Cliff Dempsey has devoted his adult life to Formula Ford, lately to running rising talents. By ANDREWPAPWORTH
Assuming that Formula Ford legend Cliff Dempsey is a passionate man would be easy. After all, he set up his own racing team, Cliff Dempsey Racing, after tearing up his race licence and throwing it back in the faces of race stewards.
But spend some time talking to him, and it's clear that he is far from being the tempestuous team owner. There's no doubt that he loves the sport, but he runs his team in an entirely pragmatic manner. "It's a business and it has to be run as a business," says Dempsey again and again as he explains why he chooses to run in Formula Ford.
In fact, Dempsey admits that the licence incident was only the final straw in his decision to switch from a successful driving career to team owner.
"I had an accident in the middle of a Formula Ford race and the front of the chassis was bent," says Dempsey. "When Vivion Daly came up behind me, I didn't make it easy for him and the stewards didn't take kindly to what I did and wanted to fine me. I thought they were being a bit hard so I tore up my licence and threw it back at them.
"I'd been planning on stopping racing, because you can't run cars and race yourself, but that absolutely confirmed it for me, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. We've had some great fun with the team and I love what we do." 5
This year Dempsey has brought his S successful team back to the British i
Malvern leads at Oulton Park at Easterin COR Ray
Formula Ford Championship. It's a decision based a on business and | passion, after the 11 failed bid to claim ^ the crown with his
I youngest son Peter
"I always felt there was some unfinished business," explains Dempsey. "We were here in 2006 and we led the championship, but we made mistakes, Peter made some mistakes and we beat ourselves really."
After the first round at Oulton Park earlier this month, things look good in 2010. CDR's Scott Malvern currently leads the title chase from Australian ace Scott Pye and the category-dominating Jamun Mygale squad.
Dempsey may be an intrinsic part of Formula Ford now, but he first starting racing with a Mini 7 in Ireland in 1977. "My brother used to race and I used to go and help him and basically it extended from there," he says.
In 1981 Dempsey competed in his first Formula Ford race, and so started a long association with the category. By the late '80s he was running some of his competitors' cars and it was a natural progression to set up his own team in '89.
The first big success came quickly. At the 1990 Formula Ford Festival, CDR driver Michael Edgar qualified on pole position for his heat. "When you
Malvern leads at Oulton Park at Easterin COR Ray look back, it was a pretty special achievement," says Dempsey. "We should have moved to the UK then. We had a young family and we could have moved them over."
Instead, CDR returned to Ireland to race in the new Formula Opel series. "We picked up group sponsorship from Castrol, which gave us the opportunity to raise some good drivers," says Dempsey. "We won that championship six times out of the 10 years that it was there, so it was a pretty special time for me."
The team also ran cars in Formula Ford Zetec and Dunlop Supercars, winning both in 2000 at the same time as Cliff's eldest son Keith won the Formula Opel title. Then came the move to Formula Renault in 2001.
"We didn't know what to do with Keith, but we made the decision to tackle Formula Renault in Europe," explains Cliff. "We had no money to do the tests prior to the races and it was a struggle, so we asked to do the British championship. Two races in we made a great tyre choice and won the [wet] race at Snetterton."
After an impressive fourth ahead of Heikki Kovalainen at Croft, Keith began to struggle and Cliff's business mind began to look for an exit. "Keith had a big accident at Brands in testing and we made the decision that if he didn't go well in qualifying there was no point spending any more money."
More success in FF1600 followed
THERE WILL be no Formula Ford 1600 championship in the Republic of Ireland in 2010, something that really disappoints Cliff Dempsey.
Dempsey has been involved in the series for almost three decades - since he first entered as a driver in 1981. "It's something that I put my heart and soul into and I'm very disappointed," he says. "I think that the competitors have a lot to answer for because I was basically putting up half the grid and, in my opinion, nobody else made any effort."
The series organisers are hoping to restart the championship in 2011, and Dempsey believes that most
Kent-engined championships should be looking towards running the newer Duratec unit in future. The change from Zetec to Duratec in the British series was controversial, but has revived the category.
"The economic climate is not right for that [in Ireland] at the moment and you'll put people away from the sport, but I think long-term it's the way to go," he says.
"If you buy your Kent engine today and it has done 1000 miles, which is not much, it needs up to another £1800 spent on it. If you went to a Duratec engine with a restrictor, it would be so even the racing would be incredible."
! 2006 Peter j Dempsey takes third ! in British Formula j Ford (four wins) ; 2007 Peter ! Dempsey wins : second consecutive ; Walter Hayes Trophy with CDR Ray 2008CDR runs Team USA Scholarship drivers Josef Newgarden (above) and Conor Daly to Brands FF1600 Festival and WHT successes 2009 Scott Malvern wins National FF1600 title; Connor de Phillippi wins WHT
but, when Cliff returned to the UK in 2006 to run Peter in the British championship, only the late Bert Ray — the late founder of Ray Formula Cars — would help the team. That started a relationship with the marque that continues today.
"When people help you like that, you should repay it, provided that it doesn't hurt your performance," he asserts. "Ray is where my loyalties are and that's where they will stay unless they're uncompetitive. Right now, I can't work out why other teams are not running their chassis."
So does Dempsey believe that Scott Malvern, CDR and Ray can deliver the championship he so desperately craves? "I really think Scott can do it," says Dempsey. "Scott is the best chance I'm going to have to win Formula Ford for a while.
"We're not going to be cocky. We're going to work really hard and not lift our heads until the end of the year, but I think he's got a very good chance."
Even if the team is not successful this time, Cliff Dempsey Racing looks likely to stay in the British championship for a while yet. "We're travelling just to test cars and then going back over again and that's not financially viable," explains Dempsey.
"I've always loved English racing though. The best championships are here and I regretted that we didn't make that move in 1990. Now I have a chance, I'd like to make the best of it." Bf
Was this article helpful?