three of four events he insisted that I had a go at driving it as well. He said to me, “you towed it up here so we can double drive it”.’
Ó Súilleabháin was a genius behind the wheel and also in terms of preparation. To Jimmy, he was even more.
‘He was a better driver than Billy Coleman,’ he stated.
‘Padraig (who was a school teacher) used to rally an Anglia car that he would normally drive to school. He was cool out but he was on a very tight budget compared to Billy.’
Continuing to double drive the Ford V6 at events, Jimmy was never really able to beat his friend even though he had an unusual ally.
‘Margaret, Padraig’s wife, was something else. In a way she was a coach. She was a super person, she would tell you that you were too wide in this corner and in that corner. She did it so well that I beat Padraig in the finish.’
That victory came in 1986 at the Central Trotting Track in Leap after Jimmy had built his own Special.
A few years earlier another friendship saw him make his debut as a rally driver on the 1983 Courtmacsherry Single Stage Rally.
‘I used to co-drive for the late Seanie Mullane, who had a Mk 1 Ford Escort. That day in Courtmac, it was very wet and Seanie didn’t fancy driving so he told me to drive it. I also competed on the first Fastnet Rally in Schull as a co-driver. I still have the regulations for that rally,’ he said.
In the early days Jimmy was a member of the Birr and District Motor Club.
‘I knew Pat Horan well and rather than go through sending money and all that for my competition licence, I gave it to him to sort out and that is how I became a club member,’ he explained. Subsequently, in the mid 1980s Jimmy joined the Killarney and District Motor Club and became the first person to clerk the Killarney Summer Rally. But as it transpired, the association didn’t really work out.
‘I had a lot of problems in organising that rally so I got out,’ he noted. Jimmy later joined the Skibbereen and District Car Club and it was ‘plain sailing then.’ He is a fan of the loose surface autocross venue in Derryleigh – situated between Leap and Skibbereen – where he hopes to compete next season. ‘The course is a credit to Timmy McCarthy and the Skibbereen club, they put a lot of work into the set-up. Of course, in the past I never missed an event in Campbell’s Pit in Clonakilty, that was a great track as well.’
From Padraig’s Rover V6 Special, Jimmy’s own Rover V8 Special came via a car that was purchased from Fogarty’s in Nenagh. The love of building cars was almost irresistible and at one time Jimmy owned two Specials.
‘The second one was built from a Renault 25, I did Campbell’s (Clonakilty venue) with that a few times until a fella jumped off the bank, Mick Ahern from Adare, and he asked how much I was looking for it. He was stone mad for it and he bought it. The first day he went out in it he won an event in Cashel,’ Jimmy recalled.
The autocross demographic has changed considerably in the last few years with the Semog Buggy proving extremely popular, however Jimmy remains loyal to his Rover Special.
‘The car I have now I only built three years ago. Last year I competed in a grass surface autocross in Galway and I split the Buggys down the middle. It’s hardly worth my while changing now,’ he said.
Gerard and James also drive their own self-built Specials.
As we head into another year, Jimmy has no intention of becoming just a spectator. It remains a family sport as much as everything else. The Lucey family – Jimmy and sons Gerard and James – have two unique records in autocrossing. Jimmy and Gerard have won the National Autocross Championship titles while all three are former Munster Autocross champions.
‘That (National Championship) always leads to a great bit of banter here in the house as the young fella (James) never won the national. We give him a bit of stick about that,’ Jimmy laughed.
Both Gerard and James also compete in rallying, and Jimmy assesses their different ethos.
‘Gerard always wanted to do everything his own way while James was mad for it (building cars) and was building a car away after he would come home from school. Whether things are going right or wrong, Gerard is always the same but James is grand when things are going right but when they’re not, he has a short fuse!’
Still laughing, Jimmy contemplates the future.
‘As long as there are a few people with bus passes in their back pockets I will keep competing against them. A young fella is a lot faster than an old fella no matter what they say, but I get great enjoyment out of it.’ And so Jimmy’s story will go on.