like so many in the Mondello paddock, I was deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of David Sheane. I am just one of the countless people he helped to begin motor racing.
Many moons ago, my mother had suddenly decided she wanted a classic Beetle as her road car. Dad sourced one and was restoring it and having it resprayed. I think it came with a spare engine, which, being surplus to requirements, was in the back garden for a few years afterwards. When my mate Donal Loughrey moved up from karts to Vees, we were both regular visitors to David’s Blainroe workshops. I asked David if he wanted the engine before my Dad disposed of it and subsequently dropped it down. David wanted to pay me for it but I said he could have it. He decided that he would pay me by giving me a Vee for a race! I was racing karts at the time but had been going to Mondello since I was a young kid, myself and Dad having rarely missed a race meeting, so imagine how excited I was about actually racing a car there! I ended up buying my own Vee and subsequently running a Formula Vee race team and was always supported and assisted by David.
When Dad and I were on the way to Mondello, we would often pass a dark blue Passat estate with a wooden trailer behind and a small man at the wheel- this was David. The reason I mention this is that it featured in a typical David story years later. In 1994, I was running near the front on the Saturday of the Phoenix Park races. David came by and asked how it was going. I said I felt was a small bit down on power. Before I knew it, he was disconnecting the radius arms to get the heads off to grind the valves. Typical of the support David gave most of the paddock. While he was doing this, I thought I would help by cleaning the engine down with a can of petrol and a paint brush. It was all going nicely until I touched the master switch with the metal band of the paint brush and the resultant spark lit the whole thing up. I compounded matters by dropping the blazing paint brush into the can of petrol….. As the petrol blazed, I kicked the can away from my beloved Vee. It flew through the air in a ball of flames- and straight into the side of the aforementioned Passat. To cut a long story short, we were beating everything with coats, blankets, you name it before, luckily, Johnny Taylor was driving by and had an extinguisher in his van. He jumped out and put everything out in seconds. David came back over and once it was clear that the car was ok and nobody was hurt, his trademark grin appeared. I already knew I would never hear the end of it- and I still haven’t! The Passat had been blackened all down the rear quarter panel so I got the Mer polish out (remember that stuff?) and went at it. A few minutes of hard work later and we discovered that the original colour was far lighter than the dark blue. The whole car then got a polish and once again, David found it highly amusing. As a postscript to that one, the freshened up motor was an absolute screamer, allowing me to battle with Ray Moore and Brian Hearty for the win. (Hearty pipped me to the line by two tenths, I’m not bitter!)
There are so many stories like the above from literally hundreds of people who raced Vees over the years. David loaned out cars and parts to anyone who needed them. He supported people who otherwise couldn’t have raced at all. He loved nothing more than to watch a good scrap in a Vee race and to discuss it with the drivers afterwards. He also loved to see the success of former Vee drivers who went onto success in other classes. When Donal Loughrey won two Formula Opel titles, David was amongst the first to congratulate him and I remember when I raced the Uniroyal Funcup Beetles in Mondello in 2005, I somehow managed to get from 8th up to challenge BTCC driver Eugene O’Brien for the lead. I met David in the paddock afterwards and he made a beeline for me. “Gosh, you fairly showed those English lads how to drive” he grinned. High praise indeed, I was delighted.
David also supplied Formula Vees to Mondello Park for the Motor Racing School in the 1990s, often loaning them extra cars when required. This connection became even stronger when Mondello, with Martin Birrane back at the helm, wanted to upgrade their single seaters. The Formula Sheane concept had originally appeared with a VAG 1.8 engine but Martin Birrane was involved in the Phoenix consortium which had bailed out Rover at the time. This meant a ready supply of Rover K series engines were available and David was involved in fitting them in the cars for the first time. Formula Sheane continue to run that engine today! Mondello Park’s corporate fleet may have moved with the times, but still includes ten immaculately prepared Formula Sheanes, these days marketed as the “Single Seater Thrill Experience”!
Mondello’s Chief Instructor Ken Elliott asked an interesting question recently. How many people have driven Sheane cars? Hundreds, a few thousand? Think again, said Ken. Mondello’s corporate and voucher business has always been the lifeblood of the business and the Sheanes, and Vees before them, have probably clocked up millions of laps in the last thirty years. It is probably safe to say that over 250,000 people have therefore driven David’s creations. I wonder if he ever thought that would happen when he was making his first Vee chassis in the 1970s….
David also designed and built many VW powered Sporting Trials (Mudplug) cars, and has even been credited with breaking the Ford Sidevalve stranglehold on the discipline, many moons ago. Technology moves on, and there are now some highly advanced and expensive machines at the front of the sport. Sometimes though, when the planets align, an “old fashioned” VW engined machine can still take the win- you can immediately imagine that grin again!
David is owed a vast debt of gratitude, not just from the many many people he helped, but indeed by Irish Motorsport as a whole. I, along with many others, will always be grateful to him simply for making motor racing accessible.
To Evelyn, Alida and Glenda and the rest of David’s family, we extend our sympathies. David, and indeed his famous grin, will never be forgotten.
Header Image. Dan Polley, in a 1994 Sheane, leads a pack of battling Vees into Turn One at Mondello Park. Credit. Michael Chester.