More than 30 years on, Bizzy Williams still holds the outright lap record at Busy Park...
Although his timeline in island motor sport cannot always be traced in parallel to that of the Barbados Rally Club, Ralph ‘Bizzy’ Williams was a key player in the Club’s early history, a committee member for some years, and instrumental in the Club’s switch to circuit racing at Bushy Park.
While nicknames are common in the Caribbean, ‘Bizzy’ needs some explanation, as it is one of the less obvious in motor sport . . . and it is how he is referred to throughout this book. Williams was born at Edgehill in St Thomas in 1942, almost exactly 15 years before the founding of the Club; at birth, he was comfortably the heaviest of the nine children born to Elliott and Lilly Williams. Bizzy explains: “My father had fought in Europe throughout the First World War and was almost obsessed with war and Britain.” The sinking in 1941 of the German battleship Bismarck, among the heaviest to date, was fresh in Elliott’s mind, so Bismarck the child became, although the nickname itself was shortened further, as he also seemed rather hyper-active.
Motor sport, or at least an interest in cars, figured in Bizzy’s life early on; he even managed to have his first accident as a teenager on the way home from school: “I had a bet with ‘Super Mac’ [his good friend Christopher MacKenzie - ed], that I could get from Lodge School to his home at Neil’s Plantation first.”
With Bizzy in an 850 Mini and MacKenzie in his father’s long-legged Austin A60, the result would appear a foregone conclusion . . . except to Bizzy:
“I knew I needed to get out of the Lodge School gap first!” Well, it might have worked, but for the passing Coca Cola truck, which had stopped earlier to offer a lift home to a self-employed painter, who was sitting atop the truck with his bicycle. The last thing Bizzy remembers, before rolling the Mini into a canefield, is seeing man and bicycle flying over his head.
Bizzy’s first venture into motor sport came in the 1963 June Rally, with Mackenzie in the same A60. Being of mechanical bent, Bizzy had created a device to calculate the average speed, which predated the internationally-known Halda . . . of course, the Halda was not designed around Bizzy’s mother’s kitchen clock! For all his ingenuity, that June Rally came to a sorry end, the A60 diving into Green Pond River – the ‘device’ hit the windscreen hard, their June Rally was over, and Bizzy vowed never to be a navigator again. And wasn’t!
As a driver, he became very proficient in the Mobil Mileage Rallies, winning his class with navigator David Edghill in 1965 (Holden Station Wagon – 23.34mpg was still the class record five years later) and ’66 (NSU TT), then again with Mike Atwell in ‘68 (Toyota 1100) and ’70 (Datsun 1600SSS), when they also won overall. He recalled one run, where he turned a Holden on its side in St Lucy: “Once the car was back on its wheels, the rear door slammed and the observer set off into a canefield, not to be seen again.”
In those early days, there were no specialists and most Club members tackled all the events on offer, so the same Holden Station Wagon – “built like a tank”, as Bizzy remembers – was driven in acceleration tests at Seawell, once with a truck engine dropped in overnight. When hill sprints became popular, Bizzy’s name featured in the record books there, too; by 1970, he held the Class 4 record at both Stewarts Hill and Turners Hall in a Triumph GT6, and Class 2 in a Toyota Corolla, in which he also held the Standing Quarter-Mile record.
Much earlier than all of this, on holiday from his studies either in Jamaica (physics) or Trinidad (engineering), he’d been among others racing karts on a dirt track at Lowthers in Christ Church. These included his future wife Wendy (they were married in 1966), Ralph Branch and Michael Gill – “he seemed to have endless money, and the best karts”, remembers Bizzy. Wendy was also extremely competitive, once being banned briefly for running over another kart, that of Alice Ward. Even in those days, attempts to get a competitive edge resulted in some unusual tactics: “One time, we turned the engine upside down to hide additional charge transfer pipes that we installed from the crankcase to the cylinder and to attain a lower centre of gravity; that flew, and we won a few races with it.” His final kart broke in two at Bushy Park . . . some years later, it would become son Stuart’s first competition machine.
When the Club prepared a dirt track at Chancery Lane for racing in 1971, Bizzy recalls: “I didn’t have anything to race, so we took the body off Wendy’s Volkswagen, welded a roll cage front to back, and that was ‘Foolishness’.” At Bushy Park’s opening later that year, Bizzy and Foolishness were there, his home-built special looking strange on the grid alongside more conventional cars like Michael Gill’s Minilan.
Bizzy was among the first to turn to single-seater racing, lining up at the Action 72 Easter meeting in a Terrapin; this record-breaking hillclimb chassis from the UK had caught Bizzy’s attention, so he invited designer Allan Staniforth to Barbados. The trip was a success, and Terrapin Racing & Developments Ltd was registered in January 1972, the island’s first racing car manufacturer. Over the coming seasons, locally-built Terrapins were raced by Colin Goodman, Jeffrey Manning and George Ullyett, Lennox Gonsalves
(St Vincent), Tom Miller (Trinidad), Eric Vieira (Guyana), Richard Machado (Jamaica); the most successful was Mike Atwell, who won the 1300cc class of the newly-introduced Formula Caribbean Championship in 1974 and 1975.
Bizzy and Atwell raced as a team during this period, at home and in Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. They worked on the cars themselves, Bizzy acquiring a Brabham BT28 in 1975; it was in this ex-Tim Schenken Formula 3 car, powered by a 1600cc Lotus Twincam engine built by the team, that he lowered the Bushy Park lap record to 42.6 seconds on February 24, 1975, a mark which stands to this day.
December 1 that same year was a bad day for Bizzy – not only did Atwell suffer a massive start-line accident, but Williams had been out in the fields arguing with some men who were destroying his family’s crops. Bizzy remembers: “The very last race meeting was traumatic, Mike’s accident, the fellers in the fields; after that I just closed the door on racing.” Structural Systems had been registered that year, so Bizzy focused on work, “so much so that one of my nephews told me I’d got miserable and ought to have a break.”
The break took the form of sailing, and Bizzy got hooked on something new; over the next 20 years, catamarans became a major part of his life. He assembled a trampoline catamaran, Why Not, in the Miami river and sailed it non-stop to Barbados in 1982, then had the first 60ft Tiami catamaran built by Peter Spronk in St Maarten. This not only became the basis of the Tiami charter business, but also set a new round-the-island record of 5 hours 11 minutes, helmed by Bizzy. That record was cut to 4 hours 50 minutes in 1997 by Tiami. Silver Bullet, helmed by son Stuart and crewed by Bizzy and Phil Stubbs from New Zealand, who had recently won the inaugural Transatlantic Rowing Race.
Bizzy’s interest in motor sport has been revived, supporting son Stuart, who raced a Starlet at the 1994 Bushy Park finale; having won multiple kart titles, he returned to cars, with 50 victories to his credit within earshot of the family home. It must be in the genes!