John Ledster was a big man in every sense of the word. He was of course physically a big man, he was a big family man, he was big hearted and a big friend to many of us, especially in the world of motor sport, and particularly in the sport of drag racing.
John first saw a drag race at Santa Pod some 45 years ago at a time when his main interest was rallying and in fact the first time he drove on the ¼ mile was in an Austin A40 rally car. Later of course he competed in the “Big John” Mustang pro stock car that he drove in the early 1970’s. Incidentally it was a drive in this car that gave radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis a taste for drag racing. It was at this time that John joined the executive committee of the British Drag Racing and Hot Rod association under the chairmanship of “Gentleman” Jim Read. It was John who invited me to join that committee in 1972 and it was then that I really got to know him. He was a great committee man, always thoughtful and analytical, able to gather all the various points of view of the club members and eventually sort out a compromise that usually suited everybody. Then drag racing was relatively new in this country and with little money racers would make do and mend with a bewildering variety of engine and vehicle combinations from supercharged 4 cylinder BMC engine powered dragsters to a whole fleet of Jaguar powered altereds, and a lot more in between. British drag racing had a whole style of its own which sometimes made rule making difficult, there were pressures to make rules that suited vested interests and John played an immensely important role as a steadying force in the process of regulation writing.
In 1977 John became the Race Director at Santa Pod, a post he held until 1987. Running a race meeting to time can be a trial in the present day but then Santa Pod was quite a different place to the venue we know today. Paved pit space was limited and access to the track was down the fire up road (today’s return road). Most competition cars were push started so it was important to know that the previous pair of cars had cleared the track before the order to push down was given by use of a traffic light and so keeping to schedule could be a nightmare, add to that communication by field telephone, limited track clean up equipment and no track driers and it can be appreciated that the job of the race director needed a big man to overcome the difficulties. John also worked tirelessly at the venue between meetings and could often be found painting fences, filling in pot holes and generally helping Bob and Roy Phelps (and their tireless car builder and general handy man Alan Bootsie Herridge) to keep drag racing alive in the UK.
After he relinquished his role at Santa Pod John continued to be an executive committee member of the BDRA but increasingly his people skills were employed by the RACMSA and ACU. John was employed to steward a variety of race meetings not just drag racing but also many circuit events. He stewarded at rounds of the British Touring Car championship and became resident steward to the Champions of the Future Kart championship, a series that got the likes of Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton started on the road to F1 stardom. If you think that dealing with Junior Dragster parents can be challenging then that pales into insignificance compared to Karting parents but here the big man would employ his personality to calm flustered brows, soothe bruised egos and settle on track disputes before they developed into visits to the tribunal room or worse.
In the late nineties John became instrumental in founding the SPRC after the BNDRA moved away from the Pod. He helped found a new committee (including me, and Carlo Gandolphi) and with the help of the Pennine Club ensured that racing could continue uninterrupted. By now John was the chairman of the MSA dragster subcommittee and he became the UK delegate to the newly founded FIA Drag Racing Commission, helping to develop European Drag Racing into the success it is today.
I have talked about John as a race official but his biggest success was a family man, raising his 2 sons Brian and Shawn with his wife Liz and eventually becoming a Granddad. His family have always supported John in his endeavours and in fact Liz raced bikes and cars at the pod. He supported her through a period of serious illness and later as John’s own health deteriorated she was his rock, always at his side to help him keep going in business and home for as long as possible. John continued to attend MSA speed events meetings for as long as possible, I would collect him and his mobility scooter and he would drive himself into the various meeting rooms. He was awarded Official D’Honeur by the MSA in recognition of his work for British Motor Sport and John was inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
So to sum up, Big John Ledster was a diamond geezer served his family and friends for all his life. He was a strong, compassionate and a true family man and I have been honoured to call him friend for the past 40 years. However if you had tried to remind John about his accomplishments and what a good guy he was I am sure he would have simply said “Leave it out Guv’nor!”