Roy Craig tells us about his long-time love of cars and how being an IAM RoadSmart has helped him to improve his driving. Read on to find out more.
Some of Roy Craig’s earliest motoring memories are of weekend trips to the coast in cars owned by his friends’ parents – Ford Anglias, Austin Somersets and Ford Zephyrs, to name but a few.
In fact, Roy’s love for cars was so strong that when he left school at 15 his father encouraged him to take a job at Jack Barclay – now the world’s oldest and largest Bentley dealership, at that time based in London’s Battersea.
As a trainee Roy first worked as a fitter, then in the electricals and finally in the test department – his favourite. “This involved the tuning of the engines, as well as taking the cars on test drives after they were serviced. It was a truly exciting time for me; being driven in those wonderful cars. Needless to say I gleaned much knowledge on the art of driving from the testers,” he says.
Roy took his driving test in 1964, in a Bedford Dormobile owned by the business he worked for after leaving Jack Barclay. He explains that the eclectic range of vans and lorries run by that company gave him plenty of driving experience that he wouldn’t otherwise have had because he couldn’t afford to own a car at the time.
Two years later – in 1966 – Roy moved from London to Berkshire to take a new job driving vehicles for the exhibitions industry. A year later, with the company’s main lorry driver leaving the business, the job of driving the Pantechnicon fell to Roy. “Of course,” he says, “there was no HGV driving test back then, only the requirement to be over than 21-years. I covered many miles around the UK in this vehicle and being a professional driver, it stirred my feelings for wanting to up my overall driving skills.”
Roy first learned of the IAM Roadsmart Advanced Driving Course in what was then Safer Motoring magazine, in which the editor had written a piece about his experience taking the test. So in September 1976, he found himself waiting for his examiner in Old Windsor, with a three-year-old VW Beetle purchased the previous June.
“My examiner was a really nice chap and my nerves settled quite quickly after some reassuring words from him emphasising that a fail would not affect my right to drive. A fail however was not on my agenda,” says Roy, adding: “After a journey that took in A roads, B roads, towns, and motorways for what seemed like a lot longer than 90 minutes, we arrived back in Old Windsor. The delight I felt when I was told I had indeed passed is hard to describe but it proved to be the turning point in my whole attitude to driving.”
And Roy didn’t stop at his Advanced Driving Test. “When browsing through the IAM RoadSmart website one day, I came across the F1rst register and I felt this was something I really wanted to try. So in 2013, I applied for another test: 37 years after my original, I’m very happy to say that not only did I pass, but I achieved a F1rst marking, and in doing so had my name added to the F1rst register, a truly great feeling.”
Over the years Roy has completed many other driving courses to keep his skills up-to-scratch, including skid control, circuit driving, road craft and advanced assessments. He’s also taken part in IAM RoadSmart Skills Days, plus done his best to encourage friends and family to take advantage of the courses IAM RoadSmart offers, with his ex-boss, sister-in-law and old friend all saying how much they’ve appreciated the benefits it brings.
He also enjoys IAM RoadSmart quarterly magazine RoadSmart, which covers topics ranging from vehicle technology and motoring legislation. “The ‘Ask the Experts’ section I find fascinating seeing the questions asked by members can often by an eye-opener.”
Not surprisingly, Roy is an avid motor racing fan, and has raced karts in and outdoors with a lot of good results. He explains: “I can credit Sir Jackie Stewart and his brilliant way of explaining how to drive a racing car to get the best from it, for my deeper interest in the finer art of driving; not faster as such, but being able to make good progress, swiftly and smoothly.
“I entered a driving competition at Silverstone circuit in the 1980s organised by VW Motoring Magazine involving various disciplines, including one popular with Jackie Stewart. It involved a tennis ball attached to a string in a bowl on a car’s bonnet and a timed slalom-type course. The main aim was to be the fastest while keeping the ball in the bowl; a brilliant way of testing one’s smoothness. Others involved quad bikes, karting, reversing vans through obstacles and fast slalom courses. All this took place on a very wet day, each driver accrued points for each event, and I was pleased to be runner up to the eventual winner.”
Today, Roy drives an Audi A4 S Line purchased new in 2007. He says its variable ratio auto gearbox makes it a much more relaxing drive, along with his most loved piece of tech - cruise control. Prior to this he owned a 1983 Mk1 GTI VW Golf for 21 years, covering 250,000 miles. “So I figured a new Audi would comfortably last me for the rest of my days,” he says.
When reflecting on his early years of his driving, Roy says he would be very critical of his attitude: to speed (albeit before a national speed limit), his observation and hazard perception, and more. “Of course, these are things that experience teach us, but thankfully there are also organisations such as IAM RoadSmart, to help us on the way.”
Of course, Roy recognises there is little resemblance between today's road and traffic conditions and those in the 1950s and 1960s. He adds: “And of course, the vehicles are a world apart too. A normal shopping car of today could probably out accelerate Stirling Moss’s Jaguar XK120, at least to 60 mph anyway!”
Roy also stresses the good things about roads today, with safety measures being top, followed by signage, lighting, and road design, while he also acknowledges the technology of today's cars, which makes them far superior to those in years gone by.
“Technology, back when I worked at Jack Barclays was confined to flashing indicators, windscreen washers, the fitting of seat belts and a little round knob that allowed the driver to balance the front and rear radio speakers,” he says, adding: “Obviously the biggest change today is the sheer volume of traffic occupying what seems like every road we travel on. Back in the 1960s on my journeys north on the M1, once past Watford Gap services it was amazing how free of traffic the roads were. Nowadays, every lane at whatever time of day is usually full of vehicles, making it even more important to be fully attentive and aware of everything going on around you. People who say they get bored driving on motorways are quite obviously not doing it properly. To add, what I like least of all is to be stationary in endless queues of traffic, most especially on the M25!”
Since retiring at the age of 65, Roy doesn’t of course cover the miles he once did, but still enjoys every mile he drives. “The joy of feeling the steering wheel in one's hands means a lot to me and the help I have received from IAM RoadSmart over the years has been invaluable and has kept me safe. When I’m asked what I enjoy most about driving, I say it’s having the knowledge to drive within the law, at an appropriate speed, to drive smoothly and courteously, to not have issues with other drivers and most of all to end all journey’s safely.“At the last count I have driven well over a million miles in my lifetime, and I hope to continue for a few more years yet.”