Eoin S Young 1939 - 2014
Everybody at McLaren is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Eoin Young, who was involved in the formation of McLaren as Bruce McLaren's friend and secretary.
Below follow the thoughts of Maurice Hamilton, Eoin's great friend.
This tribute to Eoin Young will inevitably be personal for the simple reason that, without him, I would never have become a motorsport journalist. I might have thrashed around on the fringes but it was Eoin’s mentoring and friendship that provided the vital leg-up to Formula 1 and taught me everything about the value of professionalism he espoused for more than 50 years. He also, it has to be said, passed on colourful lessons in life, and explained how a keen young lad should survive as a freelance writer in F1.
Eoin Young understood me because he had started out as a bank clerk in New Zealand but had spent his spare time filing motorsport reports for his local newspaper, the Timaru Herald. It was while following club races that he quickly appreciated the potential of a young Kiwi driver by the name of Bruce McLaren. Eoin may have been thinking initially of Bruce’s value as an important source of stories but a rapidly blossoming friendship would lead to opportunities far beyond his wildest dreams when working in the bank.
When Bruce won the New Zealand ‘Driver to Europe’ scholarship in 1958, Eoin followed his progress with the Cooper Formula 1 team from a distance and stayed in touch by ghosting Bruce’s columns for publications in New Zealand. It was inevitable that the typical Antipodean lure of travel should entice Eoin to Europe in 1961 to see the racing at first hand. Believing that was the end of his overseas experience, he returned home in time for the 1961/62 Tasman Series, a friendly off-season diversion for the F1 teams.
“I was at the Longford race in Tasmania early in 1962 when Bruce said he wanted to talk to me when we got back to Britain,” recalled Eoin. “I’d just spent my first year in Britain and I told him I wasn’t going back because I’d been offered a job as the motoring editor of the Hobart Mercury. He said he wanted me to be his secretary. I asked him what a secretary to a racing driver would do, and he said he wasn’t sure but that the other drivers seemed to have secretaries, so I could be his. I had done my Big O.E. [Overseas Experience] the previous summer, travelling the Formula Junior circuit in Europe with Denny Hulme. And now, to the surprise of everyone I knew (including me), I was back in Europe.
“Being secretary boiled down to doing the typing at home and travelling with Bruce to the races as general gofer. We worked together on his regular magazine articles for Autosport and syndicated to other magazines and newspapers in New Zealand. It seemed like a dream job. It was.”
Eoin became a director of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd when Bruce started his own team, primarily to race in the Tasman Series and then the Can-Am sports car championship in North America.
“It seemed to me that being a director meant finding decent – perhaps ‘decent’ isn’t the right word – workshops and, as an aside to that, places for the motley collection of people to live,” recalled Eoin. “We’d been living in shared flats all round Kingston-upon-Thames and we – Tyler Alexander, Teddy Mayer and [mechanic] Wally Willmott - decided to find somewhere together. I found this huge house that the agents couldn’t rent and we took that. It became known as The Castle and, when there was an international race as Brands Hatch, we’d have people like Graham Hill, Chris Amon, AJ Foyt and Roger Penske come to the parties. These would go all hours; visits from friendly policemen responding to neighbours’ complaints. Proper parties.”
When McLaren stepped up to Formula 1 in 1966, Eoin decided to move on and deal with what had become a healthy roster of columns and features. He had married Sandra Bourne (former secretary to John Surtees), settled down in the Surrey village of East Horsley and boosted his income and reputation by starting a weekly F1 diary with Autocar magazine. ‘From The Grid’ would run for 31 years and be syndicated at its height to seven other magazines worldwide. It was required reading for everyone within Formula 1, never mind fans such as I, watching from the outside.
Eoin had not severed his ties with McLaren. When Gulf Oil sponsored the Can-Am effort (and, later, the Formula 1 team), he was employed to handle the PR, a role he would later take up with Tyrrell when Elf arrived as a title sponsor for a Formula 1 team not 15 minutes from his Surrey home and office. The increase in workload coincided with my arrival as a wannabe writer.
We had first met at Monaco in 1974 - at the Tip Top bar. It was a portent of things to come. Later that year, I blagged my way into the paddock at the Nürburgring – as was my wont since I was a sales rep, writing club reports and trying to get into the sport full time. Wearing his Elf cap, Eoin said Jackie Stewart (in his first year of retirement) was taking journalists around the Nordschleife in a BMW 7-series. If he got me a seat, could I write something? I didn’t need a second bidding.
A few days later, I knocked on Eoin’s front door and presented my story. He read it through, said we should tweak the intro slightly but, otherwise, not only did he like it, he would send the feature with his recommendation to contacts around the globe. It was duly published in several magazines. Eoin did this without fanfare or discussion about taking a percentage of the fees. But, typically, he had a quiet agenda on the go.
This episode had been an audition in a manner of speaking. Satisfied that I had possibilities and seemed a reasonable sort of chap, he offered me a job as assistant to help deal with a workload created by Elf and other Tyrrell sponsors such as First National City Bank. The pay would be minimal (half of what I was earning as a salesman) but, in return, he would look after me and take me to the races. Talk about an offer a bachelor without a mortgage or other hindrances could not refuse. I started work with Motormedia (the name of his business) on 1 January 1977.
This was before Business Class had been invented. Eoin would invoice his clients for First Class travel for himself; that way he could afford Economy for us both. Besides, he reckoned it was more fun ‘at the back of the bus’ with the lads; the philosophy of a man with the dual purpose of enjoying himself while gathering gossip for his column.
We shared rooms and travelled together for almost 10 years. During that time, there was never a cross word on the understanding that, if I screwed up, I got to hear about it. Immediately. In words of one syllable. And that would be the end of it. Life with Eoin was never dull because he not only knew everyone who mattered but he was also respected by them and was invited without hesitation to the inner sanctum of wherever we happened to be.
This was the beginning of PR in Formula 1 and Eoin set the standard in every sense. Paddock hospitality was unheard of in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Eoin persuaded Elf of the benefit of providing a buffet lunch under the Tyrrell motorhome awning for media then making do with a hamburger van – if they were lucky. He never mentioned the brand, relying instead on a small note stuck to motorhome wall above the table of food: ‘For what we are about to receive, may we say Elf Team Tyrrell.’ Nothing more needed to be said.
Space was limited but the Young method of guest invitation was direct and simple. If he thought you were okay, you were in. If a dubious character appeared, Eoin would ask if he had an invitation. If the unwanted guest said no, he was shown the exit. And if the cheeky reply was yes, the response would be the same because ‘There are no invitations. Good afternoon!’
The method of entertainment went up a level – about 70 levels in fact – when we got to Detroit each year. The racing people from Elf, being very French, had no interest in having dinner with important clients who were very American. So Eoin, with me as his sidekick, got to host a long and well refreshed dinner each night in a revolving restaurant on the 72nd floor of the Renaissance Centre. This tower block also housed the hotel, which was just as well since the method of navigating back to our room via a high-speed lift proved hazardous enough without the added risk of venturing outside. The Elf guests loved being entertained by two guys with funny accents. They thought Eoin, Elf and Formula 1 were wonderful, a message Eoin duly relayed to his grateful employers.
He had the happy knack of making business a pleasure – but without compromising his reputation in the slightest. His advice on feature writing was straightforward: “Write to length; write exactly what’s required in the brief; be a day ahead of your deadline and make it neat (this was in the days before computers, when copy had to be typed). If you follow that, you’ll survive. If you don’t, you won’t – no matter how good you are.”
He had little time for anyone who failed to understand what he saw as the basic rules of journalistic life. When pressed, he would have no hesitation in letting the guilty party know. Asked to do a road test for a Surrey society magazine that took itself far too seriously, Eoin disliked the car only marginally more that the pompous editor and his derisory fee. When the man had the audacity to tell Eoin to completely rewrite the story because the local dealer for this unfortunate car was “a jolly important advertiser”, Young exploded: “You don’t pay enough to mess me around” and slammed down the phone. Except he didn’t say “mess”.
He got through a prodigious amount of work. I watched in wonder as, each Tuesday, he would sit down and write his column, typed clean first time around. He found it easy. “I imagine I’m in the bar with the lads, telling them what it was like at last weekend’s race” was the method behind a chatty style. But it did not explain a wonderful turn of phrase and searing wit that made Eoin Spence Young the outstanding Formula 1 columnist of his generation. That and the most brilliant mentor you could wish for.
By Maurice Hamilton