This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club of Northern Ireland’s running of the Croft hillclimb just outside Holywood, County Down.
A hillclimb that is dear to my heart, as I have spectated there from an incredibly young age and, in 2012, I even managed to partake in my first ever hillclimb, at this very event, in a Mazda MX-5.
This wasn’t the only celebration on the day of this year’s event however, which hosted the opening round of the Northern Ireland championship, as before the start, local competitor Tony Hamilton, was awarded an etched crystal piece for his trophy cabinet, in recognition of his starting the 30th consecutive TSCC run Croft hillclimb event.
This surely has to be a record-breaking attendance figure, and in fact you can add another two years onto this number, as Tony started competing on the hillclimb in 1987 at the helm of an MGB GT, at a time when the event was organised by the 500 Motor Racing Club of Ireland.
How Tony has never managed to miss an event in this length of time is beyond me, as let’s face it, life gets in the way, holidays get booked, and sometimes that dreaded thing called work can often take over our weekends and sometimes even our lives.
I guess being heavily involved with the organising club, as well as having a wife who also became the event secretary for many years, has helped in the making of this outstanding achievement.
Tony, along with current club President William Heaney, were part of a young and enthusiastic team who ran this event alongside the 500 MRCI for one year, before taking over completely in 1989.
Back then it was a very steep learning curve for all involved, yet would not have been possible without the generosity of the previous organising club who lent around 40 fire extinguishers, flags, and large rolls of timing wire that even to this day, must run from the bottom of the hill to the top.
It was the laying down and connecting of this timing wire, which was Tony’s main organising responsibility on the hill for the next 27 years. Tony would maybe say it was quite the headache, but it was something i assume he enjoyed.
Transferring from a somewhat stressed and sleep deprived event organiser, after a hectic setup day, it is quite the feat to then try and relax as much as possible, before becoming a racing driver. I imagine however, that once as much of the event is set up as possible, switching off from official duties, is probably the easiest and most welcome thing.
For the next dozen or so years, Tony campaigned a 1970 MG Midget, a simple yet effective tool on the not so high speed, but more technical Croft event, and in the years to come, the event would see Tony drive a second MG Midget, Porsche 944, and finally his current Porsche 968 that was side-lined a few years ago due to a fuel leak on the morning of the event, which then saw his wife Lisa’s Mazda MX-5 being used that year instead.
On chatting with Tony at this year’s event, he commented on his accolade “From those small beginnings in 1987, I didn’t realise the large part that Croft would play in my, and my family’s life from then on. I was very humbled to be given my ‘Long service’ trophy by the present TSCC committee”.
“To be honest, it’s been a few years since I even received a second in class award!”
Tony smilingly continued: – “I have often described driving at Croft as being my favourite day of the year, and apart from my Wife’s birthday (obviously), that is very true. Having been on the organising side for so long, I understand a little of the amount of effort that goes into running this event and others like it every year”.
“Thanks must always go the the volunteer set-up teams, admin staff and all the marshals for their hard work, local motorsport just wouldn’t run without them.” Tony concluded.
Based on the current format, which sees competitors tackle two practice runs, as well as three timed runs, and assuming the format has been like this for the past 32 years, I think it is safe to say that Tony Hamilton has covered a total of 33.60 practice miles, alongside 50.40 competitive miles on this very hill – almost as far as he has walked to lay down the timing wire for all those years!
A huge achievement I feel you would agree and many congratulations to Tony, and his family, for such continued support to grassroots motorsport, I look forward to seeing you at many more Croft hillclimbs in the years to come.
Words & Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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