Short Circuit – The Beginning until April 2002
Printed in the April 2002 issue. Story Paul Huggett
For some reason. I couldn’t get to the races, the very first meeting at which ‘Short Circuit’ magazine – or as it was then known, ‘Short Circuit Motor Racing Review'” went on sale. Myself and Peter Hopgood, a mate from work (I was then working as a sales rep for a builders merchants) had put together the first issue and Pete had gone to Wimbledon to get the sales started. He had written a couple of pieces for that issue number 1, and would help as Assistant Editor for just a couple more before deciding that helping to publish a racing magazine wasn’t for him: but when the phone rang at 8pm on that Saturday night and it was Pete telling me that all available copies had gone before the Spedeworth fans had really sat down for the night’s racing, we believed that the idea for a magazine covering all aspects of the sport was a good ‘un.
That was just as well, because by the time numbers 2 and 3 had rolled off the presses at Hastings, I had already decided that it would require a bit more commitment than I could give while working for someone else, and had announced to the then Mrs. H. that I would be giving up my job and company car to write a book on racing and publish ‘Short Circuit’ and anything else I could think of racing-related. Bearing in mind it was just a few months shy of the birth of Number 2 son (Gareth is now coming up to 25 – the same age as ‘SC’!) it wasn’t the best idea I could spring on someone, but there you go. The former Mrs. H never did like racing much anyway.
I really didn’t enjoy being a rep – selling is very definitely NOT my forte – much less the idea of promotion. Even with a good old firm like M. P. Harris (long since absorbed into the corporate world of Builder Centres, where I definitely wouldn’t have fitted in) the prospect of promotion into Manager, with all the aggravation that involved tor another 2k a year and a Ford Cortina didn’t appeal, so the payback from the company pension scheme went into tiding one over a few very thin months in the winter of 1977. while there were not even the number of winter meetings there are now. and thus no income for an impoverished publisher!
The seeds of producing ‘my’ magazine had been long sown and a long time sprouting. In the early sixties, when as a racing mad kid I had read every word in Peter Arnold’s ‘Stock car Racing News’ and Spedeworth’s ‘Stock Car Journal’ time and time again, only big firms published magazines, or so I thought. It took a revolution in the way printing was done, and the early seventies boom in ‘Free’ newspapers and the like enabled by the ‘new technology’, to make a comparatively small run publication viable. The long and dry summer of 1976 had seen the Huggett and associated in-laws up in North Wales, and while waiting for a steam train ride up Snowdon on a blistering afternoon. I found in the gift shop a little magazine, quite a few pages thick, called ‘Narrow Gauge Times’. Surely, I thought, if a publication so specialised, catering for the people who enjoy, one way or another, the ‘Great Little Trains’ of Wales and elsewhere, can be made to work, then a magazine covering not just the racing of one promoter or body of promoters could too?
I had watched racing for almost twenty years by then (I started very young!) had raced in Bangers at Arlington and for several seasons on the dirt tracks in Sussex and Kent, and had a year or two as commentator at my local club. There was accessible BriSCA racing still at Crayford, and PRI were in full swing with a half dozen tracks in the southeast, as well as Spedeworth running weekly at Arlington, just twenty miles from home, and a regular haunt since the mid sixties, and Aldershot. Wimbledon was still drawing huge crowds then and while the East Anglian tracks were a bit out of reach, and to get to the Midlands – say Coventry, Leicester or Brafield – still meant a trip right through London to get to the M1, I was sure that publishing a magazine would be a good enough excuse for going racing a lot more than I had been……………..
Dave Burton, an old mate with whom I had once been in a band, and had drunk a LOT of beer with over the years, confirmed that a small size, small print run. magazine was a very viable possibility, particularly if you kept it basically in black and white, with maybe some spot colour on the cover. What’s more, as he and a group of other ex-journos and sales bods were already well up the ladder in running a small group of local free papers, and looking to expand their studio in graphic design and typesetting work, they, the ‘Hastings News’ group were just the boyos for the job. If I did all the basic stuff, wrote it. got the pictures, worked out what went where, and sold a bit of advertising, they could get it put together for the end printing, which another local firm with spare capacity and the right size machines (the plants that produce a weekly paper by the many thousand are rather different, the more so in 1977) could run off.
Many hours of phone calls, sometimes provoking some serious aggro at home, solicited opinion and advice from promoters I knew – i.e. Spedeworth, as I had been the local racing correspondent for a couple of local papers in the early seventies, covering Cross in Hand and Arlington, and many others that I didn’t. I uncovered tracks I never knew existed, by the dozen, and the biggest percentage of people I spoke to were positive – a magazine that covered all kinds of short track racing would be a Good Thing, and if it enabled the sport to be less fragmented, and advertising of meetings to be done somewhere where the whole readership was actually interested in racing, so much the better. There were, of course, those less enthusiastic, as well as some wise counsel from ‘older hands’ than I in racing.
Les and Mavis at Spedeworth confirmed that, as they had abandoned ideas of reviving the ‘Journal’, they would sell my product and many independent clubs as well as professional promotions were delighted with the idea of a bit of coverage at last – ‘Motoring News’ wouldn’t even give Hot Rods, Superstox or BriSCA racing the time of day in that era, much less Norwich Banger Club or Pembroke Hell Drivers. Len Porter at PRI was most helpful, giving me some useful extra contacts like John Wilson at Bovingdon (a track which was unknown to me at the time – which was why I was doing what I was doing!) and a few others, as well as giving me advice on how to approach prickly old customers like the late Mike Parker, promoter at a good many tracks, including Crayford. “And I don’t expect Brian Steed, at ‘Grid’ magazine will be too delighted with you” said Len.
He was right, and for many years Coombe Valley Raceway, Dover, was unlikely to be a place at which ‘yours truly’ was very welcome (Steed ran that) but in all honesty, we never set out to do any other magazine damage. In fact. ‘Grid’, as well as the various specialist mags covering F1 Stock cars, which were enjoying a huge fan following particularly in the North, and ‘Formula 2 Review’, where we got on well with the ever amiable Graham Bunter. were all essential reading for me – I enjoyed them all. I just felt that racing should be covered in a way that was not beholden to one promoter or one division of racing.
So we covered Stox and Rods, Bangers and Midgets, Autograss and Bombers, BriSCA, Spedeworth, PRI, and NASA. We helped set up SEGTO, to bring southern clubs with a ragbag selection of rules and classes together. I got hired by ‘Chick’ Woodroffe to commentate at Iwade and Lydden. I got to know a lot of people, and, basically, providing a track would let us through the gates to write about their racing, we’d try and go, or find someone who could.
After Pete Hopgood jumped ship. Francis Blay came on board as ‘Assistant Ed’ and did a great job for several years. He was an excellent ambassador for the magazine, everyone liked him and he was diplomatic enough to handle difficult things where, – shall we say more irascible people (hem hem) – might put their foot in it. He was SEGTO’s Competition Secretary for a while, and lived! He could take a good photo, and had a mate, Dave Bearne, who was even better, the latter taking some classic pix for ‘Short Circuit’. The ‘Motor Racing Review’ tag (I have NO idea why I used it!) lasted for a few years, and then we knocked it off.
I met a burly gent at Bovingdon, one blustery autumn day, who announced he was Jim Crucefix, track photographer. I thought he was scary. But no, ‘Big Jim’ and I have been firm friends ever since and had many a laugh at, or on the way to, a race meeting. He has often stitched me up in many amusing ways and I’m glad to say we’ve rekindled the ‘balded one’s’ interest in going racing and taking pictures in recent years. Sadly. Francis Blay decided he’d had enough at some point in the eighties, got married, quit the sport and we haven’t seen him since. That’s the way it goes in and around racing.
Some drivers we used to write about are still at it. Some have sons or daughters, even grandchildren, on the tracks where they used to run. Many of the tracks we used to visit are no more, but happily a few others have been added or adapted for our kind of racing.
So. it was a few very busy years for Paul K. Huggett, publisher. Only snag was. he didn’t really want to BE a publisher, much less one having to sell advertising and then chase the money for payment; and what’s more, despite acquiring, if I say so myself, something of a talent for budgetary control and making do on very little. I wasn’t making any money and each winter would be a round of scraping for the mortgage and taking on freelance jobs I didn’t always enjoy, and sometimes, it must be said, fielding bitter recriminations, though not too many I suppose in hindsight. One winter, working in the Studio at the ‘News’ as cover for a graphics guy on a ‘sabbatical’ (basically, I was nailing classified ads together and learning to operate a process camera) I became aware that the News Group had a problem with couriers and transport, and volunteered to do a few jobs with hired vans, which led to starting up “Short Circuit Transport’ as a secondary business.
That was over twenty years ago now. The ‘Hastings News’ has long gone, the whole group having been sold on to another group, that group being sold to EMAP and onwards, the way it goes, but much of my daily bread is still earned by ‘Short Circuit Transport’. It’s a small time operation, still – I have no taste for selling or big business remember? – but the neat thing is. I now do the bit of ‘Short Circuit Magazine” that I love doing. Writing about racing, taking photographs of racing, watching racing, talking and hanging out with racers. Perfick, as the man said.
Early in 1983 or thereabouts, the strain of producing the magazine to schedule, helping promoters produce their programmes, stickers and stuff related to racing, growing the transport side – which was easier then, I might tell you, before national Network couriers, pallet services and electronic data transmission systems came on strong – writing freelance for a few other magazines, like ‘Auto Performance’, and ‘Sports Car Mechanics’, and a bunch of other things, all got a bit much. Something had to give.
For a short while I wanted to pack the magazine up altogether, but Dave Burton talked me round, suggested I get someone else in to help run it, taking more of the responsibility and relaunch the mag in full colour A4 format, which was by then becoming affordable, and get an Advertising Rep. Dave actually put up some of the money and we re-launched under the Newsfocus Ltd banner, and the mag finally became ‘Short Circuit’ as you know it. OK, it wasn’t 1977 any more, when it sold for 18p a throw (!) but we could still make it a fairly modest cover price, and be competitive.
At one point, we’re told, we actually started to outsell long established BriSCA mags like ‘Stock Car” at places like Coventry – but I’ve no idea who came up with that to be honest, and once again, if I’m not exactly on Keith Barber’s Christmas card list, it wasn’t ever my intention to supplant more specialist papers, rather to augment them.
Enter Ann Neal, as Short Circuit’s acting editor. Ann was young, personable, ambitious and being an attractive girl didn’t harm the prospects of getting stories out of drivers, or ads out of sponsors. Ann was able to change the way the magazine looked, take some of the load off me – though, unfortunately, it was more the sort of things I did like doing than the opposite – and was involved with ‘Short Circuit’ at management level for much of the eighties, in fact for some time after I finally relinquished my position as publisher altogether.
That state of affairs came about for a variety of reasons. The transport business was quite good, I was enjoying writing freelance – the reason ‘Sports Cars Mechanics’ had got me doing stuff was because original editor, likeable eccentric Tony Bostock was always a huge oval fan, but I rather blew that connection when another guy took over as editor, and I fired him in the wall at Arena-Essex in a media Banger race! Well, I was in a hurry, and I was anxious to avoid being caught by Linda Keen – another valuable early ‘SC contributor, and one very scary lady in a Banger!
The main problem was the Advertising Rep. a fellow called Jeremy. He could, and would, sell an ad to anyone – in racing or out. and whether they had any intention of paying or not! These days, due to the sensible way Mark and Marie do business, bad debts are minimal and unrelated advertising – some of it quite embarrassing to recall – are in the past, but it wound me up and putting up with all the stuff I hate about business, meant it was time to quit. An afternoon where I found myself sitting in the nearby park with a can of beer and with my head in my hands, after a particularly unpalatable conversation with a promoter, now long deceased, who had a few issues to address, was the crunch, and in 1985 Ann Patricia Neal found herself owner of ‘Short Circuit’. The magazine veered for a while in the direction of circuit racing type advertisers and to be honest, I found it very little to my taste after a while. No detriment to Ann, but as with much that was around in the Eighties, I found style taking precedence over substance, so I dropped out for a while.
Ann owned ‘Short Circuit’ for two years until the mag. was taken over by John Kirkpatrick (Jim Russell Driver Racing School at Donnington Park) but he didn’t have the time needed to publish the magazine. After an unsuccessful 1988 issue, where advertising revenue was at an all time low, John decided to sell the magazine. Mark Haddleton of YBA Publications (who at that time was publishing Incarace programmes and was track photographer at Hednesford and Birmingham Wheels) took over ‘Short Circuit’ and after a short pause to take stock of the financial implications and to re-organise production and distribution, re-launched the magazine and over the years Mark has developed ‘Short Circuit’ in his own style and made the magazine financially viable again.
Mark asked me if I would like to write some stuff from time to time and I became reunited with the old comic and became Assistant Editor. I have to say, like much of the rest of my life, the period from the early nineties to date has been a blast. Racing has, in my opinion, stabilised from a period of free-fall, and looks more professional while retaining most if not all of what I love about short tracks, while the wider racing world at least treats us like cousins if not exactly blood brothers.
I think – no, I am certain – that ‘Short Circuit Magazine’ under Mark’s publishing hand has become more attractive and has better content and writers, and superior photographs, all of this helped by modern computer capabilities and the digital age generally.
Yes, some people still have issues. No, we can’t please everyone. Sorry, but we don’t necessarily have a ten column centimetre report on the particular race you won, but we do have people who care about racing operating on the working end of keyboards and cameras, and we still have a commitment to short track oval racing. It does what it says on the cover! O.K., we will look outside that world from time to time and we believe you the readers want that.
There are new challenges, not least the Internet, but as many a would-be Webmaster has found, keeping a good racing site up to date is tough to do, and virtually impossible to sustain if it doesn’t make any money, which mostly they don’t. Full marks to dedicated types like (the late) Roger Venison, and others, who are doing a great job. We have made a point of getting involved with the Web, via www.shortcircuitmag.com and we are now starting to get more E-mails than we used to get letters, so that’s great.
There is, and will be, new competition in the printed word and picture – Great, bring ’em on! Remember ‘Rods and Stocks’…..? Yeah? Well who is still publishing and who isn’t…? The better magazines survived with ‘Short Circuit’ and we will do our best to BE the best. No compromise on quality. You read this because it looks good, we have at least some idea of what we are on about (well, most of the time anyway), and we can provide that bit more insight into your sport, whether you are a competitor or a fan. There are those who occasionally snipe at us, either because of what we do or don’t cover, but basically – and this isn’t anything related to me personally – I don’t believe anyone does it better!
We no longer cover Banger racing regularly, which might seem odd as the Bash Boys (and Girls) form such an important part of short track racing, but the reason is straightforward enough. When I started the mag. Bangers hadn’t developed into such a big deal as they are now. Now we have the big crash-fests, the immaculately prepared cars, and there is a whole, entirely separate, culture that has developed around that sector of the sport. It needs, and indeed deserves, its own magazine.
Mark tried it, it wasn’t entirely successful. It made getting ‘SC’ out on time a harder job, ‘Bangers – The Crash Magazine’ wasn’t financially viable, so Mark stopped it. There were numerous ‘Fanzines’ on offer at the time (there are far fewer now) and the decision was made to concentrate on all the rest that the short tracks offer. In itself, that is quite a task. Don’t forget we have added Legends, Rebels, several varieties of Hot Rod, Lightning Rods, Sprint Cars, and a bunch more diverse racing classes since we started up in ’77. Even Autograss, a staple feature of the early ‘SC’, has all but disappeared from these pages, because that sport became pretty huge for a while in sheer competitor numbers if not fan base and, if you remember, we published ‘National Grass Racer’ as a separate title back when I was publishing. It worked well, catering for a sport with its own flavour, tracks and stars. We still feature the odd item on Grassing, but basically Jeff Parish’s admirable ‘Autograss Review’ magazine, which carried on where we left off – indeed I am flattered when Jeffrey cites me as a ‘major influence’, which once again makes me feel rather too grown up for my own liking – that does the job in a style and at a cost the Autograss fraternity can live with.
Banger racing will be much enhanced, I’m sure, by the launch of Michael Coventry’s attractive and well written ‘Wasted’ magazine. Mike knows lots about Bangers and racing generally, he is from a long established racing family, and can write well, and quickly. We wish him well, and I am sure that our two publications will complement each other perfectly.
Over the years, we’ve really tried to make it all work and if you take on the job of covering a complete sport, you are going to disappoint a few people who feel that their area of interest is not given top billing, but many many more will take the view that it’s all racing, all interesting, and that we are doing our best. Maybe 25 years in business proves that…..maybe not.
If I had really wanted to make a lot more money, I would have moved away from the short tracks, and taken more interest in Grand Prix racing or got into PR for the Power Tour, or maybe upped sticks and gone to America and tried to blag a job with NASCAR. But that isn’t racing the way I like it. That won’t stop me taking an interest in new ideas – like ASCAR – as they come along, providing I can relate to what they are set up to do, but basically, I like those short, tight little tracks where you can see all the action – and so do you. Maybe we’ll still be going to such tracks together in another 25 years, but if you get in my way while I’m trying to take a photo, I might have to nudge you one with my Zimmer!