By Sean Moriarty
The Kerry motorsport community was saddened to learn of the passing of Welsh rally legend John Price who died on Tuesday of this week (April, 21, 2020) after a long battle with an illness.
The word legend is bandied about a lot these days but JP, as he was affectionately known, certainly deserved the accolade.
His relationship with County Kerry goes nearly 50 years, and in that time he competed on local events like the Circuit of Kerry in machinery that was rarely, if ever, seen in this part of the world at that time.
Prices’s first visit to Kerry was in 1972 when the Circuit of Munster rally took in stages in Killarney and Kenmare, He drove an Alpine-Renault A110 on that occasion but results are not recorded.
His time on Kerry-based events was spent at wheel of a Porsche 911 SC, several different versions of the Renault 5 Turbo, a Renault 21 Turbo and, of course a MG Metro 6r4.
JP’s first Circuit of Kerry was in 1979, Kerry Motor Club’s flagship rally was really coming of age after its foundation four years earlier.
The Ballybunnion-based event marked many firsts, including the event’s graduation to a two-day rally and the first overseas visitors to the rally and how fitting that it was John Price who held that honour.
“Overseas driver John Price thrilled the spectators with his rapid Porsche, finishing a creditable third overall on his first attempt at this rally,” says a contemporary report.
Price started a Welsh relationship with the rally that has been largely unbroken in the 40 years since his maiden appearance and even this year’s postponed rally had commitments from Welsh crews to maintain that tradition.
The first Rally of the Lakes ran in December 1979 and he was back in Kerry at the wheel of the Porsche.
He also started the 1979 Circuit of Ireland with Galway’s Brian Brophy on the notes but there is no evidence if he finished or if he even got as far as the traditional Easter Sunday stages in County Kerry driving the same Porsche.
There is no doubt JP visited Kerry on more occasions than are mentioned here, records are vague for the early years but he must have driven his Renault Alpine or 17 on Circuit of Ireland rallies in the early 1970s. He certainly drove the Porsche again on the 1980 Circuit and contested the Circuit of Ireland in the early 1982 in a Renault 5 Turbo, the second last time the rally visited Killarney. He finished tenth overall in a rally that raced over famous Kerry roads like Moll’s Gap, Healy Pass, Borlin , Roughty River and Gortnagne on the Easter Sunday run.
The record books show he started the 1982 Rally of the Lakes in a Renault 5 Turbo but he and his co-driver Derrick Davies are listed amongst the retirees.
Price’s association with the Circuit of Kerry blossomed when, in 1985, it became a round of the Janspeed/Motoring News Rally Championship, effectively the British National Tarmac series.
It was a time when over quarter of the entry list was made up of overseas crews but there was nearly always one constant – John Price in an exotic rally car.
He arrived for the Waves Night Club sponsored rally in a Renault 5 Turbo with Mike Bowen alongside, they were seeded four in an event that was won by his Janspeed/MN title rival Mike Pattison who went in to the history books as the first overseas winner of the event.
Price was one of the first to commit to the 1986 event but the rally never got off the ground – an insurance crisis stopped rallying in its tracks and the Circuit of Kerry was pulled within days of the start – a fate not too different to that suffered by Cork Motor Club on the eve of this year’s West Cork Rally.
The Rally of the Lakes did run in 1986 and the Herefordshire-based driver returned to Killarney in the potent Renault 5 Turbo. He finished 12th overall with Bowen in the passenger seat.
The following year he was back in Banna for the Circuit of Kerry.
Rallying was still suffering from the fallout of the previous year’s insurance crisis but Kerry Motor Club had the honour of being the first rally to run in June 1987 and this went some way towards offsetting the cruel twist of fate the previous season.
On this occasion Price employed the services of local co-driver John Crone, a relationship that lasted for the remainder of the season.
They finished an impressive sixth in Kerry, at the wheel of a Renault 5 Turbo Tour de Corse, previously driven by works driver Jean Ragnotti, as well as taking fifth in Sligo and sixth again in Wexford.
The latter result, no doubt, hindered by Crone’s refusal to heed doctor’s orders. He broke his leg the week before the Wexford Rally while participating in a dangerous activity known as ‘Kerry Motor Club Five-a-side Indoor Soccer’ and rather than miss the chance to compete in the Renault 5 Turbo for a third time, he insisted on doing the rally while his leg was in plaster-paris.
The following year, re-united with Bowen, Price finished second on the Circuit of Kerry to his great rival Mike Pattison. Just 52 seconds separated Price’s newly acquired Renault 5 Maxi Turbo and the Ford Sierra after two days of hard rallying in north and west Kerry.
Third was his reward in 1989, after giving best, once again to Pattison who, ironically, employed his former co-driver Crone to guide him around the Kerry roads. Crone entered the record books as the first Kerry Motor Club member to win the Circuit of Kerry.
Price, for his part, ever the gentleman, would be the first to shake a rival’s hand after fair day’s trading at the office.
There was a change of car for the 1989 Rally of the Lakes and while he stuck with the Renault brand he entered the Killarney-based event in a 21 Turbo.
A feature in that year’s Rally of the Lakes official programme tells the story of his popularity in Kerry at the time.
“Definatly the longest overseas supporter, not only of the Rally of the Lakes but of Irish rallying generally,” said the article.
The following year, 1990, it was a case of one step back equals two steps forward. Gone was the Renault 5 and he appeared in Tralee with a Duckhams Oils liveried MG Metro 6r4.
Seeded at one, the reigning EARS/MN rally champion was lying in third place when the Metro suffered a puncture on Desmond’s Grave (which was run four times on Saturday) and he retired from the rally.
He bounced back in style in 1991, the rally had moved to a new location, Dingle, and despite the long-road section, on Saturday morning, from back west to Tralee, the event featured a similar route to the previous year. Price and Bowen won the rally.
By now he was a regular visitor to Kerry and Ireland and had built up quite a reliable band of supporters who formed the basis of his Irish rally team and many of them were Kerry men.
Since his Renault days Price was supported by Hartnett Brothers, the local dealers for the French make, and Tim Hartnett had become a regular part of the squad.
Mike Moriarty. of Centra Farranfore fame, was one of Price’s chase car drivers and met the Metro off stage ends from Clonakilty to Letterkenny.
A third man, Mike Murphy, currently a mechanic with Lynch’s Skoda in Farranfore, served his apprenticeship with Hartnett Brothers in Tralee and he joined the team through Tim.
Despite his historic Circuit of Kerry win in 1991, his year finished on a low note after an engine failure ended his Rally of the Lakes in December.
The rally landscape changed again in 1992, the Circuit of Kerry no longer carried MN status and reverted to being a one-day National round which brought an end to Price’s association with the Kerry Motor Club event although he did contest that year’s Rally of the Lakes in a Metro 6R4.
It very fitting that his last appearance on the Circuit of Kerry resulted in his only win on the event.
His name did appear on the entry list for the 1992 Rally of the Lakes in the red and white Metro and his last drive on the Killarney-based event came two years later but a down a power engine in the Duckhams Metro hindered progress.
Despite his last competitive appearance in Kerry coming 26 years ago and it is 29 years since he won the Circuit of Kerry, news of his passing came as a great shock to his many fans in the Kingdom.
He presence was his gift, and despite the passing of time, it seems like only yesterday he was doing what he did best, driving rally cars fast, on the roads of Kerry.
Rest in peace Boyo
Photos: Seamus Counihan, John Crone’s and Richard Talbot’s collection
Thanks to John Daly and John Crone for additional info