Allan McNish (part 2)

The beginnings of Queen of the South’s history is from the post WW1 merger of three clubs. One of these was the works side of the Arrol-Johnston Car Company at Heathhall on the edge of Dumfries. Arrol-Johnston provided two of the best players ever to pass through Palmerston in Queens colours - Ian Dickson and in particular Dave Halliday who had a tremendous career as one of the genuine all time great goal scorers in UK football history. The rich heritage of the region in the motor world has continued to this day. Following on from part 1 of our interview with race ace, Allan McNish, here’s more from the man himself.


“The last game I went to was the Audi Cup in Munich about three or four weeks ago. That partly was because it was Audi and partly because I was there at the time and it was quite cool to see. But when you’re in a big stadium like that there’s a lot of atmosphere but it doesn’t beat the atmosphere of a little local game.”

“Talking to Andy Goram behind the goal?”

“That sort of thing. Also just the fact that you sit there with your very nice hospitality and things like that, but you know, your pie and bovril’s actually pretty good. That’s the food and the thing that you remember when you were a kid, and it brings you back to that sort of youth aspect to it which is I think something that’s really nice about the things have been going on here, especially a couple of seasons ago when Queens got to the Scottish Cup Final for example.”

“I wasn’t here, I was in America when the game was on when they were in the final, lost to Rangers. But my dad, who’s got no interest in football what so ever, absolutely none; But he went to one of the games in the lead up, and he got into it because he enjoyed the buzz of it. And he was the one phoning me up telling me how things were going and everything else, in the semi, not even the final. I think also it’s difficult to appreciate, difficult to quantify, the effect on a local area that positive, successful sport has got."

“If it can get my father into following a football team when he’s never played it in his life, never really had an interest in football in his life, then I think if it’s tapped into that, then it must have happened to so many people in this area. Never mind all the people from Dumfries who were following it from around the world at that time. That’s a really positive factor but it’s maybe underestimated when people are talking about Queens, or alternatively wider sport in this area.”

Doonhamer baby boom nine months after May 2008?

“From what you said before, you were getting telephone updates, you weren’t able to see any games?”

“Phone and email updates. Martyn Pass is our press officer at Audi, and he’s got a major problem, he’s a Villa fan; it’s OK, we’re trying to get him weaned off it,” smiled McNish devilishly, clearly acknowledging that work-place football banter has it’s place in motor sport as much as anywhere else. McNish then in more serious tone gave his appreciation of his Villa supporting colleague. “Martyn basically knows the scores to get for me. Sometimes on Saturdays, in three weeks time for example I’m racing in Atlanta [McNish since this interview finished third in the treacherously rain affected race in Atlanta after suffering two spins that caused him to slip down the leader board from 1st to 3rd. He was only a tantalising 3 ½ seconds behind the winner]. So obviously I’m not going to be in a position to start doing things, but I’ll get it after, either a good result or a bad result, whichever it may be at the time,” grinned McNish philosophically. “But the way they are going this season, hopefully it will be a good result.”

“Tremendous start, eh?”

“Especially after the end of last year where they held on. To come out the blocks fighting. People say you can’t win championships at the beginning of the year, but you can lose them and not get the sort of ‘purchase’ to get on. Coming out the blocks gives you that confidence. It also gives you a wee bit of control as well because you know that you maybe don’t have to take the last risk [like in the EUFA Cup in Denmark] on a certain point that could go either way, you can play the percentage at the time when you need to.”

“But if you’re slow in your first few games and you maybe don’t get into your stride ‘til Christmas, then you’re playing catch up and that’s not the way to win a league, never mind be in the top half of it, or to defend yourself against relegation.”

“What about your fitness? When watching on TV the commentators talk about the importance of driver fitness because of the likes of g-forces. What sort of fitness regime do you have?”

“Yesterday for example, one thing you say about g-forces, just to give you a wee bit of an idea. When we’re in the car we’re in for about up to three hours, your heartbeat is doing the same as a gentle jog, it’s doing about 150 beats per minute, and we monitor it. Even though we’ve got power steering in the car, the loads through the steering mean that every time you go through the corners it’s about two or three kilograms of weight.”

“So it’s like a couple of bags of sugar in each hand. You’re sweating quite a lot, you’ve got an overall and helmet, and the way you cool down is by sweating. But because it can’t evaporate because nothing is exposed to air, then you get very hot and the car temperature is probably about 40 degrees Celsius.”

“Then after that you’ve got the g-force, and we’re pulling up to 4g now so, the equivalent of that is 8 kilos with your helmet on, so your head suddenly becomes 32 kilos. So for me, I’m 60 kilos, so I become 240 kilos and so I’ll put it into context; if you start doing a gentle jog, running, but you do it in Dubai, completely covered with your winter woollies on, and have someone pulling on the side of your head of half my body weight, every five seconds for three hours, then it isn’t the most comfortable office in the world. It isn’t air conditioned, it isn’t the lap of luxury in that respect; however that’s what it is so we’ve got to train for that.”

“Yesterday I was in the gym here in Dumfries, and I just had one thing to do and that was neck exercise. That meant that I was lying in the corner off a bench with a big elastic band, basically strapped round the bench, round my head, and it was just all four axes of my neck muscle, for 40, 45 minutes of doing these movement exercises, and it was creating resistance and tension, sometimes pulsing, sometimes holding, and that’s 45 minutes of boredom and not very much fun, because your neck is only meant to hold up your head, it’s only meant for gravity, it’s never designed to be able to do any more than that.”

“And the other thing is we’ve got a lot of strength work on our upper body and shoulders and back of the shoulders oddly, because of the seating position. We’ve got a lot of abdominal and lower back and side back work, just purely because of the twisting that you do in a road car. When you go through a corner say at sixty miles per hour, look and realise how much you move your arms, but, how much you actually twist your hips as well. And that’s at 60 miles an hour, not 180 miles an hour. And so there’s a lot of movement in this central area, even although you are strapped in very, very tightly.”

“And then the final thing like I’m going to be doing later on, is runs, and I prefer running to cycling, I just prefer it. We’ll do three types of run; a fast 45 minute run, a longer one sort of ½ marathon type of distance, or alternatively sprint or hill training. The sprint or hill training is basically where you warm up, and then maybe 10 sprints up a defined distance or time, whatever it maybe at that time.”

“Who’s responsibility is the regime? Is it something you’ve developed yourself or is there direction from the team?”

“No, we’ve got doctors and physios within the team, and there’s definitely a very strong direction from them, relating to the tests that we do at the beginning of the year, the blood tests and also the physiological tests. I have to be honest with you, I’ve been racing for 20 odd years, I’ve built up a natural stamina but also a natural understanding of me, what’s right for me. They want me to cycle for example, because it’s better for your joints. But I know for my mind that it’s better for me to run.”

“As an example again, travel; a couple of years ago in 2007, I stayed in hotels for 230 nights of the year. So there’s no way to be able to take a bicycle for 230 nights in hotels to do some training. But there is for a pair of running shoes and shorts and top. So logistically it’s just easier to throw some running shoes in your bag when you’re away, than travelling when you’re away with other apparatus. So that’s where a lot my stuff has been designed around hotels and hotel rooms and travelling and things like that. Not necessarily being stuck in one base.”

“That’s one thing that’s different from our sport for example to football. In football your training is at a base, and you’ve got everybody in the area. For me, everybody is all around the globe. I was in California until Friday afternoon and flew back. Two days before that I was away somewhere else. Every week I would say I fly probably two trips a week. On average through the year that means that I can’t actually be defined in one base. In a training perspective it’s something that has to be ad hoc and on the move.”

“What you say there about the travelling, Andrew Coltart from the world of golf, like yourself, he was kind enough to speak to us, a few weeks ago. I made the comment to him that he is possibly the most travelled Doonhamer in history. You I would have thought would be his rival to that title. I don’t know the difference in distance between the two of you but you must cover one hell of an amount of distance in a year.”

“Andrew will be able to relate to this. Now, travel’s so easy. You then have things crammed in on top of everything else and it’s very difficult to get the time to recover. From our point of view we’ve got so many marketing activities going on for Audi outside of the actual driving / testing / racing. This year especially since it’s the 100th anniversary of the Audi brand, 50% of my Audi time is as an ambassador, not as a racing driver. I’ve been to Japan, I’ve been to the States, I’m going to Korea in two weeks time, all of this type of stuff, and it’s in between the tests and it’s in between the races and it’s in between the training and everything else.”

“That means I don’t really have any sort of down time to be able to recover before doing the next jump. David Coulthard; he was born in Cresswell as well, even though he lived a wee bit further along the road, he’s another one to add into that mix. We tend to from a very early age, I would have said from our point of view in driving, we go to international racing on a consistent basis from about 19 / 20, and after that your best friend is a seat on an aeroplane.”

“I thought David Coulthard was from Twynholm?”

“He lived there but he was born in Cresswell. You’d be very surprised the amount of racing drivers and related careers that were born up at Cresswell. Not just in racing but the motor industry. Everybody’s heard of Jaguar cars. Very high brand I would have said becoming an elite brand again. The latest designs are really nice. The designer is a guy from Dumfries, a guy called Ian Callum. The first Scot ever to win a formula one grand prix was from Kirkcudbright, Innes Ireland. You’ve had so many successful drivers and also people in rallying throughout, and there’s also people who have helped them on their way.”

“Dave Boyce is a guy that was also born in Cresswell, and Dave helped me in karting. He also helped David in karting, and ran David and I karting and got us on our way if you like. He was the one that brought me to a wider audience, he was running me and such. Once I was actually started, David Leslie who I think is very well known, and David father and son, father still lives along the road, I’m going to see him later on. And he literally took me to my first kart races, got the kart, everything else, ran it, and then also when I started in Formula Ford in cars. He literally, him and his son ran me in karting. The Leslie’s were a massive influence on me and they were also a massive influence on David, because they did the same thing for David, as well as Dario Franchitti funnily enough.”


(Allan McNish in the Audi R10 TDI, 27th March 2006. All images of Allan McNish used in this article are provided courtesy of Martyn Pass at Audi Motor Sport UK)

“That’s just two people, they are identified with Dumfries, but I don’t think people around here and people generally don’t realise the influence those three people had on two racing drivers from this area plus numerous others around Scotland. That’s one thing about this area, it’s a wee hot bed in terms of actual car racing, but I can go on to as well; I said to you about Ian Callum, there’s the Longmore brothers as well. For example the British Airways flatbed seat, that so many passengers have used and enjoyed, was designed by a guy from Dumfries, Chris Longmore. And Martin Longmore I’m sure is still involved with KTM and motor bikes as one of the chief designers. It’s either KTM or BMW, I’m not sure exactly where he is currently, but there’s Chris and Martin Longmore.”

“Then I’ll take it to the next stage, which is something I’m involved in, Dalbeattie High School. This came around because the pupils from Dalbeattie wrote to me, and said, “This is what we’re doing, we’re getting involved in this schools championship”. I didn’t know anything about it, and, “Would you be our sort of ambassador, seeing as you’re from the local area and there’s a link to racing.” I looked at it and I realised they had to design, build, project manage, find sponsorship for and run and then finally race a remote controlled car, so it was like a full racing team.”

“It’s like Audi racing team, but in miniature, and there were 10 pupils going through this project in the first year. And I got involved and they won, so they won out of 100 British schools, there’s was only one in Scotland, and they won it. Then in 2008, they finished second, and in 2009 we spoke to the local council, ‘cause there was interest from other schools in the area, and there were a few from Dumfries actually, within Dumfries.”
When you say the local council, D&G?

“D&G. D&G realised the importance, not necessarily because of the school curriculum, and the effect that it had on these pupils, giving technical direction in what maybe they wanted to do, but also to give them real life feel of everything and real life experience. There was certainly a few in that first year, knew that they wanted to go into this part, that part of the whole sort of basis of a racing team.”

“One of them for example wanted to be a mechanic, but not necessarily a mechanic in a racing team, but that’s what he wanted to do. Then in 2008 there were eight schools from Dumfries and Galloway, five of them went to the British finals, and three of them picked up major trophies with Dalbeattie winning the overall title again. To me there were 50 kids from this region getting involved with a subject that they learn in school with applications that they have in the real world, like I didn’t.”

“I had no clue about physics and maths and arithmetic and French were going to be massive dominant factors in my everyday life, today, as they are. These pupils are able to actually see it in real life, all the things that they are learning in the classroom in real practice. And it’s been, I’ve got to be honest, I think it’s been fruitful for the pupils, it’s been very fruitful for the schools, and it’s been fruitful for me, because when I went to the finals this year I took my actual racing engineer from Audi and my data engineer along. And they were blown away by it, by the ingenuity. Ian Callum, think of this, think of the Longmores, the ingenuity that went into some of their thoughts of how to get round a problem, where as us in racing, we sometimes have got the capability because we’ve got the technology to get too complex, where as they looked at it on a very basic understanding and found a very basic solution but equally good solution.”

“I was really, really pleased they won and the other schools had such a successful time, it was a very nice feeling to realise that the history that we’ve got here is not just going to be left as history; also the future development of drivers, because there’s a few kids in karting coming through from region.”

"Anybody we should watch out for?"

“There’s a young kid called McKeand, I used to race against his dad, and Ross Wylie is another. McKeand, young Joe junior, at the end of the day I raced against his dad so that makes me feel a bit old, he won the British Championship two years ago, I think he finished second last year. Ross Wylie had a really good run last year. In that side of it, the potential is there to go forward and to continue what we’ve got on every aspect of it, because the area is very, very rich I would have said in talent. And we’ve been allowed through history the opportunity to identify it and to use it and to develop it.”

“I think we do have a natural I would say determination, bit of grit, bit of sort of stubbornness if you like that when we go and do something, we want to do it well because it’s a blooming long way to go for it, and that is definitely one of the attributes that we’ve got in our pocket. It’s nice to know that when we might be talking in 10 years time, we’ll be talking about some of the pupils from these schools, having designed the car that you’ve driven up in, or part of it or done something special and making a real name for themselves. Also forging ahead another career maybe they didn’t think they were going to get when they started secondary schools.”

“Are any of the names that you mentioned into football? David Leslie is sadly no longer with us.”

“David junior is no longer with us, but he was into football, because how he used to train was, he lived in Carlisle for a long time and he used to go into Carlisle football club, and he actually trained with the players. When I started car racing, it was a big step up for me to go into car racing. Not physically, because to be honest with you it was easier physically than the karting, but he realised that in two years I was going to have to be fitter than I’d ever even conceived.”

“The first time I got in a Formula 1 car for example was when I was 19. And that was the way he prepared by going football training and he was obviously reasonably talented at it, I wasn’t so I didn’t actually follow it up – I did a wee bit, through Graeme Cross, I’d go to the training up at Max High with Max Thistle, but I never actually participated in the game aspect of it, because if I got a knock or a bump or whatever,”


“Yeah, disaster. I know how to attack and overtake into a corner in the safest possible way. I’m not a footballer, I don’t know how to go in for a tackle. And I’m sure amateurs go in, talentless amateurs like myself go in, in a half hearted way which is the most dangerous way to ever go in for something I think. If you do go in when fully committed, at least you’re in the ascendancy. Go in half hearted, you’re going to get a knock or a bump, so I didn’t actually play that side of it. But it was really a thing that at that point was very good because it was quite an aggressive type of training. And it was good for my mind to realise that actually, I might have thought I was pretty cardio-vascularly fit, but to be honest with you I wasn’t.”

“You spoke there about the Leslies, and the connection with Carlisle United, did they ever go along to watch Queens?”

“I’m very sure that young David did, but I don’t 100% know.”

“And you mentioned David Coulthard, is he into football at all?”

“David’s been to quite a few games. When we were young we started karting together and things like that. Certainly we never went to a game together, but I’m very sure he went to quite a few games when he was 12, 13, something like that. The biggest problem that we’ve got right now is the fact, like I say, is the time aspect of it. And we can only really follow things on the television or the internet. And it’s little snippets here and there, we don’t necessarily have the time capability to be able to do that.”

“Does DC ever mention Queens results?”

“I don’t know, I’m never really with him very often on Saturdays at the moment, I couldn’t honestly tell you, but I do know that at the end of the day if you’re from here, you’re from here, and you follow your local team and you follow the local people and the things that are happening in the local region. I’m no different to David Coulthard and David Leslie when he was around or Dave Boyce now that he’s living somewhere else or whoever it may be – this is where we were born, this is where we were brought up, this is what formed us, this area, it formed us into who we are and gave us the opportunities.”

“Every time you come back, it’s changed there’s no question lots of things have evolved and changed, places change. But, at the end of the day you are who you are. And your formative years, your first 15, 20 years of your life are the ones that dictate what you’re going to do in the future. It’s that aspect to it, even though we’re travelling around, can’t necessarily get to games, it might be a long away, but we certainly haven’t forgotten where we’ve came from and what’s gone on in the area behind us.”

The third and final instalment of our interview with Allan McNish will be published soon…