BTCC Greats - Tommy Sopwith
This edition of BTCC Greats looks back on the career of a driver that is etched into the history of the British Touring Car Championship – the late Tommy Sopwith.
When the series was founded back in 1958 there were four classes for different engine sizes – thus allowing every driver to score the same amount of points and giving them all a shot at the outright drivers title. The inaugural first meeting of the BTCC (British Saloon Car Championship back then however) took place on Boxing Day of 1957 at Brands Hatch.
Sopwith took to the grid in a Jaguar 3.4 Litre and was run by the Equipe Endeavour team. Due to the big engine Sopwith ran with he was placed into Class D and made an immediate impact on not only his class but the series. He took victory in Class D and laid down his marker for the rest of the season.
As the year of 1958 progressed the series grew stronger with more entrants participating and the racing becoming more competitive. Sopwith continued to dominate his class and took a total of 9 victories in all – many of them at Brands Hatch. Due to Sopwith winning his class, it sat him on 48 points – tied with Class C driver Jack Sears.
This eventuality had been foreseen by the organisers who had decided that the overall title would be decided by a toss of a coin – however both drivers were not pleased by this and argued that it should be settled on track. It was decided that both drivers would take to Brands Hatch for two five lap races in identical looking Marcus Chambers owned Riley One-Point-Five rally cars. To make it fair they would swap cars after the first five lap race and the driver with the fastest combined time would be declared the first BTCC champion.
Conditions at the iconic Kent track were wet and that seemed to favour Sopwith as he won the first five lap encounter by 2.2 seconds – placing the ball firmly in Sears court. However once the drivers swapped it was Sears who performed better and ultimately won the second race by 3.8 seconds meaning he was champion when the times were combined.
Even though Sopwith never won the championship he still played his part in the history of the sport and will be forever remembered as the man who took the first ever championship to a five lap shootout. In 1961 Sopwith moved away from cars and elected to race on the waters in powerboats.
Thomas (Tommy) Edward Brodie Sopwith died in May 2019, aged 86 at Basingstoke Hospital.
In our next edition of BTCC Greats we delve into the career of the late David Leslie – who was as charismatic on track as he was off it.
Article originally written on Thursday, 20 June 2013. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.