From garage business in Norfolk to global endurance rallying with husband Peter, this dynamic team turned back the rally clock, then turned into the original mechanical assistance crew who became Royal Automobile Club Historic Lifetime Achievement Award winners
One half of the original Rally Assistance Crew or ‘Sweeps’ as they are now known, Betty-Ann Banham, has sadly died leaving behind the other half of the dynamic duo, husband Peter. HERO-ERA offers its most profound sympathy to Peter and his family.
As author David Leadbetter described both team members Betty and Peter in a recommended read, the book ‘Made in Motorsport,’ the couple’s relationship was galvanised during their many motoring escapades over fifty years all around the world. The book tells the story of adventure and creativity that took them though many scrapes, but just when most would give up and say it was all over, they found an ingenious solution and managed to get back into the rally!
Their budgets were tiny by comparison even with today, they ran a small garage business in Norfolk, but were the original template for ‘Pound Stretchers’ as they made their minimal motorsport budget go much further than thought possible.
The lure of the unknown in far off events mean they agreed quickly to take part and worked on more detailed plans later. Whilst they competed in UK events, they jumped at the opportunity to take their rally car beyond the borders, rallies in Belgium, then the Mediterranean, before taking on the might of the Himalayas in a massive challenge they could not resist, but they conquered it, partly due to Betty’s indomitable spirit.
As writer David Leadbetter summed up in his book about Betty and Peter ‘Made in Motorsport’ which has just been released on 28th October 2022 by Troubador Publishing, even their tiny budget couldn’t stretch to the rising costs of running a modern rally car in the 1980s, but it was to prove a turning point.
Betty-Ann and Peter steered a path to the historic rally scene which was in its infancy, particularly Betty enjoying rallying as it was in the1950s and 60s.
The turning point came as rally organisers noticed the Banhams were as busy competing as they were helping other competitors back onto the road. Betty’s noted camaraderie and the Banham’s spirit of selfless help became the catalyst that morphed them into the becoming the first official mechanical assistance crew, the team that all the major international endurance rallies wanted on their side. So began more world travel for Betty-Ann and Peter with historic rallying that witnessed them enabling stranded crews to get back into the event and achieve their ambitions of finishing the rally. Whether it was freezing Siberia, the heat of the Sahara and or the steamiest jungles of South America, they were in their element.
Wherever they were in the far flung corners of the world, finding backstreet welders or emergency engineering facilities at midnight the middle of Africa, they worked their charms, particularly Betty. Those early adventures where they created a fix out of almost nothing, held them in good stead for their ‘Sweep’ roles, as their ‘bush mechanic fix it by any means at your disposal’ attitude came into its own.
Keeping the rally going against the odds was also part of Betty’s skill. From sweet talking military men in Africa to talking their way through armed guerrilla roadblocks in deepest Colombia, it was all part of the adventurer’s rally skill that Betty-Ann possessed.
Two years ago, The Royal Automobile Club recognised Betty-Ann and Peter with a Lifetime Achievement Award for their outstanding contribution to British motoring history and heritage, across many years.
This was an award HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock said was thoroughly deserved.
“They were so deserving, it really is so sad Betty has gone. They were a constant on all the Classic Rally Association events (later CRA became HERO) in the early 2000s and before that working with Philip Young, they’ve done Peking to Paris I think at least twice if not more.
“I got to know them in 2010. Peter and Betty were always the people you went to, they were always the ones there at coffee and lunch stops, Peter would always be their first one under the car, with Betty looking for the tools and handing you a homemade cake at the same time. The one thing that stands out in my mind is coming out of Dundrom on the RAC Rally the Tests with a hole in the petrol tank which Peter managed to then fix with some soap and a 10 millimetre self tapping bolt. And it’s still in the car to this day with over 200,000 miles on it!
“But Betty was always there, she knew where everything was in the van. Peter would shout from under the car and Betty would arrive with the correct Spanner or equipment, that right bit of pipe or whatever from the van and that she had found. That was my lasting memory of Betty-Ann, she was always very humble, kind and helpful but very capable. In fact their daughter Claire is just like Mum and Dad as she runs Rix Engineering! We all offer our deep felt condolences to Peter, Claire and the rest of the family”
Tomas de Vargas Machuca, HERO-ERA Chairman said, “Ever since we met Betty-Ann and Peter more than 12 years ago, they have always been amongst the most resourceful characters in the classic rally scene. Always a smile, always selfless in their desire to help competitors carry on their rally, Peter and particularly Betty-Ann, represented a rare breed of human being that many should be inspired to emulate, it is hard to believe that Betty-Ann has gone, she will long remain in our hearts.”