Deane Wood is driven to succeed. He admits to being a workaholic who never stops thinking about how he can develop and improve his business as a promoter. “I’ll never retire,” he says. “When I had all the time in the world I didn’t have any money, but now I’ve got the money I haven’t got the time.”
He is a straight talker and says what he thinks. When he makes a decision he believes will benefit not only himself, but drivers and fans alike, Wood will do everything in his power to achieve that goal.
Converting Northampton International Raceway into Northampton Shaleway this season is a case in point. This Sunday, Northampton will run its first shale F1 meeting for the penultimate World Championship qualifying round.
It is a journey into the unknown, but a high-risk strategy Wood was prepared to take.
The stadium’s biggest BriSCA F1 meeting of the year, the two-day European Championship in July, had been in a noticeable decline in recent years with fewer Dutch drivers competing in the event. The Dutch Tarmac scene had also seen a reduction in cars, with an increasing trend towards field racing, which was a cheaper option.
Tracks such as Blauwhuis, Emmen and Sint Maarten were suddenly getting high car turnouts at stadiums that were slowly but surely being developed into decent facilities. The BriSCA F1 European’s problems were exacerbated by another Dutch track, Texel, that was hosting its own two-day event on the same weekend as Northampton and a number of BriSCA F1 drivers were opting to travel over the North Sea that weekend rather than support their home event.
On social media BriSCA F1 fans were suggesting the European Championship should be run on a shale track to entice Dutch drivers.
And so, having bought Incarace from Philip Bond in 2008, and finding Northampton a track he was still grappling with to make into a successful venue, Wood could see the logic of changing surfaces for the race, and so took the decision to convert the track from Tarmac to shale.
I can be like a bull in a china shop but if I’m not confident with something I won’t do it. I have to do things my way, even if I get it wrong at first and have to put it right
It was a huge commitment. Thousands of tons of shale have been gradually laid over the past few months, with more being laid in the past couple of weeks.
Bad weather flooded the circuit prior to its first event in May, when hosting the BriSCA F2s, but the opening shale meeting was deemed a success.
“I can be like a bull in a china shop but if I’m not confident with something I won’t do it,” Wood says. “I have to do things my way, even if I get it wrong at first and have to put it right.
“If people turn round to me and say, “well, I told you so” I will work day and night to prove them wrong.”
It was motivation enough to make the track work.
“I’m actually surprised how many compliments I have had about it. But I didn’t get off the tractor all day. Even on the yellow flags I was grading the track.
“I ate my sandwich grading the track. I was asking people to throw me bottles of water so I could have a drink. The only time I went off was because I was bursting to go to the loo!”
This year is the best I have felt for the past two or three years. I’m buzzing for racing this year
Changing the racing surface at Northampton and buying Mildenhall Stadium, which ran its first F1 meeting since 2004 back in April to glowing reviews, has revitalised Wood’s enthusiasm for the sport, particularly after what turned out to be a disappointing and difficult 2017.
In fact, last season now seems a long time ago after the controversy surrounding the BriSCA F1 drivers who raced at Texel and were then excluded from practicing at Northampton prior to the Ipswich World Final.
“Normally the critics don’t give you two minutes to do something before they are putting it down,” says Wood. “But this year is the best I have felt for the past two or three years. I’m buzzing for racing this year.”
He gives his wife Janet credit for keeping him focused on the job in hand.
“Janet is who has kept me in it,” he says. “I was going to pack up last year. I was that fed up. My wife loves it more than me. She would go racing seven days a week. And she works harder than any of us. She is the hardest worker in the team.
“I love stock car racing. It isn’t about money for me. You have to have money to pay the bills, and I’ve got kids like everyone else and I have to preserve their future.”
As a promoter Wood has created an empire. He owns Spedeworth, which he bought from Mark Eaton in 2004, and Incarace, purchased from Philip Bond in 2008.
Altogether Wood runs eight stock car tracks, five of which host BriSCA F1 meetings – Mildenhall, Ipswich, Hednesford Hills, Northampton and Birmingham Wheels.
Alongside the F1s, the key formulas are unlimited Bangers and National Hot Rods. For Wood the big pay days are the Banger and National Hot Rod World Finals, both held at Ipswich. Big crowds at big events are what motivates and inspires Wood to develop his tracks further.
“At the Banger World Final, I don’t even think about the money. I buzz for it. For the F1 World Final I would have buzzed for it – all I wanted was the atmosphere. What I loved at Northampton the other day was that I’ve never had so many drivers pull off the track and thank me and they were all smiling – they didn’t even care where they finished.
“And that’s all you want. And if it earns money I’m more than happy about paying the drivers. Give the drivers their cut. But they all seem to think in stock car racing you should give the drivers a fortune and let the crowd in for nothing. But then where does the money come from to pay the bills?”
“There’s no point in me saying the Banger World Final doesn’t earn me money. Of course it does, it’s a good earner, but the week before when it’s chucking down with rain and there’s only 200 people there – that doesn’t even cover the rent.
“You’ve got to pay for the staff, the insurance, and towards the wages here at Spedeworth. I lose £300,000 during the winter just through wages. So I need to have that in the bank and say, well that’s gone by the time it comes round to March and April.”
Last year when it rained on the bank holidays it killed every promoter in the country putting a meeting on that day. Some were really struggling
Running a large number of venues 12 months a year, Wood needs the majority to turn over a profit during the peak periods of the season.
“And especially now we haven’t got Wimbledon, if I didn’t have the F1 World, the Banger World, the National Hot Rod World Final, the speed weekends and bank holidays you’d go bust,” Wood says.
“Last year when it rained on the bank holidays it killed every promoter in the country putting a meeting on that day. Some were really struggling.
“Arlington and Ipswich are our best tracks. Yarmouth is only good during the holiday period, but it is a lovely stadium. My wife and I have got a thing where we want the stadiums to be presentable and the toilets clean. It’s important.”
“I’m supposed to be this bad person who people don’t want to race for but all the tracks I’m at I get the most cars. It is about respect.
“Some of the banger boys will call me every name under the sun but they respect me. It’s a nice thing to have. They know if I say no to something, it means no – it isn’t even worth arguing with me.”
Wood admits that his single-mindedness and drive were shaped by his upbringing, which was tough. Very tough.
Discuss his childhood at any length and the memories still affect him. Wood was brought up as an only child with a father who was physically abusive. By the time he was 18 he was living in Feltham with his. mother. He was racing stock cars by then, which took over the house.
I used to go round door-knocking for scrap in a hired lorry or my old Transit van. That’s all I have ever done for scrap metal
“My mum told me to get rid of all the crap or move out – and so I left,” says Wood. “I was going to Hayling Island, but I ended up stopping in Farnham at my mate’s house, ‘Dinky’ Dalton, who used to race stock cars and he said I could stay there for a few days.
“I ended up sleeping on his setee for a year!”
Having left school at 14, with limited education Wood began earning money the hard way, through scrap metal. It helped pay for his passion – racing stock cars. But life was difficult. As a teenager he had nothing – the future looked bleak.
“I used to go round door-knocking for scrap in a hired lorry or my old Transit van,” he says. “That’s all I have ever done for scrap metal.”
“I started out with nothing. When I was living around my mate’s house on the setee my stock car got written off and that was it. I was finished with racing.
When I was a kid I would tell everyone I was going to have a house in the country with a swimming pool and own a scrapyard. And they would just laugh at me
“I was a down and out. I was in the pub every day like an idiot, really. My mate was going through a divorce so every day we were in the pub. Sometimes I’d go home, sleep for a couple of hours and go back in the pub.
“My life was bad. There are things I can’t even talk about that I have done or been involved with. But for all of that I don’t regret my life. I had nothing but when I was a kid I would tell everyone I was going to have a house in the country with a swimming pool and own a scrapyard. And they would just laugh at me.”
Wood was first introduced to stock car racing by an uncle and aunt, who took him to Wimbledon Stadium when he was 11 years old, where he saw Geoff Goddard win the Superstox World Championship.
“From that day I went to Wimbledon I wanted to do it,” Wood says. “My mum and dad started going, my dad was going to race but I think he bottled out of it and he said I could have his car and I started to learn.
“I went to Aldershot and I couldn’t even drive properly. I went there and practiced and the stock cars were on that night. I was 14 years old and I drove a Riley 472 saloon stock car.
I became one of the biggest car exporters in this country. But even then I was squatting in a brand new industrial site
“I was a mouthy little kid, and Mick Sandham [saloon stock car driver] came up to me and said “Right then Brains, you want to be racing tonight then?” I said “I’ll race, I’m not worried about you lot”. He painted 01 on my car and I raced that night.”
Eventually Wood was able to turn his life around. “I ended up being lucky through a good friend of mine, who used to do car exporting,” he says. “It was a big thing in those days.
“I became one of the biggest car exporters in this country. But even then I was squatting in a brand new industrial site. I went in and started squatting because I couldn’t afford to pay rent. They evicted one of my mates and he gave me the keys. When they evicted him on the court day I moved in. So they had to start all over again!”
“When I first lived with Janet we lived in a tourer caravan with a car headlight and a battery next to the scrap yard. Living like that is what makes you hungry.”
The desire to escape a life of deprivation and prove to himself he could be successful motivates Wood to this day, even though realistically, he has achieved a great deal.
“It’s never enough,” Woods admits. “We’ve got a hotel and a lovely house in South Africa. I’ve got a nice five-bedroom bungalow with five acres here, with horses and my wife says I am never happy.”
That desire also stood Wood in good stead when he was racing. He developed a skill for attracting sponsors.
“Without trying to sound big-headed I reckon I was the most successful sponsored stock car driver there’s been,” he suggests “I ended up with a fully-sponsored National Hot Rod with Alan Jackson, a fully-sponsored brand new HCD Superstox, which I didn’t even have to put the petrol in. Everything was paid for.
I wanted to be a promoter over here. I think most drivers to a certain extent want to become a promoter, like a footballer ends up being a manager when he retires
“I raced in all the Spedeworth formulas. I did pretty well in all of them. I made superstar in each of them, won a few minor championships plus I finished second in the National Championship in the National Hot Rods. But saloons were always my thing. I won everything in saloons.”
With his export business developing and looking to the future away from being a stock car driver, Wood went to South Africa and bought a stock car track.
“I wanted to be a promoter over here,” says Wood. “I think most drivers to a certain extent want to become a promoter, like a footballer ends up being a manager when he retires.
“I bought into a track in South Africa because I could afford it over there. I was doing a lot of exporting then to the country and then I ended up buying the whole track. So I now owned a stadium in South Africa.”
Wood was then approached by his friend Mark Eaton to buy his business – Spedeworth. “Mark said to me one day while we were sat at Bovington, “Why are you in South Africa? Why don’t you buy me out?”
“I thought it would be too much money, but Mark was one of the cheapest, to be fair. He said he’d had enough and would ring me during the week. We did a deal and I bought it there and then.”
Wood has since bought Mildenhall Stadium, for which he has big plans. He is always looking to the future, unlike, in his view, the promoters of the past.
“They go on about Bill Morris at Hednesford and promoters like that,” says Wood. “When Hednesford opened it had 30,000 people there.
“The original Spedeworth promoter, Les Eaton, was to me the master. But now I am a businessman, I would say both he and Morris weren’t any good. They were no good to the sport.
“What they should have done, when they were earning that money – and it must have been big money – they should have bought stadiums and invested in the stadiums. It is what went wrong with stock car racing. I could be wrong but this is my view.
We have got so much potential. We should be like Touring Cars. They get 15,000 spectators
“F1 Grand Prix started in the 50s, NASCAR started in the 50s, stock cars started in the 50s. Look at all their stadiums now and compare them to ours? I’m not being funny but Northampton hasn’t really changed much apart from the fence.
“I had one of the NASCAR top men come over and have a meeting with me and that is what he said to me. He said he had been over and visited a few of our tracks and some of them hadn’t been painted for the last 30 years, let alone had investment put back in them.
“We have got so much potential. We should be like Touring Cars. They get 15,000 spectators. It was up to 20,000 at its peak, then it went right down to 10,000 because they clean the racing up too much. Now they let things go a bit more – people enjoy the rivalries.”
Wood has his own views on the future of BriSCA F1. It is where he and BriSCA chairman and friend Steve Rees disagree. “Steve doesn’t think this is the right way forward but I think with Formula Ones would be better off with less meetings,” Woods says.
“I think that because you can’t expect them to race on a Saturday night at Skegness, for example, and beat the crap out of each other and then turn up at Northampton the following day. They would have been up half the night fixing their cars, and black and blue because their body has been knocked about.
“All we do is dilute it. With National Hot Rods we have 14 qualifying rounds, the Thunder 500, World, British and European. That’s it. They race once a fortnight roughly.”
Mildenhall will become the ultimate stadium. It is going to be VIP, corporate, it is going to have everything. It’s a brilliant little track and a track I’ve always wanted because it’s small
But for now it is Northampton and Mildenhall where much of his focus will be spent in the future.
Northampton, Wood suggests, will remain a shale track for the foreseeable future. “The Tarmac track is a mess,” he says. “It would cost about £100,000 to resurface and it has cost a lot less to turn into a shale track.
“Mildenhall will become the ultimate stadium,” Wood adds. “It is going to be VIP, corporate, it is going to have everything. Big screens. It’s a brilliant little track and a track I’ve always wanted because it’s small.
“In my view a track like King’s Lynn is too big for contact. Even though it is run well, it’s still too big.
“At Mildenhall I’m hoping, maybe not this winter but the following one, to take all the wall out, put a new wall in and it’s going to be all steel-plated. I’m going to put in traffic lights like those that sit over the road. I want to put them along the straights facing both ways so all the crowd can see it all.
“We’ve got a yard at one end and that will all eventually be corporate. I want to put in another chip shop because I want the families to go to that end. The other end will always be for the yobbos, where all the swearing goes on! So I want to entice the families and sponsors down the other end.
“Like at football, they eff and blind, but because you are away from all that you don’t care. The top left corner is going to be shops and a VIP area and private parking. It’s going to take me time – I don’t care if it takes me five years. I own it now, so it’s great.
I’ll never retire – I can’t. I’ve always got to be in charge. Even when my kids are 50 years old I will still be telling them what to do!
“The next thing is later on I am going to have to invest in Ipswich again, because that is the track where we run all our big events.”
Wood has plenty of work still to do before he is satisfied with his lot in life.
“I’ll never retire – I can’t,” he says. “I’ve always got to be in charge. Even when my kids are 50 years old I will still be telling them what to do!
“But if you have got that vision you don’t stop. Not until I get £100,000 sponsors in – and one day I will get them. I just hope my dream doesn’t die with me.
“I’ve built my kids future and my goal in life – I know this might sound big-headed, I don’t know – is to be remembered as the man who changed stock car racing.
“Like Bill France did with NASCAR. I don’t care about the money side of it, I want to be that.”
Neil Randon 2018
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon, Colin Casserley and Dave Bastock