No single name is more synonymous with the sport of hot rod racing in Northern Ireland than Ormond Christie, but it was in the stock car formula that Ormond made his racing debut in the early seventies. Ormond spent a total of five years in the single-seaters and represented his country in the World Final at Wembley in 1974, but when Tommy Shaw introduced hot rods to the province in 1975 the non-contact class captured his imagination.
Armed with a Ford Anglia Ormond made the switch at the start of the 1977 season and completed a solid first campaign in the rods as runner-up to Alastair Jackson in the points chart. A new car was prepared for the following season, a Triumph Spitfire. The Gordon Mairs Tyres backed machine appeared an odd choice at the time, but took Ormond to his first title when he captured the British Championship at Cowdenbeath. This was also the first hot rod title won by an Ulsterman on the mainland. Before the end of the season the Points title was added along with the Irish closed title at Raceway.
The governing body subsequently banned the Spitfire at the end of the season and Ormond returned the following year with another Triumph model, the Vitesse, in which he successfully defended both his British and Irish titles. Almost unbelievably the NHRPA banned the Vitesse as well at the end of the 1979 season. It wasn't meant to appear that the governing body were sorting out this paddy who kept coming over and beating their boys in these oddball creations, but that’s how it seemed at the time!
Once again Ormond was forced to build his third different type of car in as many seasons and a Colt Lancer hit the tracks for 1980. Ormond, along with Ivor Greenwood, really put Ulster hot rodding on the map that season when the pair finished third and fourth at the World Finals, before Ormond went on to defeat new World champion Duffy Collard on home soil to win his first Irish Open title.
By this stage Ormond had developed a reputation for building unusual cars. The majority of rods at this time were Ford Escorts with Ford running gear, but his new creation for 1981 would revolutionise hot rod racing. A Toyota Starlet, powered by a Ford engine, was Ormond's mount for 1981 and the boxy little motor showed real pace straight from day one. A win over a high quality field at the Irish Grand Prix raised expectations that the World could be captured this time. Sure enough come July Ormond become the first non-Englishman to lift the most coveted prize in the sport and the first man to win it driving anything other than a totally Ford car. Such was the impact of that victory that the conventional Ford body / engine package that had dominated the sport up to that point would never win another World final, as the hybrid models pioneered by Ormond started to dominate the sport.
The floodgates opened after that and Ormond would add another two World titles during the eighties, with many other championship victories to boot. Where Ormond had lead the way his countrymen soon followed, as an unrelenting tide of drivers from the province enjoyed success in the formula during the eighties. Always the innovator, Ormond captured his third British crown at Arena Essex in 1990 with his latest project, a Toyota Starlet powered by a Vauxhall 8v engine. Little did anyone know that within the week Ormond would find himself in hospital with the first signs of heart trouble. That scare prompted Ormond to call time on a fulltime national career, but he popped up again at his local Nutts Corner Raceway in their domestic 1600 hot rod class, where he enjoyed himself immensely and collected a brace of Irish titles.
By 1995 however the introduction of a cheaper 16v engine to the national class had rekindled Ormond's enthusiasm for the formula and despite further health scares along the way an Autocross framed Ford Fiesta was completed, with a home-built 16v engine, and the famous number 962 was back on track again. An invitation to compete in the 1996 world final was accepted and the rest is folklore. Not only did he place the car on pole position, but he captured the title for a fourth time by clawing passed Andy Steward on the final lap, in the closest ever finish recorded at the event. In doing so he also became the first racer to win the event with a 16v engine beneath the bonnet, the trend setter once more. Just to prove that was no fluke Ormond came back and did it all once again a year later, to set a new benchmark of five World final wins that still stands to this day. There was to be no hat-trick of wins in 1998 when he was eliminated while well placed in the final, but perhaps it was fitting that his last ever race in a national took place at Foxhall, where he enjoyed so many inspired days.
In this day and age, when Northern Ireland drivers across all the rod formulas are regarded as favourites for any major race on the mainland, it is hard to imagine that it was very much Ormond against the rest in those early times of the late seventies. Observers would have probably dismissed this unknown Irishman, in some oddball creation, as only there to make up the numbers, but when that same guy started to beat the likes of Lee, Collard and Polley people began to take notice of Irish rodding. Ormond was the trail-blazer for everything else that has followed since and what a legacy that has proved to be. He was very much the benchmark against which the other drivers in the province judged themselves; if you could go head to head with Christie and beat him, then you could beat anyone, anywhere.
Ormond’s success was not only based on his driving prowess because his engineering ability was equally important. Some of the suspension set-ups appeared basic, almost rudimentary, and owed more to his ingenuity rather than hard cash, but the end result was a car that handled just as well, if not better, than those of his rivals with expensive, state of the art systems. His perseverance with hybrid machinery changed the face of hot rod racing in the UK forever.
Indeed the strength of the national hot rod class in the province has almost mirrored Ormond’s own career. The battles between Christie and Evans, then Christie and Woolsey, during the eighties are often looked back on as a golden age for racing in Ulster. After his retirement in 1990 the class would only stagger on for a further two seasons and one of those was spent amalgamated with the super rods. Then the unthinkable happened as the once mighty class was withdrawn altogether from the local programme and the likes of Woolsey, McCall and Martin once again followed Christie's path into the 1600 hot rods. Later on in the nineties it was Christie’s return, and two World final wins, that provided the catalyst for a successful re-launch of the formula in the province once more.
So the next time you take in a major meeting at Ipswich or Hednesford, take a moment to reflect on the number of cars from Northern Ireland in the pits, then spare a thought for the man who put Ulster hot rod racing on the map; #962 Ormond Christie.
National Hot Rods
World Champion 1981 - 1983 - 1985 - 1996 - 1997
European Champion 1981 - 1988
British Champion 1978 - 1979 - 1990
Irish Open Champion 1980 - 1983 - 1984 - 1986 - 1989
Scottish Open Champion 1981
Irish Grand Prix 1981
Irish Closed Champion 1978 - 1979 - 1984
Winter National Champion 1982
1600cc Hot Rods
Irish Closed Champion 1991 - 1992