Jacklyn Ellis pulled up in front of the start/finish line, lifted herself out of the cab and sat quietly on the side of her BriSCA F1 stock car. She had just won the Grand National at Buxton, her first-ever win in the sport.
“It was the best feeling you have ever had in your life,” Ellis says. “I couldn’t stand up, I had no energy left, I couldn’t breath. It was like a panic attack. I just broke down. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.”
Among the tears and the euphoria there was a huge sense of relief, too. All the hard work, the frustrations and disappointments of the past had all gone away.
As she sat there Paul Harrison, who had started the race from the one-lap handicap having won the final, pulled up and shouted over. “Did you win?” he asked. She confirmed the good news. “He was dead chuffed!” says Ellis.
And then moments later her boyfriend, Lee Fairhurst, who had finished second in the race, drew up alongside her car. He got out and lifted Ellis to her feet. “You won, Jac!” he exclaimed, before giving her a big hug.
The victory was the culmination of a memorable afternoon for the 26-year-old from Barnsley, despite the fact the day hadn’t start that well.
“Definitely not,” says Ellis. “We literally checked everything on the car before we got there, but in practice it wasn’t handling right. It was the front outside tyre. It was an old tyre and we didn’t have enough grip ”
She didn’t have a replacement.
It is important to get enough heat into your brakes and if you don’t start with your front-to-back brake bias right, you’re knackered
But Dan Johnson, who wasn’t racing at Buxton, came to her rescue. Ellis’s father, Chris, got a call from Johnson to say that a tyre was on its way. His mum was driving up to Buxton with one.
It made the difference. In her heat Ellis discovered a set up she liked. “I also played around with the brake bias,” she says. “The balance lever didn’t work so we had to set it up manually at the start.
“It is important to get enough heat into your brakes and if you don’t start with your front-to-back brake bias right, you’re knackered.”
In the past the effervescent 26-year-old from Barnsley had the potential to let anxiety get the better of her, particularly before the start of races, but Ellis tried a different approach at Buxton to race preparation.
She used breathing techniques that have helped her to keep calm and her mind clear at work in the NHS and as a Joint Replacement Clinical Support Specialist.
“It is a form of meditation,” explains Ellis. “It sounds daft, but it worked.”
It certainly did. In her heat Ellis led until after halfway before she noticed her car sounded louder than usual.
“The exhaust was falling off and I was losing a bit of power,” Ellis says, who ended the race qualifying for the final in sixth place behind Steve Whittle.
Before the final she used her breathing techniques again and having followed Adam Bamford in the early stages, she was soon in front. “I followed him because I knew he was quick,” she says. “I waited until he made a mistake and then took the lead.”
Ellis took the lead, and pulled clear by half a lap. “I couldn’t believe how quick the car went,” she says. “I have never driven a car like it. I had some really quick yellow roofs behind me but I never looked in the mirror.”
The car, powered by a 383 Chevy V8, a small engine by F1 stock car racing standards, was turning into the corners as Ellis wanted and getting good power on exit. Having brought the car out for the first time in 2018 at the Skegness UK Open meeting, hard work in the garage was beginning to pay off.
“We were late coming out this season, it was about attention to detail,” Ellis says. “I don’t want to be fence-fodder this year. “
With a decent lead she would be hard to catch, but then yellow flags came out after Will Hunter spun entering the home straight.
“There were only about seven or eight laps left,” says Ellis. “They then showed the white flag with the blue spot, which indicates oil on the track, but I didn’t see it. I was too busy focusing on keeping myself calm, and using my breathing exercises.”
Ellis held on to the lead on a track that was slippery in turns three and four after oil had been dropped, before Harrison dived up her inside to take the lead.
The greasy track, however, was playing into her hands – her car revels on a slippery surface.
When Paul caught me, he was flying. He was going into the turns really tight and so I copied him. My car was going round on rails
“It was originally a shale car,” she explains. “A greasy surface suited it. At Skegness on the Saturday night when it rained I finished second in the consolation. I was happy with it then.”
Now in second place, Ellis decided to follow the same line as the leader and it reaped rewards. “When Paul caught me, he was flying. He was going into the turns really tight and so I copied him. My car was going round on rails.”
While the main pack jostled and struggled behind her through the final bend, Ellis hugged the turn, with only world champion Nigel Green able to catch and pass her in the closing stages. But then Green pulled off with a flat tyre, leaving Ellis back in second place.
A runner-up spot looked on the cards, but boyfriend Fairhurst had turned into an adversary and was catching her fast. “I could see he was closing as the laps counted down,” Ellis says. “I slowed on the second last bend but he waited and didn’t go past as he knew I would go for it with a last-bender.”
The fact we took each other on and we were side-by-side at the finish. That made it for me
Into the last bend the pair were neck and neck with Fairhurst forcing his way up the inside and they powered down the home straight, crossing the line together, with Fairhurst just snatching second place on the line.
“I went in hard into the last bend but he just got me on the line,” says Ellis. “All I could think was that I was running in the top three with Lee. It couldn’t be any better…
“The fact we took each other on and we were side-by-side at the finish. That made it for me. After the finish I didn’t know what was going on, I wanted to do donuts! I parked up…” her voice falters. A moment to reflect on what she had achieved.
“It’s just the amount of work that has gone into it. It has been ridiculous getting the car ready. It has just been me and my dad. Lee has helped when he can but he is so busy.
“We have done it with next to nothing. And it has finally paid off. A weight felt like it has been lifted.”
And that was before the Grand National.
Before she went out for the last race of the afternoon Ellis asked her elder sister Michelle to do her a favour. “I have a hat with a Go Daddy logo on it – a sponsor I would like to have. I said to Michelle: “When I win can you bring this hat out to the start line for me?” I didn’t say if, I said when I win. I don’t know why.”
As the field began their rolling lap, and then exited the fourth turn, meeting final winner Harrison waved his hand out of the cab of his car to Ellis. “I love Paul,” says Ellis. “He put his hand out of the window to let me know he was setting off. From that point on I wasn’t interested on what was going on behind me. I now knew what the car was capable of and I knew I was pulling away.
If Lee had caught me and gone past he would have needed two tractors to get his car off the track. He would have gone in the fence flat-out!
“ I felt like I owned the track. I had a different level of confidence. I felt I had got all my strength back. I thought to myself: “I can do this!”
In second place in the closing stages, once again, and trying to chase her down was Fairhurst. “If Lee had caught me and gone past he would have needed two tractors to get his car off the track,” says Ellis. “He would have gone in the fence flat-out!
As the lap boards came out it, Ellis focused on keeping her composure. “With three laps to go all I could hear were noises from the car and I kept telling myself “Please don’t spin out”. I knew I was far enough ahead to take it steady.”
From green flag to chequered flag Ellis was never headed. “It was like winning the World Final,” she says.
“My car is worth as much as a jam sandwich. We got it for £10,000 and have put another £7-8,000 back into it to put it right. And that is all down to my sponsors and my dad.”
Success breeds success and a week later she repeated the feat, winning the second heat at Lochgelly, finishing the day with third in the Grand National. In between she clashed swords once again with her other half at Cowdenbeath, where a possible win was stopped in its tracks courtesy of Fairhurst, who squeezed her against the Cowdenbeath wall as he went into the corner too deep and she didn’t finish.
During the week after Buxton, Ellis got a phone call from four-time world champion Peter Falding. “I thought for a second it was an invitation for the Teams Championships in New Zealand!” she says. “Peter just rang to congratulate me. He said it took him two years to win a race but by the end of that season he had won a final. He explained that what I had done was a extremely hard thing to do and that it takes some drivers years to achieve.
“The Teams is my aim more than the World Final,” Ellis admits. “It is a type of racing I was brought up with. My family have all been involved in banger racing and I didn’t even know what a Formula One stock car was until I was 13 years old.
“I want to be as successful in my work and as a Formula One stock car driver as I can and to be picked to be a member of Team GB in the Teams Championships. That is my aim.”
Who knows, this time next year Jacklyn Ellis could be booking her seat for the main event down under at Palmerston North.
Neil Randon 2018
Photos courtesy of Paul Tully, Colin Casserley and Martin Fitzgerald