Don Parker

Don Parker

Don Parker was born in Kent in 1908, the son of a horse trader he endured a difficult childhood and ran away from home at the age of twelve. Just after the end of the war, now in his late thirties, Don was running a small engineering shop under the railway arches in Battersea, South London. Another, nearby, railway arch was occupied by Charlie Smith, a successful grass track racer, on bikes, who turned his attention to 500 cc cars with the CFS. Don and Charlie joined forces to build a second car which made its debut at the British Grand Prix meeting in October 1948. Sadly, Charlie was killed in practice for a motorbike race and his widow turned the car over to Don.

He rebuilt the CFS to suit his slight frame, renaming it the Parker Special and gave the revised car its debut at Brough in April '49 winning the Handicap Race. Don finished third at the Goodwood Easter Meeting, to the Coopers of Stan Coldham and "Curly" Dryden, second in Brussels then third in the 100 Mile Race at Silverstone on 9th July to Peter Collins and John Cooper and second on the Non-Production Car race. He set fastest time at Brighton in September and took a number of top five finishes through the year, an impressive first year for a special.

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A classic duel, Don leads Peter Collins during the 100 mile race at Silverstone in July 1949. Don eventually finished third in spite of having to stop for fuel due to the absence of a long range tank.

For 1950, the new Formula 3 was beginning to be dominated by the works Coopers with Manx Norton engines. With only a JAP engine in his own car Don should have been outclassed but he achieved 10 wins including Brough in April, Brands in April, Silverstone in July (twice), Brands in August, Brighton in September, Brands in September and October, plus plus second in the Dutch Grand Prix and third in Monaco plus a series of good placings.

A shot of Don at Brough in March 1951 in his JBS, he would win that day. Photo courtesy of Michael Aikey.

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For 1951, he realised that the Parker Special would no longer be able to compete with the latest Cooper Mk V so Don switched to a JBS and began to receive works JAP engines. Sadly the JBS  concern lost all momentum when Alf Bottoms was killed in the Luxembourg Grand Prix in May. It was, however a competitive car and Don succeeded in being a thorn in the Cooper's side, along with Peter Collins and "Curly" Dryden, throughout the season. He took twelve wins including Brough in March, Boreham in April, Brands Hatch in April, Gosport in June, Croft in July, Brighton, Brands and Gosport in September, Snetterton in October plus numerous heat wins and podiums for fourth in the National Formula 3 Championship.

During this year he met Dora, at Goodwood. Their relationship caused something of a stir as Dora was considerably younger than Don but they married and remained together for the rest of their lives. Significantly at Goodwood in May, Don was invited to drive the prototype Kieft CK 51 and managed to match the time of Stirling Moss who won that day. Don acquired a kit of parts from Kieft which he built up to his own meticulous standard for 1952.

1952 season proved to be an excellent year for Don, now with the right machinery and three full seasons under his belt, he was competitive all year. He took second at Brough on 12th April, second again at Ibsley on the 19th, then a first win at Gosport on the 27th. The International Trophy at Silverstone was a little disappointing, fourth behind the Coopers of Lewis-Evans and Brown and Moss' Kieft but wins followed at Boreham and twice at Snetterton.  At Goodwood in June, Parker took third, then a second to Les Leston in the Senior Race at Brands Hatch and a win at Snetterton on the 28th. At Boreham on 2nd July, Don was second by less than half a second to Brown but ahead of Moss, then fastest at Ramsgate on the 13th. He was unlucky in the Grand Prix at Silverstone, having battled though to the lead ahead of Moss, the primary chain broke on the last time through Stowe to deny him the glory. At Fairwood on the 26th he could only manage third, then a fourth at Prescott the next day followed by a second behind Brown but ahead of Moss at Boreham on 2nd August.

Don leads Stirling in the 1952 Grand Prix Meeting.

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Don leads Les Leston, Snetterton 28th June '52

Parker cartoon.jpg (13569 bytes)Parker won the Sprint Race and International Trophy at Brands Hatch on the 4th then travelled north for a second at Crimond to Ninian Sanderson. Back at Silverstone on 23rd August, Don won the Senior Race but failed to finish the 100 Mile Race after two spins and a blown engine but returned to win on the 6th September. He won again in the Seniors at Brands in September but could only manage fourth at Goodwood on the 27th in spite of leading Moss and Leston early on and was second to Stirling again at Castle Combe in October. At Brough on the 5th, he was beaten by Les Leston in the Scratch Race but took the Handicap win and returned to Brands to win the Seniors and Seniors V Juniors Handicap a week later. In total, Don achieved 22 wins to take the Autosport Formula 3 Championship, Light Car Challenge and Veterans Trophy.

For 1953, Don continued to modify the car and enjoyed even more success. He won 30 races from 44 starts and finished on the podium in a further 12, all against top class opposition, including many who would go on to Formula 1. Don's wins included the Easter 25 and Easter Open at Brands, Snetterton in April, Seniors and Seniors V Juniors Handicap at Brands in May, the International Trophy at Silverstone, after a close race with Reg Bicknell, the Seniors at Brands on the 24th and at Snetterton the next day. Again at Snetterton on 27th June and 25th July, then the International Trophy and August Sprint at Brands on 3rd August. Don gave best to Les Leston at the Inaugural Oulton Park meeting and Moss at Charterhall, then drew on aggregate with Leston at Silverstone on 5th September. Another Snetterton win on the 12th and second to Lewis-Evans at Crystal Palace the following week, returning the favour by 0.4 at Goodwood on the 26th and an easy win at Castle Combe on 3rd October. The next day he was back at Brands to take the Senior Race and Open Challenge wins to close the season, his second championship was a formality.

Immediately after victory at Snetterton, 1953.

For 1954, Don purchased the penultimate Kieft as a rolling chassis and proceeded to modify it to suit his own needs, lightening wherever possible and fitting a slender body to suit his own slight frame, the car is usually referred to as the Parker-Kieft. He came close to a hat trick, battling throughout with Les Leston in the works Cooper Mk VIII. He won at Kirkistown on the 20th March, then the Handicap Race at Brough but could only take third in the Earl of March Trophy behind Les and Reg Bicknell and again at Snetterton on 24th April. Things improved little at Brands on 1st May, second to Bicknell in the Senior Race while Leston could only manage sixth, then excluded from the Whitsun Invitation. Ibsley was no better, second to Les, nor the Silverstone Daily Express meeting; ninth with Leston second to Moss in the Beart Cooper. Even a trip to the Nürburgring proved frustrating, a DNF. Things finally improved at Aintree at the end of May, second to Moss with Jim Russell in third, then a win at Snetterton on the 5th June over Russell and wins in the Open Challenge and Seniors at Brands on Whit Monday. Oulton Park was a disaster, a DNF with Leston winning but honours were even at Brands on Independence Day, Les winning the Open Challenge and Don taking the Senior Race. The return to Oulton was better, Don winning the Beart Trophy from Jim Russell with Les out of the running but the Grand Prix was mixed, only seventh to Moss. A win at Fairwood on 24th July then the Open Challenge at Brands on 2nd August, third in the 75 Mile Race at the Oulton Park Gold Cup and second at Snetterton on the 14th to Russell and finally, domination at Castle Combe with two wins while Leston only able to manage a brace of thirds. The Brighton Speed Trials brought second fastest time to Ken Tyrrell and the Redex Trophy would have been disappointing, fifth in the final, were it not for Leston only managing sixth. A rare hillclimb outing resulted in a second to Austen May at Prescott on 18th September, then joy at Goodwood on the 25th with a win over Moss by 0.2 seconds after a race long tussle involving four cars. Both protagonists had to give best to Stirling and Ivor Bueb at Aintree on 2nd October, Leston just ahead. Don won at Brough and again at Snetterton on the 9th beating Jim and Les and thought he had won the championship at Cadwell Park in October with a second to Ivor Bueb but an extra race was added for Boxing Day at Brands Hatch. Bueb won the Christmas Trophy from Stuart Lewis-Evans, both in Cooper Mk VIIIs. Les Leston was third, debuting the new Mk IX and Don, fourth so Les took the title by half a point!

1954 was one of the most competitive seasons of racing ever, Don had to contend with the works Coopers of Les Leston and Stuart Lewis-Evans, plus the up and coming Jim Russell and Ivor Bueb in private Coopers as well as Moss in the Beart Cooper. That he could carry the contest to the last round, alone and in a car that was essentially a four year old design, is a tribute to his skills in and out of the cockpit.

Don paints the race numbers on the Parker-Kieft

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In the Spring of 1955, Kieft cars handed over support and maintenance of all Formula 3 cars to Don but they they were in trouble from the start. Though Moss was no longer racing in Formula 3, due to his Mercedes contract, Coopers now had their latest and definitive 500, the Mk IX with Jim Russell and Ivor Bueb driving, both having proved themselves during '54. They also had strength in depth with Stuart Lewis-Evans, David Boshier-Jones, new boys Cliff Allison and Henry Taylor.

Don still took 10 wins including his 100th including twice at Castle Combe on 9th April and the Yuletide Trophy plus many podiums. An impressive tally for a man building and maintaining his own engine and car but not enough to stay with Jim and Ivor.

on the trailer at Goodwood in 1955

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Exiting Druids Hairpin, Brands Hatch in 1955

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For 1956, Don stayed with his Kieft for the first half of the season and managed a win at Brough on 25th March then bowed to the inevitable and switched to  a Cooper-Norton. The change didn't immediately bring about a significant improvement, sixth at the Daily Express meeting, Silverstone on 5th May (in Henry Taylor's Mk VIII), the same at Brands on the 20th, a DNF at Goodwood on the 21st.and tenth in the Midsummer 100 at Aintree. Fourth at Brands on 1st July was a step in the right direction, then third at Mallory Park on the 7th and fourth at Brands in the Daily Telegraph Trophy on the 6th August. Don took third in the John Bull Trophy at Oulton then second at Snetterton on 2nd September and a hard fought second at Goodwood showed that he was getting to grips with the Cooper. Finally, a win, albeit in the Second Final at Brands Hatch on 9th September followed by an outright win at Mallory on the 16th. Second to Russell at Snetterton on the 7th October and third at Brands on the 14th closed a mixed season, Don was never really in touch with Jim Russell, by then at the top of his game.

1957 proved little better, still in the Cooper, Don achieved numerous podiums but it took until August to take a win at Mallory and again Russell would take the title.

'58 started better with a win at Snetterton in March, then Brands in April and second to Jim Russell in the Daily Express Trophy in May. The World Sports Trophy earned Don a reprimand from the RAC for his part in an unfortunate incident with Alan Cowley. Then a second to Trevor Taylor at Brands on the 18th and to Tommy Bridger at Crystal Palace and third to both of them back at Brands in June.

Another win at Mallory Park on 28th June followed by second to Taylor in the Redex Trophy at Crystal Palace and second in the Grand Prix to Stuart Lewis-Evans. Second again in the Vanwall Trophy at Snetterton on 27th July and third in the Commander Yorke Trophy to Trevor Taylor and Jack Lewis. Parker finished third to Tommy Bridger and Lewis-Evans himself in the Lewis-Evans Trophy at Brands on the 30th August and won the Archie Scott-Brown Memorial Trophy at Snetterton followed by third at Goodwood on 27th September and finally a win at Brands on Boxing Day. Not quite the winning ways of '52 and '53 but a respectable season for a man nearly 50 years old.

By 1959, most of his early rivals had moved to the senior categories but a new generation of drivers were now cutting their teeth in in Formula 3. Don won at Snetterton, twice at Brands, Oulton, Crystal Palace plus numerous podiums and heat wins to claim his third and final Formula 3 championship He retired shortly after having chosen not to move to Formula 2 or 1 and rarely raced in any other category. He had amassed a huge number of wins over a ten year period, despite coming to racing quite late in life. Eventually Don moved to the South Coast and died in 1998 at the age of 89.