HOT ROD - IN THE BEGINNING  by Leo O'Sullivan My love of motorsport stemmed from my brother John’s interest of the same.  Around 1950 he arranged for our family to take a bus to Cork City and walk out the Western Road to the old Grand Prix Circuit of 1930’s which ran in on the Carrigrohane straight and out on the Model Farm Road. By the time we arrived, the racing had begun and all access to the track was sealed off.  The south channel of the river Lee had to be waded across.  It was worth it all to see Joe Kelly’s D Type Jaguar (Ex-Le Mans) overtaking at phenomenal speed.  From that day forth I was hooked! Motor racing was soon stopped on the Carrigrohane Circuit and was reduced to sprints on the straight road.  John and I used to get the bus, train and later drive to the Circuits in the Phoenix Park, Dunboyne and Rathdrum to watch motor racing. While serving my apprenticeship as a mechanic at a local garage, I took home old cars not suitable for resale; the roof, wings and exhaust were cut off and then raced around farmer’s lanes and fields. A decision to build a proper racing special was made; a DKW with a two stroke engine was procured. John O’Leary (Aghabullogue) and I quickly got to work on it.  Kevin McSweeney heard of it and visited to have a look.  A gallon of petrol was fetched and we went off for a spin.  The engine duly seized as we had forgotten to add oil to the petrol. Kevin said he was interested in starting a Hot Rod club.  I told Kevin I was all for it.  At the time I was trying to convert a six cylinder three litre Austin A90 to TVO (a cheap tractor fuel).  With the A90 in mind, I said I had a car ready to go. A meeting was held, a club formed called The Muskerry Hot Rod Racing Club and a practise day set around October of 1968.  On the day, the A90 had to be towed to Classis Ovens.  As nobody was available, my wife Abbey of four months was pressed into service.  At the time she was learning to drive and so was far from ready to be towed and to steer a monster A90.  Many ropes and heart attacks later we arrived in Classis, Ovens.  We had the only car there and the late John O’Leary from Ovens, Club Chairman the only other person present. I had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit that day.  That car went on to win the first Hot Rod race ever held in the South of Ireland.  The next practice day was set for almost one month later around mid November.  As I had the only car at the first practise, I just went in the family car but there was a surprise waiting.  Paddy Mackey of Blarney arrived in a VW Beetle fashioned to look like a desert racer; four exhaust pipes out the rear, half of each wing cut, road wheels turned inside out and a framed mesh over the windscreen.  Paddy set a Hot Rod style that day and it was exciting, so much so, that I drove the family car a Ford Consul 375 around the track letting people jump in for a spin from time to time.  I got carried away encouraging huge tail slides on the loose surface to entertain the crowd that gathered, a drain hole missed my attention and I did a 360 degree role over.  It was probably the best bit of PR the club could have got at the time as now everybody wanted to see the lunatics in action. Race day was set for Sunday March 9th 1969.  At this stage about twenty cars were available to race. Over the winter modification was rife, as money was short all ideas had to be home grown. Race day arrived; on the morning I went to the track to help put up the ropes and barriers.  I reckoned if I were back with the A90 at 1.30 that should suffice. At 1.30 I was about a quarter of a mile from the track in a  traffic jam, it seemed all of Ireland had come to the race.  The entry charge at the gate was half a crown = 12.5p or 15 cent with about 95% getting in free, we still collected £200.00. There were warm up races and then the big one. It was a handicap race and I started at the rear with two brothers Tom and Vincent McGrath in Ford Zodiacs with three speed gearboxes.  Vincent told me he expected the two Fords to beat me off the line as they had longer first gears.  As his gears missed sometimes, the plan was to let Tom go first.  This tactic worked well until Tommy lost power and we sailed by.  Now the pressure was on to get by Vincent on the flat out descent to the hairpin.  Vincent missed a gear and ran wide enough for me to slip by.  It was now a case of flat out to collect the remaining car before the chequered flag.  By the last lap I was in second place behind fellow Dripsey man Nellie O’Callaghan.  With Nellie smelling victory, he was driving out of his skin.  There was no way by him on the fast downhill to the hairpin but I counted on the more powerful A90 to pass out on the uphill to the last corner and the flag and so it was. When we got out of the cars we were mobbed by press, photographers and spectators, 99% of whom had never seen motor racing before. I won the Duckhams trophy that day – a bust of a racing driver in timber, my most treasured trophy to this day and still holds pride of place in my home. Hot Rod was splashed across the papers for the coming week and it was very gratifying as we felt shoulder to shoulder, affordable motor racing had arrived. AND IT HAD!!!

HOT-RODDING IN TIPPERARY by Johnny McHugh I suppose it all started for me because of where I was born; Castlederg, Co Tyrone. I believe it was the only town with a built in racetrack, cars used to race around the square on a Saturday night. Police gave it the ok and shopkeepers loved it because it drew a huge crowd to the centre of the town. As a finale the drivers used to leave Castlederg and drive to Omagh, the first driver back to Castlederg won the race.  So, the  first Cannonball Run was born in Castlederg. When I came to Tipperary I didn’t know the Hot Rod racing was already up and running in Cork. A few of us used to race Bangers in a field beside my house belonging to the late Jim English in the evenings. I then put an ad in the local paper to form a stock car club.  The first meeting was in Cahir House Hotel with a huge attendance , so Tipperary Hot Rod Club was formed in July 1976 with the first race 10th October 1976. Jerry McGourty Chairman, the late John Muldoon Treasurer and John McHugh Secretary of the club.  The first race was in the late Bobby Castigan’s field.  We had many enjoyable years with many trips to Northern Ireland, meetings in Cahir House every Monday night which at times were more heated than the racing. Then I had the idea of building a purpose built race track in Tipperary.  I was building for Ronans at the time so I got Jack involved in a car  it was nicknamed the flying bird cage.  Later we took a trip to Ballymena and met with the promoters.  We acquired drawings of the Ballymena racetrack and set about acquiring land.  A 14 acre site came up for sale  that was a disused gravel pit but it had a big water problem.  It was lower than the existing river which meant constant pumping which was too expensive for the gravel pit. But when we acquired it thanks to the late Tom Nevin who allowed us to take a 9” pipe through his field and the ingenius idea of Eddie Dalton who came up with a siphoning effect idea we were able to drain the quarry.  We started building in 1980 and opened in 1981.  RTE came down to film and that was when I met Michael O’Carroll head of RTE Sport.  When I told him where I was from I was surprised when he said “The only town with its own built in racetrack” And the rest is history…..


THE BEGINNING by Kevin McSweeney The term Hot-Rod racing came from an idea that two people had while on a fishing trip.   Motor sport was considered as too expensive for the average working man, and using your everyday car for such competitions or rally-cross was not a good idea. Hence the two fishermen  Kevin McSweeney and Dermot Sheehan, both from the parish of Ovens in Mid-Cork, concluded that the only way around this was to develop a motor sport for the working man.   The cars could only be worth £50.00 and stripped to bare essentials, would be raced around a circuit and called “Hot-Rods”. Posters were circulated in the area to attend a meeting and this caused many people to think that “Hot-Rods” were some breed of a racing dog. However, a meeting was held at the Ovens Bar on Wednesday the 14th of August 1968 and was well attended.   A  Club was then formed and named as the “Muskerry Hot-Rod Racing Club”,Muskerry being one of the baronys of Co. Cork.   Among those who formed the Club were Martin Jolly, Gerard Walsh, Leo O’Sullivan, Paddy Mackey, Neily O’Callaghan and Johnny McCarthy to name but a few. The new Club then contacted local man, John O’Leary, an employee of the firm of John A. Wood Ltd.  This led to John taking over as Chairman of the Club.  He then negotiated with the company to secure a part of one of their premises where racing could be held.   Word then spread and a few people turned up a month or so later with various kinds of cars.   One of these was Leo O’Sullivan of Dripsey with an Austin A90, Paddy Mackey with a VW Beatle, also there were Ford Capris, Heralds, Vauxhalls and Hillmans.    Practice racing took place on a regular basis and interest in the sport increased at a very fast rate.   Soon the Club set a date for a full race meeting.    Public Liability insurance was obtained and with the conditions agreeable also to the  Company the first race was set for the 9th of March 1969.   This event exceeded all expectations. Huge crowds turned up and although there was an admission fee of half a crown (10c by today’s standards), most got in free as it was impossible to secure this area, but still £200.00 was taken on the gate and the total cost of the event was £16.00.  The  location of this trace was adjacent to the village of Classis in the parish of Ovens in Co. Cork.   The site was a storage area for concrete blocks and as there was at the time a national cement strike, plenty space was available. The Club then moved to a better location, two miles west of Garryhesta, and resumed racing there up to 1971.   By this time Hot-Rod racing had become a huge sport.   Rules and regulations had to be drawn up as we went along as safety became a priority.   By 1971 over 100 members had joined up with over 50 cars.   Spectator attendance soared, as the excitement of crashes, pile-ups and great racing enhanced the entertainment.   Despite all the incidents and stunts that drivers got up  to, nobody was ever injured.  In one such incident, Paddy Forde from Cork City went over one lap in his VW, on only three wheels and never knew it until he pressed the brakes, despite the fact that spectators were screaming at him to point out his predicament. A football disaster at Ibrox Park in Glasgow which claimed 60 lives, led Insurance Companies to review all risky sports.   Garryhesta was deemed to be unsafe and this left the Club in a precarious position as we had no place to race.   Frantic efforts were made to locate a venue, and after a couple of months a piece of unused land, covered in heather, was located at Rearour, Ballinhassig a few miles south of Cork city.  Club members banded together, a Plant Hire Contractor was secured and a rack was cleared out and members used to start at 6.00 a.m. to finish this.   Finally, after a lot of hard work on this 15 acre site a track was ready and racing resumed again and remained there for another 14 years. Rearour, Ballinhassig became a famous Hot-Rod circuit and over the years some spectacular racing was seen there with some of the drivers becoming legends in their own right.   It was a common site to see spectators gather early on a Sunday morning complete with picnics in order to have the best vantage points for the events of the afternoon. During the early years of racing, one of the founders, Dermot Sheehan, moved in his employment to the E.S.B. Power Station at Campile, Co. Wexford.   It was there that he met up with the Dwyer Brothers, Martin and Simon, and Keogh Brothers, and they formed the second Hot-Rod Club – “Sliabh Coillte”.   The Cork Club travelled to partake in their first event in 1971 and they in turn came to race in Cork.   Thus began the first inter-county races.  Other Clubs then sprung up, in South Kilkenny, Waterford, Carlow and East Cork members from Midleton founded a new club. With so many new clubs and inter county racing, efforts were made to co-ordinate the rules and as a result the “Irish Hot-Rod Federation” was formed at a meeting at Lawlor’s Hotel in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford in 1972.  Over time the sport has spread to many areas, Dungarvan, North and West Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary where a first class track, hosting international events are held at Rosegreen. Many great stories and events went on and will be told about in the book up to the present day,  I hope all enthusiasts will enjoy it. Kevin McSweeney (Founder).