I was stumbling around in the ruins of a castle deep in the Pennines in northern England when my reveries of knights in armour were interrupted by the sound of a dog barking. So few people ring me these days that it took a moment or two for me to realise it was my ringtone (or bark), rather than any farmer’s dog.

Dick Bennetts and David Oxton engage in some serious pit talk (Photo Terry Marshall)

The caller was Maurice O’Reilly, Tauranga-based racer who still does at least one ultra-long-distance international race a year – when he’s not in a 4WD vehicle exploring remote and often dangerous parts of the world.

Maurice was also in the UK, had heard that I was too, and was anxious for a catch-up.

“There’s a couple of people who’d like to have dinner with you. Can we get together in London?”

I knew he was talking about Rob Wilson, the remarkable New Zealander who teaches Formula One drivers how to shave milliseconds off their lap times (see NZ Classic Driver, Sep/Oct 2018) and Dick Bennetts, the equally remarkable expatriate who has nurtured the careers of 14 drivers who attained Formula One status through West Surrey Racing – including Ayrton Senna.

Dick’s successes have been many, winning more Formula Three championships than any other team in the world (before he quit the series), nine British Touring Car Championships and was named European Team of the Year for 2018.

Dick Bennetts at 71 years of age. Keeping up with what’s happening

It was an invitation I had to turn down as I was leading Team Shopping on a slash-and-burn tour of the UK and Europe and so tight was the mission we couldn’t afford to retrace our steps.

But I wondered what we’d have talked about. With Rob Wilson it would have been a question of whether I had read any of Herman Hesse yet, and with Dick it would have been about the old gang back in Dunedin.

Early Days

Dick is a Dunedin boy, born and bred, spent his childhood ‘on the flat’, went to King’s High School, loved cars and became an engine reconditioner with a company called Congalton & Whitton.

To read this and other articles on the Classic Driver website please click here to sign up for a membership. Once a member and logged in, you'll be able to read all the articles on the site. If you are already a paid up member, please log in, using the Log In link in the menu at the top of the page.