HATVENT DAY 15 - John Meale
Racing is Better than Sex!
Mini Miglia Racing Driver: John Meale
On the grid, engines rev in anticipation. Nothing happens... one red light appeared, a second red light emerged, the third popped up, followed by a fourth in sequence, the last red light completes the set. Finally, this red light sequence shut down in an instant that triggered the start of the race, engines howled as the clutch was let out and a roar of acceleration. Nothing could prepare you for what happened. Pedal to the metal, Mini Miglias took off in a billow of smoke and almost flew. The air was full of fuel; each car was guided round the circuit by an experienced driver. The adrenaline was off the scale, speeds were incredible as the race moves forward. Holding their car on a smooth course was the talent of an experienced and skilled racing driver. John Meale was one of these talented enthusiasts.
He took to the track at the tender age of 18. One circuit and he was hooked for life. Racing got into his veins. ‘Racing is better than sex’ according to world famous racing driver Jackie Steward and John Meale certainly agreed.
Racing at Brands Hatch was so special, using the same track as the F1 racers. Teams like Gold Leaf Team Lotus started to create team clothing; baseball caps with embroidered badges were noticed. They had these caps made in China, as they were the only manufacturer that could embroider their stiff peak. The teams generated three sets of clothing and hats for each season.
As a keen member of the Mini Se7en Club, he was involved with cars and engines. Rallying with his brother Paul, he perfected his skills. The first two car team to ever be sponsored. The owner of a TV Games Company and proud sponsor took a keen interest in their driving and decided to fund all their races.
In his first real sponsored race, the wet conditions challenged John. He spun his Mini once. Flat out, he spun again. Not satisfied with his performance, he pushed and spun a total of four times, in this race! His brother was not happy with his performance and chased him down the road hitting him with his cap! According to Paul (his brother), ‘He needed the discipline!’
Radofin wanted the car and team to build the same image as his games box. A black car with a stunning rainbow wrapped around the car. This theme continued in the hats. While racing John was referred to by the race commentator’s as ‘Round the bend comes Meales ......on wheels!’ The humour struck them, the name landed; John and Paul became M.O.W. overnight.
As he progressed in racing, his sponsor took him to the next level. There rainbow logo was emblazoned onto the car. They found that the rainbow was patented, so they had to change the colours into a formation with two shade of green. These rainbow stripes were artistically painted on the car, the race suits and most importantly on their helmets. These lifesaving pieces of kit were very precious. The design shapes had to flow in the wrap around formation of this protective head gear.
Racing was hard at over 100mph, all the Mini Miglia cars were tuned and drove through the race tracks, all over the country. He revealed that championships that required more than one race win were particularly challenging, as a consequence to win on tracks that held their own unique features and located around the country with varied weather conditions was the ultimate win. At the height of his career, he did just that to bring home the Graham Hill Trophy in 1980 and again in 1981. In 1981, the Mini Se7en Club awarded his team a new award created especially for them; ‘Team Special Prize’. They had raced every race for 28 weekends with full time jobs too!
It was not until 2012 that a new opportunity presented itself. John wanted to enter another race at the splendid age of 64. After a long gap in racing, his brother tried to dissuade him. John was determined. Brands Hatch was his favourite track. He couldn’t run the practice so started at the back of the grid. The young racing drives all knew each other and had no thoughts about John’s Mini at the back of the grid.
After a long break in racing, John lovingly restored a vintage Mini Cooper that had been off road for 42 years with his brother. His brother wanted to discourage him from racing. ‘You’re too old, too big for the car! John was determined to move forward. Together they strived to bring the car toward the goal and their dream.
Old shell met new engine. The magic happened as the two brothers used their knowledge, vast experience and true grit to bring this to the racing ‘beast’ they wanted. Each step was done with precision. Carefully managed, they made progress. The practice race was fraught with difficulties. No stone was left unturned. The brothers united, as they had always done, taking one step at a time.
Way down on the grid with his competitors all half his age and half his weight, he did not expect to reach his goal. Turning right, drifting left and reaching for the ‘clipping point’ and the apex of the corner on each bend. Gradually, he picked off each car, one at a time. A slide was close to the end of the race’ but no, he overtook on the next corner. Third was not good enough for John. This third driver tried to push him off! After that, he met a tail-ended. Second, at Paddock Bend on the outside in wet conditions and he grabbed the lead. His brother said, ‘I’ve seen you drive but I never seen you drive that well!’ An error by the lead driver moved his ‘almost vintage’ Mini up to second place. His brother filmed this epic and ruthless strategy as John took amazing risks on corners. Manoeuvring his car like it had never done before.
His prize was a red winner’s cap. However, at this time, they had run out of these special red caps. John shrugged, ‘No problem, I will be back in two weeks to collect my red prize cap.’ A treasure and a fantastic memory that he took to the end of his life.
‘When I die I want to be buried in my Brands Hatch Red Winner’s Cap.’ Sadly, this was just 6 weeks before his sudden and untimely death.
The Hat Channel Magazine would like to pay tribute to John Meale, a truly great racing driver and winner.
Jeffrey Parish from the Mini 7 Racing Club commented, ‘John was a big character on the racing scene.’
See some excellent image of John Racing in the October issue of The Hat Channel Mag.