Mick 'Duffy' Collard
Originally on Whistlin' Jack Smith 2016
As the last staging of the National Hot Rod Best in Britain at Wimbledon approached the sad news of the passing of Mick ‘Duffy’ Collard came filtering through. Duffy was the 1980 World Champion but perhaps best known as part of the ‘big 3’ that alongside Polley and Lee he helped shape Hot Rod racing through the Golden Age of the 1970s and continued racing into the 1990s.
Image supplied by Frank Love
Before Hot Rods Mick Collard started on the ovals in a Stock Car, the nickname ‘Duffy’ was firmly in place before the Rods based upon him duffing up people. He was at times over-zealous which did lead to several bans but that shouldn’t distract from his race craft and speed. He built many cars on his farm and was reluctant to part with them too as some still sit there.
He came close to winning the World in 1974 when he made up a half lap deficit on Barry Lee, catching him in the final few laps, but was nudged aside on the final lap and finished in Lee’s spray, there would be several more years before he got another chance. His greatest success was winning the 1980 World Championship, it was the first year of lap times and he was the only driver to record a lap time under 16 seconds. The racetrack for the final was greasy to begin with and he fell back to third, but with Barry Lee suffering a multitude of problems he was caught by Collard, who also had a few intermittent issues during the race. With 5 to go he dived at an opening to rapturous applause that was only beaten when he took the chequered flag. That year on track Collard was in his element and also took the European Championship, but disaster also saw a house fire destroy their home including his treasured trophies.
Even when he wasn’t in the picture to win the World he was busy with his friend Mr Controversy and played a big picture in the outcome of the 1987 title when being lapped.
It was often noted that should the World title have been held at Aldershot, he would have won the title several more times. Wimbledon also proved a good hunting ground for him and he would win the first running of both the BP Championship and Best in Britain titles. The news of his passing came through just before the NHR Wimbledon meeting and it was a track where fans last saw him compete. February 2016 and he made a one-off special appearance in his replica car against Barry Lee, a little bit of rubbing ensued which the crowds loved it.
The Lee and Collard battles are an interesting point, Motorsport News called their rivalry the 13th greatest in all of motorsport. That article highlighted how they picked up black flags for bumping continuously one meeting at Ipswich yet the next time out it was Collard parking his car to protect the smashed car of Lee from on-coming traffic. The persona of the big 3 were often stretched by the promoters and fans to make them all seem they were in conflict, yet they all had the unrelenting desire to win. That drive between them all helped the sport grow, attract new fans, sponsorship and drivers. Duffy was an idol to many through the sport’s most prolific period.
Collard raced in National Hot Rods up until 1991, yet he wasn’t done with Hot Rods and sporadically raced in the 2 Litre Hot Rods towards the end of the century taking his last title the Winternationals in 1998. His timeline in National Hot Rods saw him victorious in the Golden Age of the class with the Escorts, the hybrid era of Japanese cars and then the move to hatchbacks in the following decade.
Now I wasn’t around to see the heydays of the 1970’s so can’t playback too many stories, yet Duffy played a huge impact to my earliest memory of a Spedeweekend, that being 1990. 16 drivers were through by right and for this one off occasion the remaining English non-qualifiers raced on the Saturday for 4 more places, their previous points still included to benefit those higher up in the points. Duffy would be in 24th place and to make the task a bit harder he would be racing a new Peugeot 205 as the first big name from England to use such car.
He took a second in the opening heat, but the reversed heat didn’t go to plan and he picked up damage and fell down the order but he carried on and somehow made fourth place with a black cross thrown in for good measure. Once the points were totted up he somehow was tied in 20th place, a short consultation with the NHRPA and he was allowed to race. There was better fortune to come as a wet race meant the grid was drawn from the hat, he would start from fourth and even lead briefly before retiring with water effecting the electrics. As a 7 year old I was heavily influenced by my father and he would tell me which cars to watch and I am thankful he told me to follow the number 19 that weekend, and thankful for being thrilled by Duffy.
Whenever I hear the phrase ‘skin of his teeth’ I always think of Duffy as it was continuously used to describe him scrapping into the race. For all the memories fans will have of races being won, this story of just getting onto the grid matches them as a classic.
Duffy played the perfect part of the big 3, as they complimented each other, battled against each other on track and valued each other. They were the perfect draw for the fans and Duffy certainly helped raise the profile of the sport and cement the foundations for what we have now. He can lay claim to being an entertainer, a hero, an icon, a legend, a champion and now sorely missed figure from the raceways.
Achievements in National Hot Rods
World Championship 1980
Anglia Super Cup 1989
Best in Britain 1980
BP Championship 1972, 1979, 1980, 1989
British Championship 1983
East Anglia 1977
European Championship 1980
Grand Prix Series 1976
London Championship 1979
Manx Motoquip 1981
National Championship 1984
Pursuit Championship 1981
Scottish Open 1974
Winternationals 1981, 1983